Donald Trump showed no sign of letting up on his harsh immigration rhetoric as he returned to California on Wednesday with a message decidedly out of step with a state that has roundly rejected a hard-line approach to the issue.
“Build that wall!” Trump chanted along with the crowd at the Anaheim Convention Center, playing up his pledge to seal the U.S. border with Mexico.
Outside, demonstrators held a rowdy but largely peaceful demonstration, a contrast with the violence that broke out after Trump rallies last month in Costa Mesa and Tuesday night in Albuquerque.
Trump, the all-but-certain GOP presidential nominee, no longer faces a competitive California primary on June 7, and the state’s strong Democratic tilt puts it out of Republican reach in November.
Trump’s rhetoric also exposed the limitations of his attempts to modulate his language to strike a less offensive posture toward women. He mocked his presumed Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, suggesting that she’d recently broken her habit of shouting in an attempt to appear more presidential.
“I’ll be honest with you, I cannot listen to her,” he said.
Trump also used the demeaning nickname that he has bestowed on Elizabeth Warren in the weeks since the Massachusetts senator emerged as one of his fiercest critics: “Pocahontas,” a reference to her claim of Native American heritage.
Trump met privately with a group of California businesswomen just before the rally and brought several of them on stage.
“I’m telling you, women do like me,” he said.
Those comments came a day after Trump attacked one of his own party’s most prominent Latinas, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. She responded that she would not be “bullied” into supporting his candidacy.
Trump’s visit to Orange County, where a surge of new Latino and Asian voters has eroded Republican dominance, came as Clinton was campaigning nearby in Buena Park ahead of a closely fought state Democratic primary against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Trump used the Vermonter’s words against her.
“She doesn’t have the temperament to be president,” Trump told several thousand supporters. “She’s got bad judgment. She’s got horribly bad judgment. And that was stated by none other than Crazy Bernie.”
Trump criticized Clinton for voting to authorize the Iraq war when she was a U.S. senator and called her handling of Libya as secretary of State a “catastrophe.”
“If she wins, you better get used to it, because you’ll have nothing but turmoil,” he said. “And you’ll have nothing more than four more years of Obama, and you can’t take that. Our system and our country can’t take it.”
Most notable, however, was Trump’s emphasis on illegal immigration in a state where Republicans have paid a heavy price for their tough rhetoric on the issue.
The opening speakers at Trump’s rally were family members of people killed by assailants they referred to as “illegal aliens.” On stage, Trump pointed to a sign saying, “Latinos for Trump.”
“You’re all here legally,” he said. “You have houses. You have homes. We’re going to keep your houses and your homes. You’re going to have them forever. And your jobs aren’t going to be taken away by people that are just coming across the border. “
Later, he said he loves Mexicans.
“They’re going to vote for me like crazy, the ones that are legally in this country,” he said. “Look — all these Mexicans, they’re voting for Trump.”
From Anaheim, Trump traveled to Hollywood to tape “Jimmy Kimmel Live” for a national audience, then headed to the Los Angeles home of investor Thomas Barrack Jr. for a campaign fundraiser.
Trump plans to return to the state Friday to meet with agricultural executives in Fresno and hold a Memorial Day rally with veterans in San Diego.
His appearance Wednesday was relatively tame, by Trump standards.
A few demonstrators were ejected from inside the rally, and a handful were arrested outside.
But the disruption was modest in scale, thanks to law enforcement officers — who worked to keep antagonists apart — and some conscientious demonstrators who took it upon themselves to help police the crowd.
Enrique Lopez was at last month’s rally in Costa Mesa and said he came to Anaheim on Wednesday to help prevent the same chaos from erupting. Clutching a sign that read “let’s smoke bud together” adorned with a pot leaf, the 20-year-old Santa Ana resident put himself between protesters and a Trump supporter who began shoving near the Convention Center entrance.
“People just started attacking each other, and that shouldn’t be happening,” Lopez said. “You have the right to vote for whoever the hell you want to. ... You shouldn’t have to get punched in the face for it.”
As Lopez finished speaking, a crowd of protesters threw a Trump piñata to the ground and tore it to pieces. Five feet away, a Trump supporter clutching a Bible repeated his claim that the protesters should “burn in hell."
Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak, Anh Do, Brittny Mejia, Cindy Carcamo and Kenia Mendez contributed to this story.