Donald Trump, himself larded with awful unfavorable ratings, did nothing to build up the diminished California Republican Party and much to undermine it during his first trip here as the GOP’s presidential front-runner.
In a state where Republican leaders have tried to appeal to Latinos and immigrants, Trump touted his endorsement by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Arizona lawman who regularly is accused of profiling Latinos.
When protesters blocked the front entrance to the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame, Trump’s security detail led him through a back route, prompting him to tell the audience that it “felt like I was crossing the border, actually.” So funny.
In his speech to the California Republican Party convention on Friday, Trump promised that if he’s the nominee, he will be victorious in states that no other Republican could win – New York, Florida, Pennsylvania. He did not mention California.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Trump offered little policy, other than a glancing reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement, currency manipulation and, of course, The Wall.
Supporters in the audience provided a laugh track for his zingers and shouted “Build the Wall.” But after he left the stage, less than a half hour after he arrived, most Republicans remained seated.
“It hurts us in a big way,” Michael Schroeder, the California Republican Party chairman from 1997-99, and a Sen. Ted Cruz supporter, said of Trump. His words are “divisive and attacking,” Schroeder said. “That’s not who we are.”
But as he and other party insiders know, political parties are defined by their national leaders. And Trump is the Republicans’ most prominent leader.
As he does in all his speeches, Trump talked about Trump. Rules are stacked against him. Polls show him winning. And there were insults. He had never seen a man eat like Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Disgusting. Cruz is Lyin’ Ted. He will beat them like he beat all the others, including “low energy” Jeb Bush.
“When I can focus on Hillary, as I say, crooked Hillary, she will go down easier than any of the people we just beat,” Trump said.
Perhaps. Polls show 55 percent of voters view Clinton unfavorably. That’s bad. Trump’s numbers are worse, 65 percent unfavorable, RealClearPolitics reports. But facts don’t matter much in Trump’s world.
In Orange County, Trump on Thursday blamed the recent uptick in crime on illegal immigration. Experts say border crossings are down. And if the rise in crime turns out to be more than a statistical blip, it probably will be attributable to the U.S. Supreme Court-ordered reduction in California’s crowded prisons and softening of criminal penalties, some of them approved by voters.
California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte, whose goal is to rebuild the party, plays it straight, not siding with any candidate. He won’t discuss the implications of a Trump candidacy on down-ballot candidates. Others will.
“The notion that Donald Trump is going to be the future of the Republican Party is not supported by the evidence,” said Sacramento GOP consultant Rob Stutzman, organizing a Stop Trump campaign in California. “He can’t unite the party.”
No one has spent more – $70 million since 2007 – to help Republican-related causes in California than Charles Munger Jr., son of billionaire Warren Buffett’s billionaire partner. On Friday, Munger ducked when reporters asked in various ways how Trump might impact the effort to restore the party.
“Our job in the Republican Party is to obey the will of the voters and work for the election of the person who is nominated,” Munger said.
Campaign consultant Hector Barajas, one of Munger’s partners in Grow Elect, a political action committee established to elect Latinos to local office, was not so reticent.
Barajas is the son of Mexican immigrants who gained residency as a result of the Reagan administration amnesty agreement in the 1980s. He counts 102 Latino Republicans elected to local offices in California in the past three years because of Grow Elect.
“After every presidential election, we are always picking up the pieces. Once again, we will be picking up the pieces,” Barajas told me by phone.
In November, Barajas will focus on electing Republicans and Latinos down the ballot. Like others, he worries about Trump’s impact on lesser candidates. He is not sure what he will do about the top of the ticket.
“I may end up skipping it,” Barajas said of the presidential election.
Paul Mitchell, a consultant who studies voter registration, noted that a surge in pre-primary voter registration is historic. The numbers haven’t been seen since 1980 when Ronald Reagan ran for president. But there’s a twist.
Online Democratic registration was up in the first quarter of the year up by 185 percent, compared with a 63 percent increase among Republican voters.
On Super Tuesday, a day when Trump did well, 18,144 Californians registered online to vote. But 57 percent of them were Democrats and 14 percent were Republicans. Latinos accounted for a fourth of the voters on that date.
In other words, Trump seems to be driving voter registration. To the Democratic Party.