Donald Trump made a personal pitch to California Republicans Friday, declaring “help is on the way” to his supporters in a state where Democrats are dominant, falsely claiming his 30-point defeats here were the result of fraud.
The former president traveled to the state Republican Party convention in Anaheim as he works to solidify his support in a GOP presidential contest he has led for months. California’s 169 convention delegates are the biggest prize in the race for the GOP nomination, and Trump can win them all by getting at least 50% of the vote in the March 5 primary.
“This is a state the right Republican can win and I think win easily,” Trump said, claiming without evidence that fraud from the state’s embrace of mail ballots drove his loss by more than 5 million votes to President Joe Biden. Election experts and Trump’s own administration said the 2020 election was secure and the outcome was not affected by fraud.
Trump’s criticism came the same day that the Republican National Committee launched its “Bank your Vote” initiative in New York, which urges Republicans to vote before Election Day. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel brushed off Trump’s continued skepticism.
“I think we have to take those fights on, but also understand that once it gets to game day, the rules that are on the field are what we need to play by and President Trump is all in on that,” she said.
Trump tapped into California Republicans’ exhaustion with their state’s Democratic leaders, who he said has brought the state homelessness, open borders, high taxes, inequality, “woke tech tyrants” and rising crime.
California was once a symbol of American prosperity and creativity but is “becoming a symbol of our nation’s decline,” Trump said.
“We will reverse the decline of America and we will end the desecration of your once great state, California,” Trump said. “This is not a great state anymore. This is a dumping ground. You’re a dumping ground. The world is being dumped into California. Prisoners. Terrorists. Mental patients.”
Trump’s afternoon speech came two days after he bypassed the second GOP debate held at Ronald Reagan’s presidential library northwest of Los Angeles, signaling again that he sees no need to appear side-by-side with lesser-known contenders.
Crowds at state party conventions tend to be thick with conservative grassroots activists, an ideal setting for the former president, even as he faces felony charges in four criminal cases.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy were also scheduled to speak at the two-day convention being held at a hotel near Disneyland.
Waiting in line to enter the ballroom, Dan Cox, a real estate agent from Orange County and registered Republican, was sporting a “Keep America Great” cap and red tie, telegraphing his support for Trump. He lamented rising prices that have put homeownership out of the reach of many families in the state.
“I’m voting for someone who can get the job done,” he said, adding that he doesn’t trust Biden.
Cox waved off any concern about Trump’s legal problems: “It makes my decision stronger,” he said.
Before landing in Anaheim, Trump and his private plane did a fly-by at the Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach.
Not surprisingly, Democratic groups protested near the convention site.
“When the leading candidate of a major political party is under indictment for attempting to overthrow free and fair elections, every voter needs to stop and think about where our country is headed,” San Bernardino County Democratic Party Chair Kristin Washington said in a statement. “The last thing any American needs is to relive that madness.”
A Public Policy Institute of California voter survey released Wednesday, but conducted in late August and early September, found Trump with support from nearly half of the likely Republican primary voters. DeSantis was far back, at 14%, with the rest of the field lagging in single digits.
The large gap between Trump and the remainder of the field largely mirrored the results of many other state and national polls.
California — where Democrats hold every statewide office, dominate the Legislature and congressional delegation and outnumber registered Republicans by about 2-to-1 — is not expected to be competitive in the November 2024 presidential election.
The last Republican to win a presidential contest in California was George H.W. Bush in 1988. George W. Bush was the last Republican to make a significant investment in California in 2000 and he went on to lose the state to Democrat Al Gore by 12 points.
The primary next March, however, could be a different story.
A state GOP rule change in July opened the possibility that Trump could sweep the state’s trove of delegates when California is among more than a dozen states participating in the Super Tuesday contests.
Under the change, a Republican presidential candidate who pulls in more than 50% of the primary vote would be awarded all 169 delegates. If no candidate hits that threshold, delegates will be awarded proportionally. Such a winner-take-all rule didn’t exist in recent presidential elections in the state.
Similar rule changes seen as benefiting the Trump campaign are playing out elsewhere, including in Michigan and Nevada.
Former Californian Geri Ainsworth, a retired nurse now living in Oregon, made a special trip to her former home state to attend the Trump speech with her husband, Ron. The registered Republican said the legal cases against Trump are poisoned by politics and “my resolve is even stronger” to support him.
“Every relationship is built on trust,” she said.