The former president railed against Democrats and again claimed the 2020 election was rigged in his speech to the California Republican Party. With him skipping the primary debates, the party convention may get the next best thing, with speeches also by Sen. Tim Scott and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
ANAHEIM — Donald Trump railed against mail-in ballots and repeated falsehoods about a rigged 2020 presidential election in his speech to California Republicans today.
“No way we lose this state in a real election,” said the former president, who lost California to President Biden in 2020 by a 63% to 34% margin.
Trump repeated many of the same talking points from his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, including criticizing California under “‘far left” Democratic leadership — Gov. Gavin Newsom (“He’s an environmental maniac, but only for political reasons”), “Marxist” district attorneys and “woke tech leaders.”
“I’m here to tell you that help is on its way,” he told more than 1,500 people crowded into an Anaheim convention center ballroom.
To roaring applause, Trump took the stage at the state Republican Party’s convention — the closest thing to a primary debate so far since he’s skipping the actual televised face-offs, including one Wednesday night in Simi Valley.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina will speak at a mid-afternoon session, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will give the dinner address. Vivek Ramaswamy, a former biotech executive, is scheduled to speak on Saturday.
But Trump is the headliner, even if he did arrive an hour late. His 90-minute stump speech included criticisms of various Democratic leaders — asking how former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband was doing and describing the speaking style of Rep. Maxine Waters as “violent,” and Rep. Adam Schiff’s small neck.
Trump’s courting of party activists — and not all voters in the debates — is central to his strategy to win the GOP nomination again.
Winning over the base in California could mean winning all 169 delegates at stake in the state’s March primary — the biggest prize of any state and about 14% of the estimated total 1,234 needed to become the Republican nominee.
That potential delegate sweep is a gift from the state party, which changed its rules in July to a winner-take-all system statewide, instead of divvying up delegates by congressional district. And that shouldn’t be too much of a struggle: In California, as in many other states, Trump has the loyal support of most of the party. In a Public Policy Institute of California poll this week, Trump came in at 48% among Republican likely voters — just short of the 50% plus one he needs to get all the delegates. DeSantis is the only other candidate in double digits, at 14%.
In a rematch with President Biden in strongly Democratic California, however, the PPIC poll suggests that Trump would lose handily, again: Biden leads 57% to 26% among likely voters.
Trump’s support among Republicans is despite federal and state indictments he faces for interfering in the 2020 election, and for mishandling classified documents. He joked about the charges throughout the speech, and told the delegates, “I’m being indicted for you.”
For any of the other GOP candidates, it’s an uphill fight to gain public attention, much less votes.
Some of the seven who did show up at the Reagan presidential library for Wednesday night’s debate tried to highlight Trump’s absence. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie even tried to coin a nickname — “Donald Duck” — for ducking debates.
But mostly, the candidates tried to tout themselves, when not taking shots at each other — and sometimes shading the truth to do so. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley had one of the most talked-about moments, by saying of Ramaswamy: “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber from what you say.”
For his part, Trump told supporters at a rally Wednesday night in Michigan that debate participants are applying for a job in his next administration. And he claimed he isn’t impressed: “Does anybody see the VP in the group? I don’t think so.”
Other things Trump said
- On law and order: Those who steal from stores “can fully expect to be shot,” which prompted a standing ovation and “Trump” chants. (Retail theft is getting a lot of attention, prompting a “strike” by Oakland business owners this week.)
- On California’s drought: Officials have sacrificed people’s water needs for the sake of the environment: Due to water rationing, “rich people from Beverly Hills, generally speaking, don’t smell so good.”
- On immigration: The U.S.-Mexico border was under better control during his tenure, and now there are issues at the border with Canada as well.
- On Newsom and Biden: Newsom “has become Biden’s top surrogate, because he doesn’t think he’s gonna make it.” (The governor insists he’s not running in 2024 and is all in on helping Biden win reelection.)
Sen. Scott, who didn’t register in the PPIC poll of California Republicans, followed Trump and echoed some of the same points — addressing crime by funding the police, supporting parents’ bill of rights and “breaking the backs of teachers’ unions” and opposing transgender athletes. But in his speech to delegates, he focused especially on the southern border, blaming lax policies for deaths caused by fentanyl.
In a half-hour conversation with state party chairperson Jessica Millan Patterson, Scott also delved into his “Made in America” plan, which he said would create millions of new jobs by easing restrictions on oil drilling.
Trump didn’t mention Scott in his speech.
But he continued the months of sparring with DeSantis — “I don’t give a damn if he’s a Republican” — who he said came to him for help in his gubernatorial campaign.
“I said, ‘Ron, if I were George Washington and Abraham Lincoln combined, and I came back from the dead and I endorsed you, I don’t think it would matter.’ ”
DeSantis, in his dinner keynote, hit back at Trump for taking credit for turning Florida more Republican, and needled the former president for losing Arizona and Georgia.
But for the most part, the Florida governor focused on his record — something he argued differentiates him from the other candidates at the debate. He emphasized his actions in support of the parental rights movement, boasting about implementing a parents’ bill of rights, and about Florida prohibiting “critical race theory” in schools.
“On issue after issue, we don’t chirp, we don’t virtue signal. We deliver,” he told delegates.
But he also noted his own unpopularity, sort of: He didn’t see any protesters on this trip to California, unlike prior visits.
Other things DeSantis said
- On crime: Met several Californians who reported being mugged, and pledged to fund the police.
- On fentanyl: Would build the border wall, not just to deal with illegal immigration, but to deter Mexican drug cartels.
- On debate with Newsom: In the ”tussle” with California’s governor Nov. 30 on Fox News, expects Newsom will “pull out statistics,” but can point to the number of California license plates in Florida: “How are people actually voting with their feet?”
DeSantis didn’t venture into stolen elections or voter fraud, unlike Trump.
Despite Trump warning again about fraud with mail ballots, California Republican leaders are resigned to working within the system to have any hope of winning statewide races again. At this weekend’s convention, delegates can attend sessions about how to take advantage of the state’s election system of sending mail ballots to all voters.
The change to the system of awarding delegates — which some suspect has “Trump’s fingerprints” — has been one of a few internal battles roiling the state GOP. This weekend, party activists will also vote on whether to amend its platform to remove opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion — a move that drew conservative members to organize in opposition.
Others are calling for changes to the endorsement process. The party endorses any Republican running in a partisan race in which no other Republican is running, which “has led to some very embarrassing endorsements,” Matt Shupe, chairperson of the Contra Costa Republican Party, and Ron Nehring, former state party chairperson, wrote in an Orange County Register op-ed.
But tonight, the party’s rules committee blocked that proposal.
GOP leaders and activists will hear Friday from Donald Trump and other presidential candidates before deciding whether to change the party platform on abortion and same-sex marriage.
As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis postures for a possible presidential campaign, delegates to the California Republican Party convention this weekend remained unquestionably in support of former President Trump in 2024.