CALIFORNIA

Trump circus rolls into Phoenix in a taste of what's in store for California

Nohl Rosen was ready to back up the police if trouble broke out at the Donald Trump rally Saturday morning in suburban Phoenix. The computer repairman wore a flag bandanna and a "Police Lives Matter" T-shirt, and strapped to his right leg was a 9mm Smith & Wesson.

In California, I told him, we can't walk around with firearms holstered to our limbs.

"You've got a lot of problems too," Rosen said. "I think if you loosened the gun laws like we have here, things would probably be a lot better."

I'm not so sure about that, or this:

"We've had seven years of [President] Obama, and what has it accomplished? We're divided as a nation. Trump can unite us," Rosen said.

What's that?

It appears to me that there hasn't been a more divisive political figure in recent times. Trump has even torn apart the Republican Party.

Now that we know California will be in play this primary season, I traveled to Arizona to have a peek at what we'll be in for in June. And I can tell you it'll be a spectacle.

Friday night I attended a rally for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose appeal among Christian conservatives was obvious by the huge turnout at Arizona Christian University. Sean Hannity of Fox News warmed up the crowd by mocking and bashing Democrats and noting there were a lot of good-looking women in the audience.

Jon Stewart closed up shop a little too soon, I think.

Then came Cruz, who took batting practice on Hannity's softball offerings and vowed to deport 11 million people as soon as he moves into the White House. The Christians cheered.

There's plenty of simmering anger and frustration out there, and in the grand political tradition, hucksters are turning that into raw, unvarnished intolerance. This carnival we call a presidential primary indulges our worst instincts, assuring us that complex problems have the simplest of solutions, if only the true villains get their due.

"Hillary for Prison 2016" was a popular T-shirt at the Trump rally.

"Homo Sex Is Sin," read one sign.

One young man held a poster saying the options for president are a communist, a criminal or Trump.

After years of stagnant wages in a time of obscenely escalating wealth for the privileged few, the angry masses have chosen as their spear carrier one of the richest men in the world, and his rise began with an assault on some of the poorest.

"It's mind-boggling," said Sherri James, who stood with a small group of people holding signs saying haters were not welcome in their town of Fountain Hills. "It's the one percent that's causing the economic problems people are rebelling against, but they want to put a one-percenter in charge."

A few dozen protesters showed up, barely a ripple in a sea of thousands, to raise a ruckus at yet another of Trump's Make America Great Again rallies. As they saw it, this was a Make America Hate Again rally, or a Make America White Again rally.

I followed some protesters through the crowd as they yelled "Stop the Hate" as Trump spoke. One of them carried a sign that said "If he can't fix his hair, how can he fix the economy?" A couple of shoving matches broke out, but there was nothing that called for Nohl Rosen to unstrap his Smith & Wesson.

Trump supporters yelled at protesters to get jobs and swear off welfare checks. They should be the first ones deported, one man said.

"The reason you don't like him," he screamed, "is because Trump is a real man and you're not."

One of those protesters was Karina Diaz, a 23-year-old, U.S.-born college student from Phoenix. She told me she had been at the rally for two hours and had heard the following things shouted at her and her friends:

"Go back to Mexico. Get out of here. Beaners. Rapists. Illegals."

"It can be a little intimidating and it can be a little hurtful," Diaz said. "But we know if we stand together we will prevail."

Outside of the protesters, you could have taken all the people of color at the Cruz and Trump rallies and fit them onto a turnip truck. This figures to be a problem for whichever one wins the GOP nomination, because as Republican leaders have been pointing out for years, the party is on life support if it doesn't draw more young people and minorities into the tent.

The Trump rally, by the way, was held in the hometown of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He's been called the toughest sheriff in America, but he ran afoul of the federal government for racial profiling.

He has endorsed Trump, who reminded supporters on Saturday that he loves Joe Arpaio.

This drew cheers, as did everything else Trump said. I can certainly relate to the crowd's disenchantment with Washington and politics as usual, but I stood there wondering if Trump's shtick would have lasted more than two weeks if he hadn't been a reality TV star in a culture that equates celebrity with substance.

"We're going to build up our military, we're gong to knock the hell out of ISIS, and we're going to come back here and build up our country," Trump said, and then the wagons rolled south to Tucson, on a mission to make America great again.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

@LATstevelopez

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