California Politics: What to make of state GOP giving Trump a boost

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking to the California Republican Party convention in 2016.
(San Francisco Chronicle)
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Three days before former President Trump was indicted on criminal charges over his attempts to maintain power after losing reelection in 2020, leaders of the California Republican Party gathered in Irvine and made a critical decision that could shape next year’s presidential race:

State GOP leaders changed the rules for allocating delegates in California’s presidential primary in a way that is likely to help Trump in the 2024 presidential election — a move that reflects a concerted effort by the Trump campaign to shape state party rules across the country to benefit his candidacy.

Yes, Trump is miles ahead of his primary opponents in the polls and a state party rule change may sound, at first blush, like nothing more than a technical detail. But presidential nominations are won by racking up delegates, and California has more of them than any state in the nation.


That makes the state GOP’s decision to award all 169 delegates to the candidate who receives more than 50% of the vote in the March 5 primary a big deal. Especially since the candidate most likely to benefit from the new rule is now under criminal indictment in three separate legal cases, an unprecedented circumstance in American history.

“The party is now about loyalty and fealty,” said Mike Madrid, a former political director for the California GOP who has become one of the party’s most vocal critics of Trump.

“The Republican Party has completely removed itself from any sort of ideological or policy discussion. It has taken on the characteristics of an authoritarian movement.”

Trump’s campaign supported the new plan for awarding delegates in California because polling shows he can win more than half the votes in the state’s primary, allowing him to sweep up the state’s huge haul of delegates, a member of the California GOP’s executive committee told my colleague Seema Mehta. If no candidate gets a majority of the votes, delegates will be awarded proportionally based on the statewide vote. Trump strategists also thought a previous proposal — that the California GOP scrapped — could have helped Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis because it would have awarded a large batch of delegates to the second-place finisher.

State party Chair Jessica Millan Patterson called the new plan “a massive victory for California Republicans who are eager to have a say in deciding who our Party’s 2024 presidential nominee will be.” She said it will encourage Republican voters to turn out at the polls.

But the upshot of the rule change is a system for California’s Republican primary that will favor Trump, discourage other GOP candidates from campaigning here and make the state less competitive in the nominating contest.


“This is about not even giving conservative activists in the Republican Party a voice,” Madrid told me. “It’s about saying that the number one characteristic required for party involvement is fealty to the leader. Those are horrific words that should echo throughout history.”

Days after changing the rules for the primary, the California GOP announced that Trump will be the keynote speaker at the party’s convention next month in Anaheim. DeSantis will also address the convention, and other GOP presidential candidates are expected to attend as well.

I’m Laurel Rosenhall, the Times’ Sacramento bureau chief, here with the week’s biggest news in California politics.

Hair gel vs. Hairspray

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
(Associated Press)

Almost a year after California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom first challenged Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to debate — with a tweet saying, “I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray.” — the two governors are one step to closer to facing off on stage.

DeSantis agreed to debate Newsom on Wednesday during an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News: “Let’s get it done,” DeSantis said. “Just tell me when and where. We’ll do it.”

Newsom sent Hannity a proposal last week detailing his terms for a debate: 90 minutes, aired live on Fox News, no live audience, no notes or prepared documents on stage. Newsom said he would do the debate on Nov. 8 or Nov. 10 in Nevada, Georgia or North Carolina.

“This event will be marketed as a Red v. Blue debate that is focused on the impact of representation at the state level,” says Newsom’s pitch letter to Hannity.

Newsom’s thirst to debate DeSantis is unsurprising. The California governor has made a habit of baiting the Florida governor, trolling him in TV ads aired in Florida, visiting with students and faculty from a Florida college where DeSantis has installed conservative trustees, and most recently threatening kidnapping charges after DeSantis sent a plane carrying South American migrants to Sacramento. Newsom’s debate plea is consistent with his efforts to elevate himself onto the national stage as a crusader for liberal America.


DeSantis’ agreement to debate Newsom is harder to understand. He’s running for president, so debating Newsom is an obvious step down for a candidate who should be sparring with Trump or President Biden. Newsom is “like a gnat or mosquito in your face just trying to annoy you and get attention to distract from what’s really going on in his own state,” Nick Iarossi, a Tallahassee lobbyist and informal advisor to DeSantis, told my colleague Taryn Luna earlier this summer.

With DeSantis’ presidential campaign floundering, however, he appears to have lost his mosquito repellent.

What else could be on the 2024 ballot?

After trying and failing twice before, a coalition of housing advocates led by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation have collected enough signatures to place a measure on the 2024 ballot asking voters to repeal a major restriction on rent control, Times writer Ben Oreskes reports.

If passed by voters, the measure would allow more cities and counties across the state to cap rents on more types of homes. Backers of the initiative said the changes would give Californians living on the edge an ability to hold on to their housing as wages lag behind increases in rent across the state. Opponents said the measure would discourage landlords from making their properties available to rent because they would be prevented from charging fair market value.

Two other campaigns announced plans this week to begin collecting signatures to try to land initiatives on next year’s ballot:

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