Feature: Trump up the volume

California Republicans in the era of Trump

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Donald Trump is using the power of his celebrity to support his extreme views regarding immigration.

by Tom Gogola

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 (not to mention his extremely positive views of himself), 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 a couple months ago (“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 juxtaposes 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 in the North Bay and beyond.

A couple of weeks ago proved to be quite a run for readers of political tea leaves and the prospects for Tea Party favorites. Trump led the pack as Bush made that unfortunate “stuff happens” comment about the Oregon mass shooting. Meanwhile, Carly Fiorina continued to fib mightily about Planned Parenthood videos, Ted Cruz accused Obama of tearing the country apart—pot, kettle, black—and Ben Carson was looking like the adult in the room, although he also looked like he just woke up from a meat coma. Then he started talking about guns. Youch!

On the other side, Hillary Clinton breezed through California for various $2,700-a-plate donor dinners last week, which included a visit to Belvedere in Marin County.

But she’ll need to pivot to a more Bernie Sanders–like populism if she hopes to ascend to the White House, says David McCuan, Sonoma State University political scientist. That’s something she failed to do against Obama in 2008, he recalls. Now she faces the prospect of facing off against Trump in 2016 in the general election, and I think we can all agree that would be a wild freaking ride.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House John Boehner, having been Pope-shamed in his own house and having at last determined that his party has been given over to a strain of rampant yahooism—straight up announced his resignation from Congress, and set off a desperate scrum to replace him.

The putative favorite out the gate was the Kern County–based majority leader Kevin McCarthy, but as the week wore on, McCarthy emerged as nothing if not totally compromised, and perhaps incompetent.

Just as Boehner was bailing out on the GOP-led House, McCarthy went on Sean Hannity’s show and uttered the truth—at long last!—about the Benghazi select committee in Congress: That its purpose was to help drive down Clinton’s poll numbers. McCarthy said he’d bring a Benghazi-like focus to Planned Parenthood via another select committee. Hannity thanked McCarthy for his efforts on behalf of the American people.

But the moment of unscripted get-Hillary truth-telling cost McCarthy, and by week’s end he was being challenged by Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz for the leadership role. The vote is October 29.

Vote counters on the Hill were already pointing out that there was no way McCarthy could gather the votes needed to ascend to Boehner’s chair, and Chaffetz went over to Politico.com after his announcement and told reporters that McCarthy doesn’t have the speaking skills to be speaker. McCarthy was already famous in Congress for his way with the malapropism, which is a polite way of saying that he’s not very articulate.

Meanwhile, Benghazi, Benghazi and Benghazi! Oh yeah, and immigration too.

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 also plans to force American employers to hire American workers if elected president.

Noted North Bay 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. “If undocumented workers disappeared from the North Bay, a lot of the economic growth and functioning of the county would disappear,” he says. “That’s just the reality.”

Solomon says the Trump phenomenon can be seen through the lens of a country that’s experienced tough financial times and is now angling for scapegoats. Lost your 401k in 2008 because of Lehman Brothers, and now you’re bagging groceries at Whole Foods? Bash Hector!

Trump has stepped into a breach where a silent minority no longer remains silent, and who 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 North Bay is undercut, and sharply, through just a cursory spin through a couple of weeks’ worth of North Bay 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.

Solomon recalls that in 2010, when Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt was running against Pam Torliatt, xenophobe politics raised its ugly head right here. Torliatt was asked in a campaign event whether she would consider voting to make Sonoma County a sanctuary county. A subsequent mailer (not issued by the Rabbitt campaign) stoked fears of unhinged Mexican violence should Sonoma go that route—and invoked a murder in San Francisco to make the point. Sound familiar? The county passed on becoming a sanctuary destination, and Torliatt got creamed in the election.

McCuan 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 hyper-local 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.

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.

The Sonoma County Republican Committee was one of several county GOP outlets that participated in an event last month (Solano and Napa counties were also in attendance) where Benghazi was on the agenda, in the form of an appearance by serviceman Kris Tanto Paronto who was in Libya when four Americans were killed. His appearance was held in advance of the January 2016 release of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi that partisans say is going to be the final nail in the Clinton coffin. Even worse than those emails she deleted.

13 Hours is promoted as the film that will prove once and for all that Barack Obama hates Americans so much that he let them die while Clinton stood there and did nothing. Who gave the order to stand down? Nobody. But he’s a Muslim, she’s a bitch, end of story. Vote Trump! The candidate recently issued a very screwy video that accused Clinton of dancing with her husband while Benghazi burned. She is not named, but the scrolled text accuses politicians of “having fun” during the catastrophe.

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

Edelweiss “Eddie” Geary is chair of the Sonoma County Republican Party, and believes that maybe Trump was onto 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.” She also iterated a number of general GOP talking points on Benghazi and Planned Parenthood, and also threatened to beat me, jokingly, with a rolled-up copy of the Bohemian if I threw her under the bus for this story. So I won’t do that.

The local party hasn’t endorsed a candidate, Geary says, but she speaks favorably of Trump when she notes, “He’s saying, basically, ‘We’re tired, and we’re not going to take it anymore.’ I get calls from people all the time: Where can they get Donald Trump material.”

Like a lot of Republicans, Geary also wants to know where Obama was the night of Benghazi. “We have no idea where he was.” And she says the Benghazi episode highlights that Clinton is not qualified to be president, as she repeats a well-traveled Clinton response to a congressional inquiry about Benghazi with, “At this point what difference does it make?”

And Geary says there’s plenty of support for Trump in the North Bay. The group had a table at the Sonoma County Fair this year and Geary says if she “had a dollar for every person at the booth who said they were supporting Trump, I could retire.”

Noted North Bay vintner Don Sebastiani is supporting Ben Carson and sent him $2,016 back in March, according to records available at Open Secrets. Carson is the only Republican candidate who has rightly observed that white Americans don’t want to be working in the fields.

Before he was a vintner, Sebastiani was a Republican member of the California Assembly. He supports Carson but doesn’t expect him to win; threw a dinner for Rand Paul earlier this year; expects Jeb Bush to be the eventual GOP nominee; says he dislikes Ted Cruz very much—and likes Marco Rubio, also very much.

Trump? Not so much. Sebastiani says he “kind of likes” Trump’s tax plan—tax cuts, simplify the code—”but a lot of what he is doing is demagoguing … He’s insulting his way to the White House.”

And Trump’s plan to force American employers like him to hire American-born workers? Sebastiani says Trump’s extremism on this point, compared to Carson, “is one of the things that I love about Ben Carson.”

Sebastiani says he’s all for an enforceable border policy, but scoffs at the idea of slapping handcuffs on 11 million people and sending them back to Mexico. Even his sixth-grade grandchild is noticing a certain quality about Trump. Sebastiani recalls the child recently declared, “This Trump is a racist!”

“What he is,” Sebastiani says, “is a publicist, and a stunning one.”

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. Is the state now a leader in partisanship?

McCuan observes that in California, there are lots of anti-tax Republicans, social conservatives and three moderates—”Arnold Schwarzenegger and two of his friends.”

Where did the rest of the moderates go?

“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.”

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