The Corner

Culture

Observations from California’s GOP Convention

I spent much of the weekend at the California GOP state convention, which attracted all three of the GOP presidential candidates and, as a result, its share of press attention.

It’s always fun catching up with people and getting different perspectives, whether its from the homeschooling investment banker from the bay area who had brought five of his eight kids out to campaign for Cruz, or the Stanford Professor who seemed to be leaning pretty strongly to Trump (and whose name I’ll omit so this person isn’t harassed by his/her colleagues.) I talked with African-Americans from south central Los Angeles,  2nd amendment activists from the central valley, and Northern Californian secessionists (many rural counties in the North of the State have passed proposals to secede and form the new state of Jefferson as their voice is almost unheard in California’s capitol). You can learn a lot just by chatting with people and it’s a reminder of what a diverse coalition of ideas and interests any political party is.

Friday was marred by the disgraceful behavior of Anti-Trump protesters. I had to park a half-mile away and walk to dodge various police roadblocks while obnoxious protesters attempted to break through barricade to disrupt Trump’s speech.  There were a few arrests, but thankfully, no violence on the level of what had been seen at Trump’s appearance the previous day in Orange County.

Cruz supporters were definitely the largest and most visible contingent at the convention, but Trump definitely had a presence as well, and even Kasich backers were occasionally spied.  Cruz supporters tended to be younger and more ethnically diverse.  Trump’s supporters tended to be older and whiter, though Trump also had some significant youth support.

As opposed to what we’ve seen on the campaign trail there was little obvious friction between supporters of the various candidates.  One rare exception was a woman wearing a homemade “Hispanics for Trump” T-shirt who I saw loudly berating another convention attendee about the urgent need for a border wall.

California re-elected long-time National Committeemen Shawn Steel and elected Harmeet Dhillon, current-vice-chair of the party, and an attorney in San Francisco, to the other National Committee slot.  Both are strong personalities and assets to the party, and in my conversation with Harmeet, she was very clear that she felt California, as the nation’s largest state, needed to be playing a much bigger role in GOP deliberations.  Harmeet is the opposite of a shrinking violet (she’s the former editor of the famously combative Dartmouth Review), and it will be interesting to see how she shakes things up at the staid RNC.

The GOP has obviously had a hard time competing in California in recent years for a variety of reasons, some the fault of the party, and some beyond its control.   However, one encouraging contrast for California Republicans is the progress the party has made in diversifying (I’ll expand on this in an article I’m working on about the Asian-American GOP boom in California).

Living in a county that is almost 2/3 non-white, it can often be a bit of a shock to walk into national conservative events or to look at exit polls from Republican primaries, where non-white voters are often few and far between.  But the state GOP convention, while certainly not as diverse as the state itself, had plenty of representation from every age and hue present. The Saturday night party that attracted many younger party activists, dressed in a wide variety of styles, pretty much looked like it could have been a cocktail party anywhere else in the Bay Area. I had a fascinating conversation there with a young Latina GOP activist who had once volunteered for Al Gore, but was subsequently introduced to conservatism by a boyfriend and never looked back.

While the California GOP has a lot of work to do, the party is putting itself in a position to really compete statewide by developing a grassroots activist base that is increasingly representative of the state as a whole.  It is “us “ talking to others of “us” rather than “us” figuring out how to recruit “ them” and that’s a very healthy dynamic for the party going forward—one that would be great to repeat in the rest of the country.

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