Private Trump fundraiser in Newport Beach raises $10 million for reelection campaign

President Donald J. Trump greets supporters waiting for him on the tarmac.
President Donald Trump greets supporters waiting for him on the tarmac at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana on Sunday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

It was like nothing that Kathy Tavoularis had ever seen before.

Tavoularis, once the executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County and the statewide field director for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, said she’s been involved in Orange County politics for years. Though she’s since left both positions and runs her own small business in Orange, Tavoularis said she’s attended almost every major Republican event in California.

But in all her years, Tavoularis said what she saw on Sunday, when President Donald Trump arrived to attend a private fundraiser at the Lido Isle mansion of tech mogul Palmer Luckey, was unlike any other event.

A cash-strapped President Trump stopped in California to raise money 16 days before election day, appearing at a high-dollar Newport Beach fundraiser.

Oct. 19, 2020

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Tavoularis said, “and I don’t think I’ll ever see anything like it again.”

Thousands of people both for and against the president lined the sidewalks on Newport Boulevard and Via Lido on Sunday, with Trump’s supporters largely outnumbering those in favor of the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump supporters wave flags and signs while hoping to get a glimpse of the president's motorcade on Sunday in Newport Beach.
Trump supporters wave flags and signs while hoping to get a glimpse of the president’s motorcade on Sunday in Newport Beach.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Newport Beach police spokeswoman Heather Rangel said there were no arrests on Sunday as related to the president’s visit, describing the day as “peaceful” and without incident.


Fred Whitaker, the chair of the Republican Party of Orange County, said the fundraiser raised $10 million for the Trump campaign, just two weeks before Election Day on Nov. 3.

An invitation for the fundraiser said it cost $2,800 per person to attend the fundraiser, with tickets going as high as $150,000 per couple for co-chair status. Richard Grenell, who formerly served as acting director of national intelligence, also attended as a special guest. The Beach Boys also played at the event.

President Donald Trump arrived at John Wayne Airport on Sunday en route to a private fundraising event at the Newport Beach mansion of tech mogul Palmer Luckey.

Oct. 18, 2020

Whitaker said that at least 1,000 people attended the fundraiser. Attendees reportedly passed COVID-19 tests and were shuttled to the Luckey estate. Attendees said Trump gave a brief address before posing for photos and meeting with donors.

John Warner, who is president of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, said he attended the fundraiser and felt it was well-run.

“People from both sides were very well-behaved, and there were no confrontations that I’m aware of,” Warner said. “It was good. It was really fun. The president was really energized. He was really surprised by the amount of supporters. He has this vision of California as this deep blue state.”

Tavoularis said she used to organize similar events, describing the response from the general public as a “[Bruce] Springsteen event.”

“You’re like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ Obviously, [the Luckeys] had a limited amount of people because it was at their house, but I felt what those people felt like in the battleground states,” Tavoularis said. “It was very high energy.”

Trump supporters walk on Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach.
Trump supporters walk on Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Whitaker said he felt the event was a “tremendous” success, adding it was the most excitement the party has seen in a long time.

“I know before my time, people remark about President [Ronald] Reagan kicking off his reelection campaign in Mile Square Park [in Fountain Valley] and how that was,” Whitaker said on Monday. “I wasn’t there then, but it’s probably comparable.”

The fundraiser was initially scheduled for Oct. 6, but when Trump contracted COVID-19, it was delayed. Warner said he wasn’t sure the event would even happen.

“To have the president come out to Orange County so late in this election cycle, ... most people saw that there was not much time left in the election cycle and that we wouldn’t get the event, but a lot of praise goes out to Palmer Luckey for being so persuasive,” Whitaker said. “Orange County really responded.”

Orange County, long defined by its conservative politics, turned blue in the 2018 election cycle.

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.