Former President Trump, opening up the California Republican Party’s fall convention, assailed Gov. Gavin Newsom, “California radicals” and “tech tyrants” on Friday in a rambling speech that drifted from mandated vaccines for schoolchildren to the quality of his Palos Verdes golf course.
The clear front-runner for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination told the 1,500 party loyalists gathered at a $600-a-plate luncheon at the Anaheim Marriott that Republicans had been “screwed for years” in left-leaning California, which he vowed to rectify if voted back into the White House.
“We’re thrilled to be here with the conservative patriots who are leading the charge to take back the state from the radical left lunatics,” Trump said.
Trump appeared in Southern California two days after skipping the second GOP presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, where he was maligned by his Republican rivals for declining to appear onstage alongside them. Trump instead spoke to supporters at a nonunion truck parts supplier in Michigan, a state dealing with a strike by the United Auto Workers.
He was followed later in the day by Sen. Tim Scott — who spoke about how his “life is a testament to his faith, family and a commitment to the values that make our nation exceptional.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigned in Long Beach earlier in the day and is scheduled to speak at the convention Friday evening.
In Anaheim, just a few blocks from Disneyland, Trump rekindled false allegations similar to those he made after losing the 2020 election to President Biden. The former president lambasted California’s mail-in voting procedures with unproven claims that residents were getting “five ballots or six ballots” and incorrectly stated that there is no in-person voting in the state. He predicted he would win the presidential general election in California, where Biden won by an overwhelming margin in 2020, if the election wasn’t “rigged.”
To cheering and applause from state Republican Party delegates, Trump attacked several California Democrats whom he considers enemies, including Newsom, Vice President Kamala Harris, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Reps. Eric Swalwell, Maxine Waters and Adam Schiff.
“Guess who is running your state? Bad People,” Trump said. “It’s becoming a symbol of our nation’s decline. Gavin Newsom and the far-left communists in Sacramento … San Francisco and L.A. — cities, which are absolutely being destroyed rapidly on a daily basis, have given you sanctuary cities, wide open borders, vast homeless encampments, out-of-control taxes.”
Trump mocked Pelosi and her husband, Paul, who was violently attacked at their San Francisco home last year by a man who espoused an unfounded QAnon theory that Trump is at war with Satan-worshiping Democratic elites who run a child sex ring.
“We will stand up to crazy Nancy Pelosi, who ruined San Francisco,” Trump said.
“How’s your husband doing?” he added as the crowd roared with laughter.
In a hard-to-follow soliloquy, Trump also said that California needs to “dampen” the forests to help prevent wildfires. It was a reminder of a familiar refrain from his years in office when he blamed California’s worsening conflagrations on the state’s failure to rake the forest floors.
“Under the Trump administration we will bring back law and order to California,” Trump said to great applause, promising to do so with a reformed U.S. Department of Justice. “I will direct a complete overhaul of the DOJ to investigate every radical DA … and we will start with the Marxist monsters unleashing mayhem on Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
He was critical on a number of fronts of Newsom, who has emerged as President Biden’s chief defender and leader of the Democratic offense this reelection season.
If reelected, Trump said he would see to it that anyone involved in organized smash-and-grab shoplifting rampages in California and elsewhere would be shot before they left the shopping malls, a claim that defies legal norms for use of deadly force and the nation’s system of local governance in matters of law enforcement. He also promised to cut off federal funding to schools that have mask or vaccine mandates.
“You want it, you can have it, but no mandates,” Trump said.
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In addition to the former president, DeSantis and Scott, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is scheduled to address the convention this weekend.
Trump’s appearance occurred at a critical time for the former president’s campaign and the nation.
The federal government is on the verge of a government shutdown on Sunday if Congress fails to approve a dozen appropriations bills.
And on Thursday, a New York appeals court rejected the former president’s attempt to delay a civil fraud trial.
That’s on top of the four indictments he faces in Washington, New York, Florida and Georgia. In March, Trump is scheduled to go on trial on federal charges that he illegally sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election. California Republicans appeared largely unconcerned by these issues, warmly welcoming the former president with a standing ovation, sustained applause and raucous cheers.
Trump mentioned the charges being brought against him, saying they were political retribution in part because he was challenging Biden.
“If somebody is beating you by 10, 15 or 20 points, like we’re doing with crooked Joe Biden — let’s indict the motherfucker,” Trump said of his opponents’ thinking.
This weekend’s state party gathering was easily the liveliest in years. In addition to paying up to $150 to attend the convention, they could spend as much as $1,325 to attend functions with the potential GOP nominees — which caused sticker shock for some.
However, others were thrilled to see California at the epicenter of the Republican presidential race this week. Despite California being the homes of former Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, GOP candidates rarely travel to the state other than to raise campaign money from well-heeled Republicans.
Outside the hotel ballroom before Trump spoke, Lake Forest City Councilman Scott Voigts posed for a photo in front of a collection of Trump T-shirts with his wife, Stephanie. They weren’t fazed by the cost of the tickets to the event and were excited to see the former president in person.
“He’s so charismatic and a change agent and I want to feel what it’s like to be around that,” Stephanie Voigts said.
The appearance of four candidates at the convention is in part because of the state’s importance in the GOP primary. Despite California’s overwhelming Democratic tilt, it has an enormous cache of Republican nominating delegates — roughly 14% of the number required to clinch the party’s nomination — as well as the deep-pocketed donors who live here. Trump, DeSantis and other candidates in California this week spent a chunk of their time here fundraising. Trump is scheduled to headline a fundraiser Friday night in Beverly Hills, with tickets costing $100,000 per donor benefiting a super PAC backing his bid.
That said, many Southern Californians were not pleased by the former president’s appearance in Orange County, a onetime conservative stronghold that because of Trump voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since the Great Depression.
Democrats gathered outside the Republican convention holding signs designed in the style of a monopoly board that read “Trump: Go directly to jail,” at times clashing with Trump supporters also outside the hotel.
“This is MAGA country!” Trump supporter Nick Taurus, an unsuccessful congressional candidate who identified as an “American nationalist” on his campaign website, yelled at Democrats.
“I don’t even know what that means,” 79-year-old Gerlind Kennedy, a Democrat who lives in Dana Point, responded, shaking her head. “I’m here because you have to make your voice heard. You can’t just complain.”
Nearby, more than 100 Trump supporters gathered at an intersection, waving flags and carrying pro-Trump signs. Adrian Gonzalez, 26, handed out cutouts of Trump’s face on wooden sticks to passersby.
“He’s putting America first and keeping our country safe by building a wall to keep our borders secure,” said Gonzalez, who lives in Los Angeles. “He was also tough on China during the COVID pandemic. And he’s still standing after everything the Democrats threw at him.”
Earlier in the day, DeSantis met with truckers at the Los Angeles Harbor Grain Terminal in Long Beach, saying that the U.S. should become a dominant energy producer.
DeSantis also attacked the leading candidate in the primary, Trump, challenging him to a one-on-one debate. He criticized him for skipping the presidential debates and for failing to deliver on his 2016 campaign promise to finish building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“You got to show up, you got to answer questions, and you got to defend your record,” DeSantis said. “He had four years and didn’t get the job done.”
Florida’s governor also closed out the convention’s first day speaking to about 500 people as they ate dinner. The convention took place in the shadow of Disneyland, and DeSantis referenced his recent battles with Disney Co., saying it was great to speak to everyone “even if it was a little close” to the theme park.
DeSantis noted he’d recorded a segment with HBO’s Bill Maher on Friday and stoked anticipation for his debate in late November with Newsom, which will take place in Georgia. DeSantis anticipates that Newsom will trot out reams of statistics but pointed to the fact that people are leaving California.
“The California model represents more American decline,” DeSantis said. “Florida‘s model represents a way for us to reverse American decline, and represents a way that we can have an American revival.”
Times staff writers Gabriel San Román, Hannah Fry and Christopher Goffard contributed to this report.