In Trump-loving Newport Beach, the faithful make no apologies

Supporters of President Trump wave to motorists outside Republican Party headquarters in Newport Beach.
Supporters of President Trump demonstrate outside Republican Party headquarters in Newport Beach on election day.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Karina Veliz knelt on the ground and carefully posed her tiny white dog, Coqueta La Diva, next to a “Vote” sign in the grass and snapped photos for her pet’s Instagram.

“Mommy and Daughter Voting to Make America Great Again,” she captioned a photo of herself outside the Newport Beach Civic Center on Tuesday with Coqueta, an 11-year-old Maltese wearing a seersucker skirt, red toenail polish and an “I Voted” sticker.

Like many residents of mega-rich Newport Beach, Veliz, a real estate agent who wore a black Chanel face mask to the polls, voted for Trump because she is delighted by what his policies have meant for her wallet.

“Business owners want to pay less in taxes. They work hard,” said Veliz, who is soon opening a luxury pet boutique. “We had a great economy” before the pandemic, she said. “Everything was growing.”

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President Trump's supporters, holding flags, cheer on passing motorists.
President Trump’s supporters Nasro Mohamed and Mohamed Sabul, both of Irvine, join fellow supporters cheering on passing motorists in front of the Republican Party headquarters on election day in Newport Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

It is a sentiment widely felt in this coastal cradle of wealth where Trump’s well-heeled supporters have clung to hope this week with the election results up in the air. On Tuesday, they thrilled as the president seemed headed toward a polls-busting victory. By Wednesday, uncertainty crept in. By Thursday, optimism waned.

But by and large, their faith in the president remained unshaken. And after four years in the intensely divisive Trump era, no amount of fact-checking, presentations on Trump’s many dishonest statements or concerns about his character seemed to hold sway.

For all the talk about Trump’s rural base and the disaffected, working-class white voters who sent him to the White House, the president has long counted on a foundational support among very rich people, even in urban, coastal California, the heart of the so-called liberal resistance and a time-honored bogeyman for the right.

It is, after all, easier for politicians of all stripes to squeeze fundraising money from the upper echelons. And conservative rich people tend to like a government that keeps its paws off their wallets to the greatest extent possible.

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Joe Biden has said he will raise taxes for people making more than $400,000 — unnerving voters in places such as Newport Beach, where a cash-strapped Trump hosted a high-dollar fundraiser featuring the Beach Boys last month.

A woman and her dog, dressed in a patriotic scarf, cheer on passing motorists.
Trump supporter Pam Kelly of Newport Coast, and her dog, Max, join fellow supporters cheering on passing motorists in front of the Republican Party headquarters Tuesday in Newport Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“Many wealthy people support Trump because he cut taxes and they benefited from that,” said Fred Smoller, an associate professor of political science at Chapman University in Orange. “Many of them own a substantial amount of stock, and they’ve seen their portfolios soar.”

“If you start throwing around the word ‘socialist’ enough, people in Newport Beach will call that a dangerous leveling,” Smoller added. “They don’t want to share.... They have a lot to lose, so they supported Trump.”

Newport Beach — the home of John Wayne, whose yacht the Wild Goose has long been a fixture on Newport Bay, and the setting for the TV teen drama “The O.C.” — is both whiter and richer than the country as a whole. It is 80% white, compared with 40% of Orange County and 60% of the United States. The typical value of a single-family home in Newport Beach, according to Zillow, is nearly $2.9 million — 10 times the typical U.S. single-family home value of $298,000.

Candidates in Orange County show that playing down the coronavirus crisis will help you win elections.

Orange County, the birthplace of Richard Nixon and the longtime GOP citadel that Ronald Reagan called the place where “all the good Republicans go to die,” has swung blue in recent years. As of Thursday, Biden was leading Trump 54% to 44% with a margin of more than 124,000 votes, according to the Orange County registrar of voters office.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Orange County since the Great Depression, beating Trump by nearly 9 percentage points. But in Newport Beach, Trump beat Clinton by 14 percentage points.

Outside the Newport Beach Civic Center Tuesday morning, Jennifer Rotellini, a 49-year-old real estate broker, said she cast a ballot for Trump largely because of the economy and the stock market. The child of Democrats, she said the party has moved too far left in recent years and that she is alarmed by what she called a growing reliance on government assistance such as welfare and food stamps.

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“People get too comfortable,” she said. “People need to get up and work hard.”

Of Trump, she said, “We all cringe a little with how he speaks. I don’t have to like the guy. But I like his policies. I love that he’s not a politician. It’s a breath of fresh air.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Jesse Spence, who described his surname as “Spence, like Pence,” stood outside the local GOP headquarters on Pacific Coast Highway in a red MAGA hat. He waved an enormous Trump flag and smiled at passing motorists — including a man in a black Jeep with a flag depicting Trump as a muscly, machine-gun toting Rambo.

“There’s a lot of wealth in Newport Beach,” the 26-year-old Spence said, “and Trump is very good with business.”

Spence, a surfer who works at Trader Joe’s, said he never believed pollsters who predicted a blowout win for Biden. He said the mainstream media have lied about Trump’s character and not paid enough attention to the business dealings of Biden’s son, Hunter, whom Trump’s allies have sought to portray as corrupt.

Standing beside Spence, a woman named Amber said she lined up on Via Lido last month to wave to the presidential motorcade before Trump’s fundraiser and that she was joined by “people of all races, colors, creeds, sexual identities.”

 Trump supporter Steve Martin of Westminster dances and cheers on passing motorists.
Steve Martin of Westminster dances and cheers on passing motorists.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

“It’s not the way it’s portrayed,” the 40-something who declined to give her last name said of Trump’s supporters. “We’re all Americans.” She added that Trump is “not racist,” noting that his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., accepted Jewish and Black members when other clubs in the affluent city did not.

Inside the GOP headquarters, people perused Trump merchandise, including MAGA masks and a tank top that said, “Ew, Liberals.” Another shirt had the iconic skull of the Marvel character the Punisher with Trumpian blond hair and the words: “Punishing Liberals Since 2016.”

Wearing a Hawaiian shirt and waving a huge red Trump flag outside, Erle Halliburton III — whose grandfather founded the oil and gas giant Halliburton — said he was confident that in the end a “major undercurrent of Trump support” would lead to a Trump victory. (By late Thursday, it appeared the president would need successful lawsuits more than anything else).

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Trump, he said, “looks at us, the American people, as his stockholders, and he’s going to give to us what he said he was going to.”

Halliburton, a 78-year-old Air Force veteran with homes in Newport Beach, Georgia and Tennessee, said that “once you live in a country that’s somewhat socialist or hardcore socialist, you realize how valuable and wonderful this country is.”

As the sun set in Newport Beach Tuesday, Randy Duarte sat on his front porch across the street from his polling place, the Marina Park Community Center. His street-level home featured a blue Biden flag and a sign depicting Trump as a poop emoji with the words “Dump the Turd November 3rd.” The tenant above him — his neighbor for two decades — flew a red Trump flag.

Duarte’s father came to the U.S. from Michoacán, Mexico, as a 15-year-old with a first-grade education, raised seven children on a landscaper’s salary and eventually became an American citizen. Duarte, a 54-year-old insurance agent, grew up in a mostly white Orange County neighborhood and said he let a lot of casual racism slide.

But in the Trump era? No longer. He’s become more outspoken, hanging a flag for a presidential candidate for the first time ever this year. In recent days, passersby have screamed obscenities about Biden and President Obama and yelled at Duarte: “Go back to Mexico!”

Election 2020: Americans turned out to vote in this year as never before, and the result seemed to deepen the trench dividing the two warring parties.

On election night 2016, Duarte wept in his living room after Trump won because “I knew it was going to be hard on people that look like me. And, unfortunately, I was right.”

After the polls closed on Tuesday, the streets of Newport Beach were ghostly quiet. Outdoor tables set up amid the COVID-19 pandemic were mostly deserted. Giant television screens were visible inside homes all along Balboa Boulevard; each showed an election night map.

A Joe Biden supporter stands among his supportive flags in front of his home.
Randy Duarte, a Joe Biden supporter, in Newport Beach. His upstairs tenant is a supporter of President Trump.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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As an uncertain Wednesday dawned, Trump flags gently swayed from the balconies of tightly clustered homes on exclusive Lido Isle, where narrow streets were lined with Land Rovers, Porsches and BMWs. A sign outside one home read: “No Biden — Socialism — Communism.”

Just across the bridge connecting the man-made island to the rest of Newport Beach, a homeless Black woman sat on a bench overlooking the yachts in Newport Bay, her belongings in a bag beside her. She muttered to herself. Three young white men, one in a Bass Pro Shops shirt, laughed at her as they walked past. They repeatedly yelled an expletive at her.

On Wednesday, Spence kept a casual eye on Fox News and was “just chilling” at home, trying not to stress. He had stayed up until about midnight, “praying and hoping something happens where we win.”

The network’s anchors said several times on Friday that Biden will be president elect once he passes 270 electoral votes.

“I’m putting it in God’s hands,” he said.

Rotellini kept busy with clients all day and was catching snippets about the tightening election on Fox whenever she could.

“I’ve got a knot in my stomach and it’s not the good kind,” she said in a text message. “Haven’t really wrapped my head around anything yet.”

Halliburton said he had enough faith in the country to not be anxious as the race tightened. He watched Fox on Wednesday. His wife flipped between that and CNN.

Twitter is both amazed by and concerned for CNN anchor John King, who has been on a marathon educating viewers with his magic electoral map.

“If Biden is the one, we then need to support Biden over the next four years” and start planning for 2024, knowing Biden is likely too old to seek a second term, he said.

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“I think this country’s got enough of a solid footing that it’s not the end of the world,” he said.

Duarte and his wife spent election night watching MSNBC, checking Twitter, eating pizza and drinking three bottles of wine. There were no tears. By Thursday, as the election tilted more toward Biden, Duarte was getting giddy.

“Confident Joe will win!” he said in a text message. “Preparing ‘You’re Fired’ memes for the big celebration!”

On Thursday afternoon, Veliz was watching Fox and constantly refreshing her electoral college maps on her phone while Coqueta sat next to her in a sweater. She worried about riots and violence as the election dragged on and planned to stock up on groceries and household essentials, just in case something bad happened.

“I’m very anxiously waiting to hear,” she said. “I don’t think there will be normality in the next few weeks or months.”