California’s 172-member delegation to the Republican National Convention arrived over the weekend at their accommodations – a sprawling, indoor water park nearly 60 miles outside Cleveland – and began preparing for the week’s main event: GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump.
Below, a few delegates shared their thoughts heading into the first day of the convention.
Michael Der Manouel Jr., 54, Fresno
An ebullient fixture locally, Michael Der Manouel Jr. founded the Lincoln Club of Fresno County, a group known for its tough evaluations of candidates.
Der Manouel was a state Republican Party official in the 1990s, and attended three prior national conventions, but he largely receded from the statewide scene in 2001, he said, choosing instead to focus on local politics and his insurance business, which has 85 employees.
Then came Trump, the brash businessman from New York.
“He’s got me interested again in presidential politics,” Der Manouel said. “The Trump candidacy is a message to Republican elected officials in Washington that they have largely failed, and they need to understand why all of this is happening.”
While some experienced activists fret about Trump’s unscripted approach, Der Manouel said he was drawn to “precisely what makes people uncomfortable with him – he doesn’t have political consultants talking in his ear” all the time.
“The era of being measured and cautious, in my view, is over with,” he added. “And (Trump) is the first one to come forward and prove my theory.”
Der Manouel said he initially considered coming to Cleveland to “be on the side of Trump.” At the time, when Republicans Ted Cruz, the Texas senator, and John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, were still campaigning, some anticipated a contested convention.
Now, as groups protest across the city, Der Manouel is prepared for “nefarious behavior” aimed at Trump loyalists. He worries a bit about the demonstrators provoking people into hostilities.
“Of course you think about your safety.”
Deborah Wilder, 60, Grass Valley
Deborah Wilder went to work on her first political campaign when she was 16, stuffing envelopes and walking precincts for Jack Maltester’s failed Assembly race in 1972.
Maltester’s opponent, Wilder recalled, was “a guy named Bill Lockyer,” a local school board member who would go on to become California’s Senate leader, treasurer and attorney general. Maltester, like Lockyer, was a Democrat. In her youth, Wilder said, “I didn’t know any different.”
Two years later, on her 18th birthday, Wilder walked home from school in San Leandro in a pouring rain, drove across town to the city clerk’s office and registered to vote as a Republican. After volunteering for Maltester, Wilder took time to consider the Democratic and Republican parties and found herself drawn to what she called the “party of opportunity.”
We’ve got the rules and he met the rules, and he’s our guy, so that’s where we’re at.
Delegate Deborah Wilder
“For me, that was my passage into adulthood,” said Wilder, a member of the credentials committee in Cleveland. “That’s what I did, and then I went out and got my ears pierced.”
Wilder, a lawyer and former Foster City Council member, now lives in Grass Valley and is chairwoman of the Nevada County Republican Party. The GOP, she said, “represents a party of opportunity. It says, you know, this is America and you have an opportunity, and if you work hard you get rewarded for your efforts.”
“Essentially, we need to teach people to fish, not just give them fish,” she said.
Like many California Republicans, Wilder did not come to Donald Trump, the party’s presumptive nominee, as her first choice. She supported Kasich.
“But you know?” Wilder said. “We’ve got the rules and he met the rules, and he’s our guy, so that’s where we’re at.”
She said, “He’s our candidate, and I’m a Republican, so what else am I going to do?”
Charles Moran, 35, Los Angeles
Charles Moran, a self-described party functionary, has worked on numerous campaigns and as a national spokesman for Log Cabin Republicans, which advocates equal rights for LGBT people. His brand of moderate GOP politics placed him more in line with ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, or Kasich, than Trump.
Yet as Trump emerged as the favorite, Moran said one thing that attracted him to the political newcomer was his ability to zero in on economic issues of the election cycle. While others “tripped all over themselves over social issues,” including use of transgender bathrooms, Trump “just kept bringing it back to jobs, the economy and standing up for the little guy.”
“This guy gets it,” Moran remembers thinking. “I could tell that there was something going on that he could better communicate his message and values than the other” candidates for president.
With Trump now focused on Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, Moran believes the most important thing Trump must maintain is his authenticity. “That cuts through all of the messaging and the mud-slinging that’s going to go on.”
More Republicans are coming aboard, Moran said, suggesting there is less division than the “mainstream media likes to portray.” The so-called Never Trump contingent of the party, a considerable minority unwilling to support the wealthy developer, is “just being selfish,” he added.
For Moran, a veteran of two conventions, 2004 in New York and 2008 in Minneapolis, this year’s event is a family affair. His parents are both alternate delegates.
Corrin Rankin, 42, Redwood City
Corrin Rankin was a lifelong Democrat until 2009, the year after she took over her family’s bail bonds business in Redwood City.
The financial policies President Barack Obama and Democrats in Washington were advocating, she said, were “the opposite of helpful to me as a small-business owner.” So she went online and read both parties’ platforms.
“I said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve been a member of the wrong party for all these years.’ ”
Rankin joined the San Mateo County Republican Party and ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the City Council in Redwood City in 2013. Donald Trump was her preferred candidate for president from the beginning.
“When I knew that I liked him was probably on what he was saying regarding the economy, and how he wants to bring jobs back,” she said. “Just being a business owner myself, I know how hard it is to be a small-business owner and how … there’s so many regulations and so much imposed on small-business owners that is really difficult.”
She said, “I’d like to see a lot more entrepreneurship in the United States.”
Rankin, who is a black woman and a business owner, said it was important for her to come to Cleveland to show “the diversity of the people who are supporting Trump.”
“I’m not one in a million here,” she said. “There are many women just like me that look like me that also are supporting Trump. I feel like it’s important for me to kind of step up and go on behalf of people who are similarly situated and show that we support Trump.”
Frank Visco, 71, Lake Sherwood
Frank Visco, a former chairman of the California Republican Party, stopped going to national conventions in 2000.
He had been to seven, and “just after so many times,” Visco said, “we know who the nominee is going to be, I decided to let some younger people go.”
But this year felt different to Visco, now 71. The presidential election comes amid a period of heightened political tension in the United States and growing fear of terrorism in this country and abroad.
“I think the problems we’re facing now are really, really dangerous,” said Visco, an insurance broker from Lake Sherwood in Ventura County. “People need to understand that we can’t do things the way it has traditionally been done – too many problems around the world, too many idiots around the world, and we need to have someone who thinks America first, instead of globalization.”
(Trump’s) style is totally different, but he means what he says.
Delegate Frank Visco
Visco came with his family to the United States from Italy when he was 9. He grew up in New York and moved to California when he went into the U.S. Air Force at 21.
An early supporter of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Visco said he came around to Trump.
“Early on, I started seeing voter discontent in terms of what’s going on, and your traditional candidates – the insiders, so to speak – did not really listen too well as to what people wanted to hear,” he said. “A couple of months before (the California primary), I decided he’s what people want, so let’s give it a shot here. He’s different. His style is totally different, but he means what he says.”
Sarbjit Takhar, 51, Yuba City
Sarbjit Takhar came to the United States from India in 1969, when he was 4 years old, and cast his first vote, for Ronald Reagan, in 1984.
Takhar, who now lives in Yuba City and describes himself as a “lifelong” Republican, ran unsuccessfully for local office in his hometown in 2010 and became chairman of the Sutter County Republican Central Committee two years later.
“I’m a conservative. I believe in conservative values,” he said.
Co-founder and chief technology officer of Innotas, a San Francisco-based tech firm, Takhar said his small-business background led him to support Trump from the beginning of the primary campaign.
The Manhattan real estate developer, Takhar said, “understands business.”
“He says what he thinks and he’s very open,” Takhar said. “Most politicians will say the same thing 10 different ways.”
Takhar said that, as an Indian immigrant, he understands the need for strong protections for legal immigration and also supports Trump’s commitment to the armed services and veterans. Of the convention, Takhar said he’s looking forward to learning more about the political process.
“Being from India,” Takhar said, “this is fascinating to me.”