Dan Walters

Dan Walters: California gets full 2016 treatment

Ted Cruz likes his Delta smelt with cheese and crackers

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz mixed some nightclub schtick with serious criticism of current regulations and policies as he addressed California's GOP convention on Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Burlingame. His biggest laugh line
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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz mixed some nightclub schtick with serious criticism of current regulations and policies as he addressed California's GOP convention on Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Burlingame. His biggest laugh line

The circus of the absurd – otherwise known as the 2016 presidential campaign – has set up its tents in California for a five-week run.

One troupe performed for Republicans at weekend party convention in a hotel near the San Francisco International Airport, as a side show of left-wing demonstrators chanted, threw eggs, taunted a protective ring of state and local cops and otherwise tried to disrupt the main show inside.

They did force Republican frontrunner Donald Trump to enter and exit the hotel through a hole his security men cut in a fence on the adjacent Highway 101 freeway – an irony that even Trump acknowledged.

“That was not the easiest entrance I’ve ever made,” he told a luncheon crowd. “We went under a fence and through a fence, and oh boy, it felt like I was crossing the border, actually.” Trump has made construction of a high wall along the border with Mexico to block illegal immigrants a tenet of his bombastic campaign.

However, it was not really a Trump crowd, and the version of his standard stump speech he delivered on Friday garnered only tepid applause.

Donald Trump called for unity, while Ted Cruz activated grassroots in California at the state Republican Party convention in Burlingame on April 29 and 30, 2016.

That said, the Republican activists are clearly excited by the possibility, or even probability, that California’s 172 delegates chosen in the June 7 primary election will determine whether Trump can claim a first-ballot nomination victory.

California hasn’t played a significant role in the Republican nomination in more than a half-century, and it’s been nearly that long for Democrats.

The dearth of relevance will continue for the Democrats, even though Hillary Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders will go through the motions of campaigning in California, including a two-day sojourn by Clinton later this week.

Trump has about 1,000 GOP delegates and needs 1,237 for a first-ballot win. California accounts for about 30 percent of the nearly 600 delegates still to be awarded, but there are still primaries in five other relatively small states before California Republicans vote.

Trump rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich hope that they’re still alive by then, and that his support falters on second and perhaps subsequent ballots.

Trump leads in overall California polling, but 159 delegates are awarded by outcomes in the state’s 53 congressional districts, three in each.

That will certainly produce a divided delegation but whether Trump will have a large enough share to ensure a first-ballot win, assuming he still needs more delegates by June 7, is the question.

State convention attendees are not a cross-section of California’s Republican voters. They tend to be conservatives, but of a more conventional variety – more a Cruz crowd than a Trump crowd, as shown by the Texas senator’s more enthusiastic response Saturday.

Cruz, unlike the other two, devoted much of his speech to California issues, such as water and promised delegates that he would compete fiercely in the state.

“We’re all in,” Cruz said, pledging “a battle on the ground district by district by district.”

Some state Republican leaders, meanwhile, seem to gravitate to centrist Kasich, the governor of Ohio, seeing him as the most viable of the three.

Republican Assembly leader Chad Mayes described Kasich as “the only adult in the room” before Kasich’s speech Friday night.

So the circus will play for the next five weeks. Will it just be entertainment or will it have some meaning? Nothing about this year’s presidential contest has been predictable.

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