Trump’s resilience gives California GOP dreams of payback in a state that has long been blue

Former President Trump’s resilience in the 2024 presidential campaign is providing the California Republican Party, whose members gathered in the Bay Area this weekend to hone their strategy for the November election, with dreams of power and payback in a state where Democrats have long reigned.

Despite the Golden State’s leftward tilt, a range of liberal policies — including those on abortion, vehicle emissions standards and protections for immigrants who entered the country illegally — could be undercut if Trump returns to the White House and Republicans take control of Congress.

“A Trump administration would definitely change things here a little bit in California to make [life] a little bit easier for Californians,” said state GOP chair Jessica Millan Patterson, citing the high cost of gas, the fentanyl crisis and border issues.

Dan Schnur, a politics professor at USC, UC Berkeley and Pepperdine, said it was hard to imagine a policy area that would not be affected if the former president beats the incumbent in November.

“For California Republicans, it’s a dream. For California Democrats, it’s a nightmare,” Schnur said. “Republicans have been dramatically outnumbered in this state for a generation, but now they would have a president who would be able to act on their most important issues. And on the flip side, Democrats have absolute control in state politics and state government, but a Republican president — especially Trump — would create an immense obstacle to almost all of their goals.”

If Trump wins, California will become “a last bastion of safety” for Democrats nationally, Schnur said.

Leaders of the California Democratic Party met this weekend in San Diego to plan their agenda and fortify their ranks. With the party riven by discord over President Biden’s response to the war in the Gaza Strip, speakers called for unity and cast nightmarish visions of how a second Trump term might threaten their progressive agenda.

“We cannot let ourselves be divided, because the outcome of that division is Donald Trump,” David Campos, the state party’s vice-chair and a former San Francisco supervisor, said.

Campos raised the specter of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where protesters in the streets were met with police violence, and divisions erupted inside the venue. He cautioned that the chaos resulted in Republican Richard Nixon’s election to the Oval Office.

The Democratic Party’s convention returns to Chicago this summer.

California Democratic Party leaders described the prospect of a second Trump term in dystopian terms, with threats to abortion, immigrant and voting rights and the state’s dearly held environmental protections. They painted a picture of a fragile democracy that is itself at risk.

“This nation is in peril,” California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, the top election official, warned, saying everything for which the party has fought for decades is “slowly being ripped away.”

Leaders in both parties vowed to fight for several competitive California House seats, arguing that the state will be essential to determining which party controls Congress.

Although California is an overwhelmingly blue state, with Democratic voters outnumbering Republicans by almost 2 to 1, it is home to more than 5.3 million members of the GOP.

Among California Republicans, the enthusiasm for the former president was palpable at their convention, with attendees posing alongside a life-size cardboard cutout; sporting sparkly red lapel pins bearing his name; and chanting, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” at a “Make California Great Again!” breakout session.

“It’s a must-win election, right?” Lara Trump, co-chair of the Republican National Committee and the former president’s daughter-in-law, said at a Saturday night banquet. If President Biden wins, she said, “we’re not going to have the same country left on the other side.”

She urged attendees, who spent up to $750 on tickets for her events, to counsel voters who may be turned off by Trump’s personality.

“Say, if you are going to hire somebody for a job, and you had a person you knew was going to be exceptional at that job, but maybe you didn’t like the person. I don’t know — maybe you didn’t want to hang out with them or go out after work with them,” she said. “And then you had another person who was maybe — I don’t even want to say ‘great to be around’ — and fell asleep a lot. Was kind of very, very calm, very subdued, but was going to be terrible at that job. Who would you choose for that job? You will choose the person who would get the job done. Go out and vote for that guy, Donald J. Trump.”

Delegate Lanhee Chen, a Stanford University professor and former advisor to GOP presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney, argued that a Trump reelection would be a “mixed bag” for California. The state’s efforts to protect abortion access, as well as the former president’s populist streak, could provide insulation, though it would not be as protected on other issues that a Republican president could act on through regulatory or executive action.

“You could see a different approach in Washington on issues like [electric vehicles], on the energy issues, on environmental issues as well,” said Chen, who unsuccessfully ran for state controller in 2022. “Interestingly enough, there may not be as much change as you would think.”

Meanwhile, in San Diego, Democrats argued that another Trump term would cause irreparable harm to Californians and the rights and freedoms they cherish.

“Given what Trump and his minions are openly saying at this point, there’s no trying to hide the ball. They’ve been pretty clear about what their plans are,” said state Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks, describing California leadership as the opposite of Trump’s agenda.

The state was a bulwark against Trump’s policies during his presidency. And Democratic leaders used their opposition to Trump to burnish their liberal bona fides in the state, as well as to raise their national profiles; the most notable example is Gov. Gavin Newsom. Widely considered a future presidential candidate, Newsom has demurred while spending his campaign coffers across the nation, trolling Republicans and backing Democratic candidates.

California’s feud with the Trump White House also played out in the courts. Xavier Becerra, the state’s attorney general at the time, filed more than 100 lawsuits against Trump policies.

Litigation from Becerra, who now serves as Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services, included challenges to Trump administration policies on the environment, immigration, healthcare, education, gun control, consumer protection, the census, the U.S. Postal Service and civil rights issues.

California Democrats would inevitably return to their court battles if Trump wins a second term.

The state’s current attorney general, Rob Bonta, told The Times this month that his office has been reviewing Trump’s potential second-term agenda to prepare for a similar onslaught of lawsuits should he defeat Biden.

With Newsom term-limited, Bonta and Becerra are among the prominent Democratic politicians considering a 2026 bid for governor. If Trump wins the presidency, opposition to his agenda will shape the gubernatorial race, as candidates vie to position themselves as best suited to lead a new chapter of California opposition.

The state’s size, history and Democratic dominance means it will once again be the symbolic headquarters of the liberal “resistance,” said Fernando Guerra, a political science professor and director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

“But then, substantively, they have to be the resistance because of the policies that we’ve been pursuing for a long time that we want to continue,” he added, citing the state’s environmental protections that would conflict with a Trump presidency.

Guerra also raised questions about how a Trump presidency could affect federal funding to fight homelessness in Democratic-led cities like Los Angeles, where Mayor Karen Bass has touted her federal relationships as a key part of the homelessness strategy.

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Kevin harson

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