Trump’s comeback could mean a ‘foggy’ future for Southern California Republicans – Orange County Register

Former President Donald Trump has officially made his comeback — but is that what a Republican in Southern California wants?

Nearly seven and a half years (or approximately 2,700 days) since Trump first descended that golden escalator to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” at his New York City hotel, the former president announced a third run for the White House .

Back then, Trump’s message was one that made himself the best candidate to defeat the Islamic State group, create jobs and boost the country’s economy.

This time, about 1,200 miles south in Florida, Trump — who is under investigation for his actions related to the deadly 2021 Capitol riot and for allegedly misusing classified information when he left office — has high gas and turkey prices denounced and promised to be “the president who will finally regulate education” and shook up illegal immigration.

“There’s a part of Donald Trump that’s a strong leader in America’s culture war, and people like that,” said Jon Fleischman, a California political strategist.

RELATED: Most California voters don’t want Biden or Trump running in 2024

Elisha Krauss, a Los Angeles-based conservative commentator who doesn’t support a Trump revival, said there will “always be a small percentage of GOPers, more likely in California or across the country, who are going to poke fun at him.”

“Part of the loyalty that you see towards Trump even now is because people really give him credit for opening their eyes to corruption and the size and hype of the government,” Krauss said of California supporters. “Even if they’re not die-hard election deniers, they don’t want to let go of him as a role model or speaker.”

Los Angeles County Republican Party Chairman Timothy L. O’Reilly said, “Nearly every Republican celebrates the effective conservative policies introduced during President Trump’s administration. Many of our members will look forward to his potential return.”

Donald Trump takes the stage for the second GOP presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA September 16, 2015. On Tuesday, November 15, Trump announced his third presidential bid.  (Photo by David Crane/Los Angeles News Group )
Donald Trump takes the stage for the second GOP presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library on September 16, 2015 in Simi Valley, California. On Tuesday, November 15, Trump announced his third presidential candidacy. (Photo by David Crane/Los Angeles News Group)

Trump’s announcement came fairly early in the 2024 cycle, after a relatively disappointing mid-election season for the GOP. And there has been speculation about several other Republican officials, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, potentially preparing for a White House run.

“Right now it’s an interesting time for Trump to make an announcement. The election didn’t go the way a Republican would have liked,” said Fleischman, former executive director of the California Republican Party.

“I don’t know how the election day results directly affect Trump. But I know they affect him indirectly because obviously, at least for now, Ron DeSantis is the other person being talked about and he had an amazing election night,” Fleischman said. “With grassroots votes, Trump starts off very strong, but … now an eye is on Ron DeSantis that may not have been entirely on it before. And maybe there’s an opening to say, ‘I know Trump, but who is this other guy and what’s up with him and what’s the secret sauce he found in Florida because I want to win .'”

Matthew Beckmann, a UCI professor of political science, called Republicans’ horizons “foggy.”

“It’s easy to imagine Trump re-establishing himself as the party’s obvious flag-bearer, and it’s just as easy to imagine him becoming a visible but marginal player,” Beckmann said. “That’s why Trump’s announcement puts other Republicans in a difficult position right now. He forces them to choose a horse long before it’s clear who else could run, let alone win.”

When the now 76-year-old Trump first ran in 2016, he faced a large group of Republican contenders in the primary — which ultimately worked in his favor.

“It’s hard to imagine the rest of the potential candidates rallying behind any of them, so it’s entirely possible that Trump could once again capitalize on the divided loyalty of non-Trump Republican voters,” said Dan Schnur, a politics professor at the U.S.C.

In this November 3, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump stands behind gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis at a rally in Pensacola, Fla.  Trump officially launched a 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday, November 16, 2022 after criticizing DeSantis after the midterm elections.  (AP Photo/Butch Dill, file)
In this November 3, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump stands behind gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis at a rally in Pensacola, Fla. Trump officially launched a 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday, November 16, 2022 after criticizing DeSantis after the midterm elections. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, file)

Many Republican leaders in California have already taken a cautious stance when discussing Trump’s candidacy — and it’s easy to see why. He’s a leader who has demanded pitiful allegiance – meaning current and future politicians must carefully balance support from the former president and an electorate that may not like Trump all that much.

This balancing act was evident in the recent midterm elections in Southern California. The former president has made no endorsements at some of Southern California’s most closely watched convention races and has been absent from campaign events. (Trump endorsed Reps. Darrell Issa and Ken Calvert in the primary, a spokesman for his PAC said.)

And several statewide Republican candidates, such as Nathan Hochman, who ran for attorney general and controller nominee Lanhee Chen, publicly announced that they had not voted for the former president. (Both Hochman and Chen lost their midterm races.)

Ellie Hockenbury, spokeswoman for the CAGOP, said the state party will remain neutral as it disagrees in the current primary.

“We would be fortunate to have one of the pre-eminent Republican leaders who could choose to run for President in place of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, whose track record includes rising inflation, record high gas prices, rising crime and failing schools,” he said Hockenbury.

Annine Madok, vice president of the Pacific Palisades Republican Club, also said her organization will support anyone nominated by the Republicans in 2024. And their focus is more on Republicans competing in state and local races.

“The focus should be on racing in Southern California and making Southern California a more livable and better place for everyone,” Madok said. “Problems like crime, homelessness and corruption need a local solution and deserve a focused local and national focus.”

But for the Redlands Tea Party Patriots’ John Berry, another Trump campaign is welcome.

“Trump has proven on the international stage that he can deliver for our country,” Berry said. “No other president since Ronald Reagan can match Trump’s accomplishments.”

But as Krauss pointed out, the primary timeline could see the 2024 Republican nominee decided well before California voters can weigh in. “Until it comes to us, we’re going with the person who’s already decided,” she said.

For Republicans to ultimately win, embassies must play a role, said Teresa Davis Morgenstern, author and former Trump administration official.

“Republicans win on issues of promoting liberty, reducing inflation, improving the economy, reducing crime, and empowering parents in education. People want good, competent government,” she said. “They also don’t want distracting, exhausting behavior. Tone matters to swing voters in the suburbs. If members can keep up, Republicans will do well in 2024.”

Those sentiments apply to Rick Reiss, a Temecula resident, who said he was “pretty upset” by Trump’s previous remarks about DeSantis and GOP Virginia Gov. Glen Youngkin. But he said he was “surprised and impressed” by Trump’s announcement speech overall, which he viewed as free of attacks on the two Republican governors and instead focused on his own record.

“I can say I’m cautiously optimistic, and there’s undoubtedly going to be a lot of excitement and intrigue in the future ahead,” Reiss said.

Whatever Trump’s 2024 candidacy may hold for Southern California Republicans or the former president, Schnur summed it up: “Hopefully everyone enjoyed the few hours they had between the end of the 2022 campaign and the start of the 2024 election cycle.”

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