President Donald Trump lost California by a wide margin in November. Yet the state was crucial to his surprise victory overall — thanks to the large number of Californians on his team, and to the specific issues he highlighted on the trail.
A new profile by Scott Lucas of Politico, “How California Gave Us Trumpism,” highlights these factors — as well as the unique role played by Breitbart California in coverage of the shocking murder of Kate Steinle on July 1, 2015:
The signal California moment for the marriage of Claremont constitutionalism and Breitbart spectacle came in July 2015, not long after Trump had launched his presidential campaign. On that day, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who had been deported five times, allegedly fired three shots from a handgun while walking along the waterfront in San Francisco. One of those bullets ricocheted off the pavement and struck a 32-year-old passerby named Kathryn Steinle in the back. She died two hours later in a nearby hospital.
Breitbart feasted on the story, which it depicted as the ultimate proof of California’s decline and, more broadly, the grievous consequences of unconstitutional immigration run amok. San Francisco’s city leaders were criticized for prioritizing sanctuary city policies in a play for Latino votes, rather than carrying out their basic public safety functions. Mass immigration, the erosion of constitutional norms and weak-spined liberal politicians all played a role in Steinle’s death, Breitbart argued. From “Unchecked Immigration: A Greater Threat to The USA Than ISIS” and “SF Supervisors Refuse to Answer Questions About Steinle’s Death,” the site published more than 100 news and opinion articles about Steinle’s death.
On the campaign trail, Trump quickly held up the incident as the epitome of a broken immigration system. “My heartfelt condolences to the family of Kathryn Steinle. Very, very sad!” the candidate tweeted days after the killing, adding “We need a wall!” Less than a week later, Breitbart News reported that Trump had surged in a poll of its readers, climbing to second place in the GOP primary field, behind Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. “Trump’s message about illegal immigration may resonate even more” after the shooting, the site reported, presciently.
Lucas correctly identifies the Kate Steinle moment as a turning point in the campaign. As Breitbart News explained in September 2016, it was Trump’s effort to highlight the plight of the victims of crimes by illegal aliens that shifted the entire Republican primary race. As “Blue State Blues: The Graph That Explains Donald Trump’s Surge” recounted:
On July 10, 2015, former Florida governor Jeb Bush was the frontrunner, at 16.3%. Donald Trump was a distant seventh, with just 6.5% of the vote.
Keep in mind that Trump had been running against illegal immigration since he launched his campaign more than three weeks before, with his infamous remarks about illegal aliens from Mexico. None of that had resonated much.
And then, on July 1, 32-year-old Kate Steinle was shot and killed in San Francisco while strolling along a pier with her father.
The murderer, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, had been deported five times before, and had been convicted of seven felonies. He later told a local journalist that he had specifically come to San Francisco because it was a “sanctuary city” that would not cooperate with federal immigration officials or enforce immigration laws.
Breitbart News focused on that story in the days that followed. Breitbart California’s Michelle Moons, who had covered the protests in Murietta against re-settling illegal alien children who had surged across the Mexican border exactly a year before, wrote a series of articles about Steinle. She used her extensive sources in the law enforcement community, as well as among families who had lost loved ones to crimes by illegal aliens, to build the details of the story and place it in a broader context.
That was when Trump began to show an interest in meeting with those families, who had reached out to him in the days after the Steinle murder. He met with them on July 10 in Los Angeles, and the enduring image of that event was of the ever-voluble Donald Trump standing silently as he listened to the families pouring out their grief.
From that moment, Trump took off in the polls, and almost never looked back. From seventh place in the RealClearPolitics average on July 10, Trump shot to first by July 19.
His dramatic rise is all the more surprising given that only 7 percent of Americans called immigration the “most important problem” facing the country in a Gallup poll taken over the same period.
By listening to the families, and giving them a voice, Trump was no longer speaking of illegal immigration in the abstract, but in a concrete, human way.
In so doing, he connected with others who had been victimized, or ignored, by their own government on so many issues, from trade to Obamacare.
That September 2016 article concluded: “The question now is whether Trump can convince enough voters by November 8 to trust him, as the victims’ families do.”
Of course, we now know the answer.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.