Donald Trump took his outsider campaign to the inner sanctum of California’s Republican party, making his case directly to the GOP’s state party convention even as angry demonstrators shadowed him outside in a possible harbinger of the controversy he will bring as the nominating process shifts toward the nation’s most populous and diverse state.
Trump spoke for about 30 minutes today in a basement banquet hall in this town just outside San Francisco airport. It was the sort of small-scale interaction with party activists and donors that he has generally eschewed for grander rallies. Trump came to make his pitch as the nominating calendar moves toward its end-game in California, which with 172 delegates at stake on June 7 could decide the GOP presidential nomination.
The billionaire front-runner told Republicans they needed to come together after their divisive primary but but also delivered a warning. “There has to be unity in our party,” Trump said. “Would I win — can I win — without it? I think so, to be honest with you, because they’re going to be voting for me” — and not the party, he added.
Trump supporters snapped up tickets to the luncheon and cheered heartily for their candidate from a ring of tables around the perimeter of the ballroom. But Trump’s speech got an icier reception from the party veterans and donors who sat just beneath the stage, separated from the rest of the room by a rope.
“We all listened politely,” said Gregory Gandrud, an activist and donor from Santa Barbara County who backs Ohio Gov John Kasich.
Kasich spoke to the convention Friday evening, and Sen Ted Cruz and his new vice presidential pick Carly Fiorina, address it on Saturday. All three candidates are looking to galvanize supporters, sway undecided party members or poach from rival campaigns at the convention. “It’s going to be a free-for-all,” predicted the state party vice chairman, Harmeet Dhillon.
That label clearly applied to Trump’s Orange County rally Thursday night, which filled the Pacific Amphitheatre to its capacity of about 8,000, with many hundreds more turned away.