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California

Column: A visit to Trump’s headquarters in Long Beach’s Cambodia Town, of all places, produces some surprises

Rachel Gunther
Rachel Gunther works phones at Trump headquarters located in an area colloquially referred to as “Cambodia Town, " in Long Beach, Calif.
(Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)

The city is blue.

The county is blue.

The state is blue.

So I was curious.

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Who and what would you find if you walked into Donald Trump’s campaign headquarters in Long Beach, a racially diverse city and longtime Democratic Party stronghold?

If you believe polls or put any stock in political demographics, the Rams have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl than Trump has of winning California. But I read that his Long Beach office had opened for business last weekend, and I was up for an adventure on Monday.

The Trump office is in the heart of Cambodia Town on the 2300 block of East Anaheim Street, in a building that also houses the Phnom Pich Pharmacy and Khmer Arts Cultural Center. When you walk through the lobby and into the interior courtyard, you’re struck by wall-to-wall photos of people, places and things in Cambodia, as if this were a shrine to Cambodia.

And to Trump.

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“Make America Great Again!” said a giant red, white and blue sign in the lobby.

Isn’t it already pretty great, if you can visit the Queen Mary, eat at Phnom Penh Noodle Shack and step into Trump’s Long Beach lair in half a day?

The problem was that I didn’t see many Trump supporters.

Don’t worry, a gentleman named Gary Fultheim told me. They’d be in later.

I asked if he happened to know how a Cambodian business center came to be headquarters for a guy who has alienated a number of minority groups in the last year or so?

I asked the right guy.

Fultheim is a part-owner of the building, a frequent traveler to Asia for both business (as a garment importer) and pleasure — and a big Trump supporter.

I should not have missed the grand opening of the campaign office, Fultheim said.

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“We had more than 350 people here Saturday, which I was pleasantly surprised by,” he told me. “They came from Murrieta, Temecula, Encino, West Hollywood and Woodland Hills. We had Hispanics and African Americans here, the gay  community was here — everybody. And there weren’t any problems at all and the wonderful Khmer Arts Cultural Center put on a dance performance that was spectacular.”

I’d have paid to see that.

So why does Fultheim like Trump?

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Fultheim, who is Jewish, said he thinks Trump will do a better job of protecting Israel from Iran than the Democrats have and will. Fultheim doesn’t always like Trump’s choice of words on immigration, but he likes his policy. He thinks Trump would ease regulations on corporations and “lift the tax burdens off of the small businessman.”

Fultheim, who has done his share of international business, made an elegant argument for the benefits of free trade, which generates jobs for everyone from the forklift driver who scissors the goods off the cargo containers, to the truck drivers, to the retailers and so on.

But wait a minute, I said. Didn’t Trump say he’d raise the roof on tariffs, and doesn’t that mean jobs could be lost, prices could soar, and tariffs might be imposed on American goods shipped overseas?

Fultheim thought briefly and said:

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“I don’t know what Trump wants to do, OK?”

But it’ll work out fine, he assured me, because Trump has been a champ in business and “the American population should bet on a winner.”

As we chatted, Trump’s L.A. County regional chair, Rachel Gunther, arrived to open the campaign office.

I walked in with her and saw Trump signs on one wall in the form of a cross, next to a sign that said “BUILD that WALL!!”

Gunther, who said she’s of Filipino descent, told me she liked Trump even before he was a  candidate. Scrawled on blackboards were names of volunteers from the African American, Hispanic and Asian communities — people she’ll tap to man the phones or knock on doors in coming weeks.

“A lot of people have written us off,” Gunther said, but she thinks Trump is going to win California.

Two men walked in together to offer their help. One was African American, the other Mexican American. Next in the door were a couple of millennials, Filipino brothers in their 20s, and one of them said Trump makes sense but the media twist everything he says. Only after that did two middle-aged white people join the party.

It was as if the whole thing had been staged, in Cambodia Town, no less, to belie the notion that Trump’s appeal is largely limited to older white males.

The volunteers were all well-spoken in their support of Trump on social, domestic and policy issues, or their disdain for and lack of trust in Clinton, though to be honest I disagreed on this and that.

The African American, Austin Jones, said social programs going back to LBJ’s Great Society created communities of dependency.

Well, maybe, but didn’t racism, housing discrimination and job discrimination have something to do with the creation of two Americas?

The Mexican American, who told me not to use his name, said “there are too many illegals here … and they dirty the place up and they take jobs and do things they shouldn’t.”

At one point, he turned to me and said he wasn’t clear on who I was. When I clarified that I was with the L.A. Times, he stood up and left, saying on his way out that “the only thing the Times is any good for is to wrap fish in it.”

Mainstream media can’t be trusted, several others agreed, because of a leftist lean. I asked what constitutes mainstream media. Aren’t AM radio talk shows, Fox News, Wall Street Journal editorials, and countless newspapers that lean to the right in their conservative states all part of mainstream media?

I didn’t get much of a response. But CNN is definitely liberal, everyone agreed.

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Really? If you watch any daily wrapup of election highlights and low lights, aren’t there always an equal number of commentators from each side of the aisle?

Apparently no one has watched CNN enough to know.

The white male, Mike Paulus, told me that as a Christian, it was only recently that he came around to Trump. For the longest time, he didn’t care for Trump’s negativity and language.

“I wanted to strangle him,” he said.

So what changed?

Paulus said he forgave the candidate after a prominent evangelical minister said he believed Trump “had received Christ.”

Imagine Trump’s stroke of luck, that his conversion happened so close to election day.

Maybe the next miracle is that the red candidate takes a blue city in a blue state, and there’s dancing in the streets of Cambodia Town.

Get more of Steve Lopez’s work and follow him on Twitter @LATstevelopez

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