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Here and Don: California Republicans in the era of Trump

Donald TrumpCalifornia Republicans in the era of Trump  

Donald Trump’s campaign has so far been a general exercise in name-calling, immigrant-bashing and snippy tweets directed at out-of-favor reporters.

He’s running on the power of his celebrity and channeling Ted Nugent while saving the gory policy details for later—except as they relate to immigration. That one’s a no-brainer: Everyone must go!

It’s a drama driven to heights of nativism, and thanks to the pugilism of Trump and his extreme views on immigration, we’re looking at the most hateful electoral throw-down in memory. At the first GOP debate, he laid claim to the immigration mantle and said nobody would be talking about it were it not for him.

None of the other candidates disagreed, even as Trump has driven the other top-tier candidates to the right on immigration and pushed the GOP establishment into frenzied distraction in the process. Trump’s willingness to spill buckets of blood goes beyond his support for those two thugs who beat up a Mexican in his name in August (“The people that are following me are very passionate,” was his heinous defense, before he thought better of it).

Trump has already dropped a Willie Horton ad on Jeb “Third Time’s a Charm” Bush for daring to utter the word “love” in connection with a fair enough question about why Mexicans come here to work and then send money back to their families.

Trump’s ad juxtaposed Bush’s “love” comment with the Mexican rapists he plans to exploit all the way to the White House. The ad is priceless in its irresponsibility and rhetorical violence, and his poll numbers are holding steady. That Trump. He just says what’s on his mind. Mexicans have meanwhile responded with Trump piñatas—Watsonville’s Marquez Bros. Piñatas made the news last year when “the Donald” became their most popular model.

With the caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire fast approaching, Trump still leads every major national poll for the GOP primary race. A Monmouth University poll from the middle of December put him at 41 percent—a 28 percent lead over second-place Ted Cruz—while others show the race at least somewhat tighter. According to CNN Poll of Polls averages, Trump enjoys the support of more than twice as many New Hampshire GOP voters than the next closest candidate; he’s polling at 26 percent, versus Marco Rubio’s 12 percent, with every other candidate registering single digits. In Iowa, CNN has Trump two points behind Cruz, with the rest of the pack again at less than 10 percent.

On Monday, Trump released his first campaign ad, which rather than shying away from his roundly criticized proposal to ban all Muslim immigrants, instead doubles down, actually opening with the promise of this “temporary” (whatever that is supposed to mean) ban. A radical immigration policy, it is now abundantly clear, is the backbone of his campaign.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Dec. 14 reported that six in 10 Republican voters back Trump’s proposed ban.

STATE BREAKAWAY

Even as the national Republican Party has pivoted hard right, the California state Republican Party has started to lay off the immigrant-bashing rhetoric.

In advance of its convention in September, the state party defanged some of its immigration plank—in apparent recognition of the fact that Trump is a looming demographic disaster of the highest order.

For his contribution to a necessary national conversation around immigration, Trump has pledged to forcibly remove 11 million undocumented immigrants now living here. There’s somewhere around 1.5 million in this state alone, many in the agricultural sector, working in the proverbial shadows.

Along the way, Trump promises he’ll force all those Syrian refugees back to their home country, too, or whatever’s left of it. It seems like a lot of what Trump stands for has to do with forcibly removing people. According to his immigration plan, he would also force American employers to hire American workers if elected president.

Progressive author and former congressional candidate Norman Solomon says nobody with a clue about American history should be surprised at the xenophobia driving the Trump phenomenon. Solomon says it can be seen through the lens of a country that’s experienced tough financial times and is now angling for scapegoats. Trump has stepped into a breach where a silent minority no longer remains silent, and will say and do the darnedest things in the service of Trump America. Much of that battle has played out in the anonymously enraged avenues of the Internet and right-wing radio. The image of a thoroughly progressive Bay Area is undercut, and sharply, through just a cursory spin through a couple of weeks’ worth of local rants and raves on Craigslist.

Indeed, last summer’s killing of Kathryn Steinle by an undocumented alien along San Francisco’s Embarcadero put that city’s “sanctuary” status in the national crosshairs—and sanctuary cities across the country right along with it.

David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist, says immigration and the sanctuary issue will likely find its way onto ballot measures in around half the states in 2016—a great issue for “tilting at windmills,” he says.

“Trump has unleashed but really just revisited the issue,” McCuan says about immigration, an issue that will serve to stimulate Republican turnout in 2016.

McCuan sees a future California GOP as one that focuses its efforts on hyperlocal races—school boards, planning commissions—and uses the ballot process to fan the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment. The most extreme end of the state party is the California Republican Assembly, he says, and that organization is hell-bent on rebuilding the farm team via local elections, regardless of what the state party does or doesn’t do when it comes to immigrants.

OUT OF CALIFORNIA’S PAST

So there’s a disconnect on undocumented immigration between the national party and the California GOP—and within the state party itself—but at least they agree on one thing: Benghazi. That story has trickled all the way down to local Republican committees, like so much supply-side manna from Libya.

This fall, NorCal county GOP committees flocked to see serviceman Kris Tanto Paronto, who was in Libya when four Americans were killed. His appearance was in advance of the release this month of the Michael-Bay-produced film 13 Hours, based on the book Paronto co-authored, 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi. Partisans are promoting the film as the bombshell that will prove once and for all that Barack Obama let Americans die while Hillary Clinton stood there and did nothing. Meanwhile, Trump issued a very screwy video that accuses politicians of “having fun” during the catastrophe.

Benghazi is a great way to get the base worked up, but shouldn’t California Republicans be a little more concerned about Trump and his immigration plan?

A request for comment made to the chairman of the Santa Cruz Republican Party was not returned by press time. Edelweiss “Eddie” Geary, chair of the Sonoma County Republican Party, believes that maybe Trump was on to something when he said that Mexico wasn’t necessarily sending its best across the border.

“Well, Mr. Trump said they send us their criminals,” Geary says. “I don’t know if Mexico is concerned about saying goodbye to those people.”

Geary says she supports legal immigration and says the GOP is “branded unfairly as being against immigration.”

A common theme in stories about California is how the state has led the proverbial way. It led the way in gay marriage, curbing emissions and medical cannabis.

“Every Republican I know is kind of embarrassed at this point,” says second-term U.S. Rep Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. “Most of the time they will tell you that they’ve voted for Democrats for years. Most will tell you that the party has left them.”

Huffman sees in the Trump anti-immigrant gambit a corollary from California’s not-distant past. Voters here passed the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994, which turned out to be a disaster for the state party that pushed it.

“At the national level, the GOP led by Trump and Cruz and others—it’s exactly what happened to the California GOP in 1994 with Wilson,” Huffman says, referring to former governor Pete Wilson, Republican. “He played to an ugly type of populism to win an election, and it’s cost them elections ever since. The same thing is now going on at the national level.”


Good Times staff contributed to this story.

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