About 18 million of California’s 40 million residents are registered to vote. Most polls show Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by between 20 and 25 percentage points. Trump will be lucky if he can do better in California than John McCain (36%) and Mitt Romney (37%) fared in the last two presidential elections.
Still, if polls represent the general — voting and nonvoting—population, then some 14 million Californians of all ages want Trump to win — a far greater number than found in most die-hard red states. They resemble Trump supporters elsewhere, but they seem even angrier, in part because they are an emasculated political minority.
As a man in a Prather foothills supermarket recently told me when I asked about his Make America Great Again cap, “They need to see that lots of us aren’t like them and don’t like what they’re doing.” “They” and “them” he could define in a lot of ways: state bureaucrats, California elites who never experience the consequences of their advocacies, or the open-border activists who damn the very culture they insist on joining.
It’s not hard to find Californians who feel this way — if you know the regions where to look.
Twentieth-first century “California” has become a misnomer. In truth, there are not one, but two quite different Californias, defined by both geography and mindset.
During the week, I work in the coastal corridor — at Stanford University in Palo Alto. Almost everyone I meet there will vote for Clinton. On the weekends, I live in the other California, on a small farm in the poorest part of an indigent rural Fresno County, where a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Many of my neighbors have embraced Trump’s campaign.
California’s Trump belt is the antithesis of Stanford or UCLA, Apple or Google, Malibu or DreamWorks, Wells Fargo or Uber. It is an outland where practical people still depend on 19th century muscular jobs in grazing, farming, timber, mining and construction that both supply the state with its elemental needs, but from a distance and often without much credit or even recognition.
I see Trump signs in unincorporated areas throughout the state’s eastern counties. They belong to working-class folks, both white and from other ethnic groups, who service the agricultural pump and do spot welding on the farms in my vicinity. They believe that the state has left them behind, lacking the culture and money of the coastal elite, but without the victim status of the poor Californians who are entitled to race-based subsidies and advantages in hiring or admissions.
In my hometown of Selma I also know many Mexican Americans of the second and third generations who express support for Trump, at least if no one is listening in. Many do not speak Spanish well if at all, have never been to Mexico, may have married non-Latinos, do not work for the government and are not on public assistance. They often seethe about illegal immigration — because of crime in their neighborhoods and the danger to their children from gangs, as well as the connection between lax immigration enforcement and the California paradox: We have the highest basket of income, sales and gas taxes in the nation while providing schools and infrastructure among the worst.
In contrast, first-generation Mexican immigrants and those in the country illegally detest Trump. They often speak poor English, are poorly paid for hard physical labor or are out of work entirely. They fear deportation and rely on social services, sanctuary cities and non-enforcement of immigration and zoning laws. Government is not seen as too big, too costly or too incompetent, but a force for good that offers subsidies and employment as the first steps to entering the middle class. They nod to the Democratic coastal establishment in an unspoken bargain. In exchange for promotion of liberal immigration and social policies, they will support candidates whose politics, from abortion to costly environmentalism, are otherwise probably anathemas.
(It is an unspoken truth that yesterday’s California Republican party of the rich is today’s party of the populist middle classes, while the Democratic Party has become an odd alliance of the 1%, public employees and the very poor.)
Trump supporters in rural California are quite different from the stereotyped Republican Party of the last two elections. The welder who recently worked on my gate had no empathy for “wealthy white people” — I suppose like Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney. Yet he was tired of hearing of “white privilege,” an insult leveled by those who enjoy quite a lot against those who have none.
California’s Trump voters do not believe Clinton can answer why existing federal immigration law is not enforced, or why officials cannot utter the phrase Islamic terrorism after serial terrorist attacks, or why multimillionaires like Beyonc and Colin Kaepernick feign victimhood during prime-time sporting events.
Policy is set on the coast; its consequences are keenly felt everywhere else. High electricity costs affect scorched Fresno more than wealthy and temperate Santa Cruz. High-speed rail is first tried out on choice farmlands in Hanford, not Palo Alto. Water is diverted for fish from agricultural contracted supplies, not the Hetch Hetchy canals that deliver distant Sierra Nevada water to the gardens of the Bay Area. The elite who denounce charter schools send their children to coastal prep schools by the Pacific, not to underperforming public schools in Stockton.
Trump is a valve through which to vent frustration at elites who believe that high energy and gas prices, steep taxes and lots of regulation are good for all Californians — including those without the money and influence to navigate around them. As one rural friend put it, “Of course, who up in San Francisco cares if gas costs too much — do any of them drive a 100 miles a day to cut lawns?”
Trump supporters are not as ill-informed as so often caricatured. A Fresno Rotary Club member just reminded me that California’s billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, unsustainable entitlements, terrible schools, rising crime, astronomically priced coastal real estate, high taxes and schizophrenic laws will eventually hit even the rich in Santa Barbara and San Francisco.
If true, the multimillion-person Trump minority in California might not be a minority for much longer.