Donald Trump, rallying supporters amid a second consecutive day of protests, called on Friday for the Republican Party to unite around his candidacy, even as he chastised the party’s nominating process and mocked his rivals.
The Republican front-runner, appearing at the California Republican Party’s convention outside San Francisco, was forced to abandon his car and approach the convention hotel on foot, past a blockade, as protesters rushed the venue. Protesters later stormed a small barrier established by the police, and the hotel locked its doors.
“That was not the easiest entrance I’ve ever made,” Trump said. “It felt like I was crossing the border.”
The speech marked the end of a tension-filled 24 hours for Trump in California, where he began campaigning for the first time since it became clear the primary here could prove determinative.
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Protesters blocked streets in Costa Mesa following a Thursday night speech in which Trump pinned crime and stagnating wages in Southern California to illegal immigration.
On Friday, addressing a smaller crowd of delegates, Trump offered a more mechanical assessment of the race, keeping up his criticism of an unpledged delegate system he said is “rigged.”
“They basically have to bribe the delegates, and it’s not the right system,” Trump said. “It’s a horrible, horrible, disgusting system.”
Trump’s appearances in the state came as the presidential candidates shift their focus to California – and its massive bank of delegates – ahead of the June 7 primary.
Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who are scrambling to deny Trump the delegates necessary to secure the nomination, were expected to speak later at the convention. Kasich held a town hall event at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, where he emphasized to his audience that the president can’t do everything and that they need to get involved.
“Is our education system ... preparing our young people for the jobs of today or tomorrow?” he asked. “Then what are you waiting on? You want me to fix it?”
He said California has had “all these initiatives” and “rich guys put all this money in, and what happens? Nothing. So you know what I’d suggest? Start taking it school by school.”
Trump leads Cruz and Kasich among likely Republican voters in California. But because Republicans here award nearly all of their 172 delegates by congressional district – three delegates each to the winner of each district – victories by Cruz or Kasich in even a handful of districts could cripple Trump’s prospects.
The New York businessman likened Kasich to a “spoiled child” for staying in the race despite lagging far behind, and he criticized a pact in which Cruz and Kasich agreed not to compete against each other in three states.
“It shows total weakness,” Trump said. “It shows such ineptitude and such weakness.”
Invoking his appeal to many independent voters, Trump said he could defeat the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in some Democratic-leaning states. He did not mention California, which is so heavily Democratic that no Republican is expected to compete here in the fall.
“I started with 17 people: governors, senators, people of accomplishment, some people of great accomplishment. And every week, boom, boom, boom. And believe me, I knocked them off. I knocked them off. … When I focus on Hillary, she’ll go down easier than any of the people we just beat.”
Still, Trump acknowledged difficulty ahead, saying “it’s a tougher road” to the presidency for a Republican.
“I speak to the people in this room,” he said. “There has to be unity in our party. There has to be unity in our party.”
Following raucous protests outside a Trump rally Thursday night, protesters Friday blockaded a street outside the Hyatt Regency where Trump spoke, waving Mexican flags and locking arms in protest of Trump’s immigration plans.
As a police helicopter hovered overhead, Jesus X. Zapata, 27, of Oakland, criticized Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“When I think about the wall ... I think about the Berlin Wall,” he said. “And we have to understand it didn’t work. It failed.”
At one point, a young woman instructed her peers that, “If you see a delegate in a suit, yell at them.” A man in a signature red Make America Great Again hat was pushed against a guardrail and screamed at as he made his way through the crowd.
Police were on notice of a likely protest in Burlingame as soon as Trump arrived in California, rallying thousands of supporters at an amphitheater in Orange County while crowds of demonstrators blocked streets and clashed with police outside.
On Friday, the Hyatt advised arriving hotel guests at check-in that the airport was “hosting a group that requires an added level of security.”
Trump’s unfiltered rhetoric and populist appeals on trade and immigration have elevated his candidacy, but also alienated many moderate and establishment Republicans.
Even his supporters have acknowledged the schism Trump has created within the GOP and the outrage he has provoked among Democrats, especially Latinos.
“Trump, he’s a polarizing guy,” said Mark Cooney, a 24-year-old construction worker from Riverside who was shouting “Build that wall” outside of Trump’s rally in Costa Mesa. “This is me living my generation. ... This political climate, it’s polarizing.”
At the convention the following day, Luisa Aranda, a businesswoman from Brentwood, said she was a Democrat and even supported Barack Obama eight years ago. The admission seemed to surprise Aranda’s companion, Carolyn Gibbs, a fellow Republican from Discovery Bay.
“Oh?” asked Gibbs, offering a look of disgust.