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Trump Up the Volume

California Republicans in the era of Trump

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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 on to 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 every since. The same thing is now going on at the national level."

Correction: The 2010 Sonoma supervisors race was between Pam Torliatt, not Peg, and David Rabbitt. That error has been corrected.

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