Bill Whalen

This is why President Trump will come back to California

A protester holds up a President Donald Trump paper doll during a rally Tuesday in Beverly Hills.
A protester holds up a President Donald Trump paper doll during a rally Tuesday in Beverly Hills. AP

So how did President Donald Trump fare on this week’s visit to California, his first since taking office nearly 14 months ago?

Better than Gerald Ford, who twice was targeted for assassination when he visited the Golden State in 1975.

And most certainly better than Warren Harding, who died unexpectedly in the presidential suite of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel some 95 years ago.

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Bill Whalen

My guess is that Trump will return to California for one good reason: Every wise politician craves a foil.

Trump has a lot of nemeses, real and perceived, in case you haven’t noticed. And in California, the line forms to the rear of Trump-loathing Democrats.


If you’re Trump, why not keep doing what he did in San Diego — a border wall photo-op, coupled with angry protestors who walk the fine line between outraged and out-of-control. It plays better in Fremont, Ohio, than the Bay Area city bearing the same name.

With that in mind, California may be contributing something to the 2020 presidential landscape other than the likes of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sen. Kamala Harris or billionaire activist Tom Steyer jousting for the Democratic nomination. The Golden State could provide Trump with precious re-election bullion.

It's not unlike 2004 when San Francisco found itself in a legal battle over same-sex marriage. Gavin Newsom, the mayor at the time, earned plaudits from the left for handing out marriage licenses. Republicans, however, converted the controversy into constitutional amendments in nearly a dozen states, including one in Ohio that served as a tailwind for getting conservatives to the polls. Without it and perhaps George W. Bush loses Ohio, meaning John Kerry would have been president and had two Supreme Court appointments.

Speaking of the high court, the bad theatrics between Trump and his Democratic detractors underscore the importance of one Californian who doesn’t hold an elected office and isn’t affiliated with either party.

That would be Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Sacramento native and accident of history (two other nominees crashed and burned before Ronald Reagan turned to Kennedy).

Kennedy is also the court’s swing vote, making him the tipping point on a slate of Trump-California policy differences (sanctuary laws, fracking, student loan protections, insurance coverage for birth control) that potentially could reach the court.

Could a prolonged sanctuary fight in California do for Trump in 2020 what San Francisco’s act of defiance did for Bush in 2004? Perhaps that’s the added incentive for Trump in deciding whether to return.

Trump’s stands on tariffs and offshore drilling won’t score points with the locals, and he lost California in 2016 by nearly 4.3 million votes (almost 100,000 more votes than Trump received in Ohio and Wisconsin combined).

But the sound and fury of protestors, coupled with overly pious statements by California’s Democratic elite, might resonate with Trump’s blue-collar base across the Rust Belt. And that’s worth the six-hour plane ride from D.C.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at