Fresno resident Jonathan Keller epitomizes the challenge facing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as he seeks votes in California and beyond:
Can Trump attract enough alienated Republicans to win?
Until Tuesday, Keller had been supporting Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He had contributed money to Cruz’s campaign, and had helped host Cruz’s father in Fresno for an educational visit last Friday. Now, with Cruz’s departure, Keller will be watching Trump closely.
“He’s got some work to do, I’d put it that way,” Keller, president of the Fresno-based California Family Council, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “For many social conservatives, it’s going to be a wait-and-see attitude.”
We hope he realizes no Republican has been able to win the presidency without the social conservative movement.
Jonathan Keller, California Family Council
Cruz’s decision to drop out Tuesday, followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday, leaves Trump the task of rallying those who initially found him wanting. A Fox News survey in April of likely California Republican voters reported 22 percent supporting Cruz and 20 percent supporting Kasich.
In another sign suggesting anti-Trump sentiment, California residents contributed $5.1 million to Cruz’s presidential campaign and $1.7 million to Kasich’s, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Trump has raised $589,740 from the state.
Odds are, of course, that Trump won’t win California in the November general election. Democrats have a 43 to 28 percent voter registration advantage over Republicans in the state, and the last time a GOP presidential candidate won California was 1988.
So if Trump hopes for a repeat, he will need a more united party.
“Mr. Trump is going to have a long row to hoe,” Gregory M. Chappel, an attorney from Bass Lake who contributed to Kasich’s campaign, said Wednesday, adding, “I’m not sure he can control himself.”
Chappel summed up Trump’s challenge as well as his potential, saying that while he considers the 69-year-old New York businessman “potentially dangerous,” he also expects the GOP nominee “to be saying things that are pleasing” to Republican voters.
One former Cruz supporter, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, said in an interview Wednesday that despite some lingering questions he’s already decided to support Trump, saying the candidate is a “runaway favorite” among Republicans in McClintock’s Sierra Nevada-centered congressional district.
Others are unconvinced.
Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said in Boston on Wednesday that he wouldn’t vote for Trump, while Mark Salter, a former top aide for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called Trump “wholly unfit for office” and said he’d vote for Clinton.
“She’s the more conservative choice and the least reckless one,” Salter told McClatchy on Tuesday night. “I don’t expect her to be a good president, but she won’t pull us out of NATO . . . (or) round up 12 million” immigrants who are living in the United States illegally.
Tony Fratto, who was deputy assistant press secretary under President George W. Bush, tweeted, “Not a dime from me for RNC or any candidate who has a kind word for Trump or talks of ‘unity.’ ”
A Pew Research Center poll last month found that 56 percent of registered Republican voters thought that disagreements within the party would keep many from supporting Trump as its nominee, while 38 percent said the party would unite behind him.
Sal Russo, a veteran Sacramento-based Republican strategist who got his start as an aide for Ronald Reagan, said Trump was facing the same party unity questions that Reagan faced in 1980.
“When Reagan picked George H.W. Bush, it showed the Republican establishment that he was someone they could work with,” Russo said. “If Trump picks someone – a John Kasich type who’s well-respected across the party – I think that goes a long way.”
Keller, of the California Family Council, likewise noted that Trump’s vice-presidential choice could help win over social conservatives, as could his stances on the party’s platform.
“He’s made some comments that have concerned other social conservatives,” Keller said.
No matter what Trump does, a unified Republican Party before or after July’s convention in Cleveland isn’t likely to happen, according to Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and a former communications strategist for McCain and other Republicans.
Schnur said: “It’s hard to imagine a scenario that a plurality of Republicans who think poorly of him will get behind him.”