“All these conservatives my buddies have supported for twenty years — they haven’t accomplished a thing.”
So says Michael “Mike” Der Manouel, Jr. of Fresno, California, explaining why he is voting for businessman Donald Trump over Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the California primary, even though Cruz is leading polls in the Central Valley region.
Mike is not a typical voter: he is the former treasurer of the California Republican Party, president of an insurance company, and a popular local political commentator on KMJ AM 580.
But Mike has had enough of the Republican establishment — and the self-proclaimed conservatives who, he says, talk a good game but accomplish nothing.
“Ted Cruz talks a lot, and sounds good, and all the ‘red meat’ crowd stands and cheers, while the quote-unquote ‘conservatives’ burn the country down,” Mike declares. “I’m not giving second chances any more. I’m done with it.”
Mike’s feelings are shared widely among Trump fans in the Golden State. Trump’s strongest support comes from Californians who feel ignored by the system and betrayed by the GOP. They no longer have faith in political parties or ideological movements. Nor are they swayed by celebrity, even if many once supported Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor — for many of the same reasons they are supporting Donald Trump for president today.
They simply want to start over. They are not interested in the “political revolution” that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is offering Democrats; they are not communists. They simply want a return to what used to be basic common sense.
Trump’s strongest geographic areas of support in California seem to represent polar opposite ends of the political spectrum. The few polls that are available suggest that he is far ahead of Cruz and Ohio governor John Kasich in the ultra-liberal San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Coast. He also leads, however, among likely GOP primary voters in Orange County, San Diego County, and Imperial County — conservative areas that often elect Republicans.
What both of these regions have in common is that many conservative voters feel their votes do not matter — albeit for different reasons.
In the Bay Area and along the coast, where Republicans are outnumbered seventeen to one in places like Berkeley, conservatives have no hope of electing anyone who represents their views in the conventional way. Many are attracted to Trump precisely because he alone terrifies the liberals who otherwise run their lives.
In Southern California — outside of parts of Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, where Republicans occasionally win and where Cruz is competitive as a result — conservatives feel their votes are taken for granted by the party. Worse, the Republicans they elect to the state legislature and to Congress seem powerless. Trump’s promises to take decisive action — with or without Congress’s help, Barack Obama-style — seem almost refreshing in comparison.
Trump is also attracting Democrats and independents — and he will win their votes, provided his campaign can pull itself together in time to remind them they need to register as Republicans by May 23 to vote for him in the primary.
In the rugged, fire-charred Pope Valley this week, I spoke to one man who only recently took an interest in politics, thanks in part to Trump. He said what fascinated him about Trump was that he was lifting the veil on what ordinary citizens were not supposed to learn about the political process — things like the “rigging” of the Colorado delegates.
When Cruz tells Trump to stop whining, because rules are rules, he neglects the point Trump has been making in recent days — namely, that the rules stink. They are written by lawyers, for lawyers. They are so complicated as to frustrate ordinary self-governance. They are like the fine print of a credit card agreement or the terms of a mortgage that few notice until it is too late. California is full of such insufferable and pointless rules, written by both parties.
Trump offers a way out — and the fact that his road to the nomination has been difficult only enhances his appeal. Mike recalls that Schwarzenegger, “turned out to be exactly what he was accusing others of being — a ‘girlie man.'” At the first setback, he abandoned his reform agenda and started trying to be “the guy everybody would like.”
But Trump, Mike says, “is not seeking the approval of other people.” And his top policies — the “wall,” for example — are conservative enough. For Mike, as for much of Trump’s California base, being willing to fight counts most.