When Donald Trump was running for president, California was an automatic win for his political rivals within his party. Today, it is not much of a slam dunk.
Millions of Republicans in the state are staunch supporters of Trump, and the new delegate restrictions established by his supporters are further tipping the scales in his favor. Some wealthy establishment contributors and Republicans who vowed they would never support Trump are now “in denial” and seeking an alternative candidate. Trump was traveling to California to speak at a party convention and appear at rallies with supporters around Southern California, but he refused to debate on Wednesday at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.
To curb Trump’s momentum before Super Tuesday, his few remaining opponents, such as Iowa, have sent foot troops to more competitive ground. If Trump’s massive polling advantage holds, he will win all 169 delegates in California on Super Tuesday, solidifying his dominance over the state that gave the world Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.
The lack of a viable alternative to Trump has received much attention in the Golden State. Conservative-leaning independents and moderate Republicans are turned off by the MAGA brand in states where Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly two to one. Trump’s indictments have infuriated the rank and file, but they have rallied to his side.
The demographics of the Republican base are substantially responsible for Trump’s lead in California: they are primarily white, male, and Christian.
Trump received nearly 55% of the vote in the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies survey, while DeSantis received only 16%. Half of DeSantis’ support has evaporated, and it has nothing to do with opposition to Trump.
When Republicans in California altered the delegate rules in the summer, a candidate who received more than 50% of the statewide vote on March 5 would be awarded all of the state’s delegates, potentially ending Trump’s race. This action was devastating for DeSantis since it made it extremely difficult for candidates statewide to compete with Trump in a state with a high cost of advertising.
The apparent retreat of the pro-DeSantis super PAC, symbolized by the relocation to Iowa of a seasoned California operative, has rendered the Golden State moot. The Club for Growth’s “Win It Back PAC” is spending millions to support non-Trump candidates in early states. In Iowa, activists like DeSantis are speaking up.
Trump’s opponents in California can only hope that the election is moved to another state. Disengaged voters in national generic polls may not reflect the results of the microcosm campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. A primary challenger to Trump might find an opening in the form of a Southern California debate. Supporters of other candidates, who realize that Trump’s participation would bring them greater attention, have been left depressed and possibly demoralized by his absence from the podium.