Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Six words many people never thought would be strung together when the New York billionaire entered the race last year. But it’s happening, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus said earlier this month.
Locally, it has forced everyone to rethink everything they have come to know about presidential politics and how it affects down-ballot races.
“This has been very different than in past years,” said Joe Messina, a director of the SCV Congress of Republicans and chairman of the 38th Assembly District Republican Party. “A majority of Republicans and Democrats are looking around, trying to figure out who’s really going to do what they’re saying.”
Here’s a look at what locals think having Trump at the top of the ticket means:
Local Republican groups say they are not allowed to endorse any candidate, but pledge to support the person who earns the nomination at the party convention in Cleveland in July. Once that happens, they will work hard to get as many people to the polls in November as possible.
But that doesn’t mean they’re all happy if it’s Trump.
“My feeling is, you can say hello to President Hillary (Clinton),” Messina said. “Republicans are wasting a lot of time and money beating on him, when isn’t the point to beat the other side? … You fight with yourself and that doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Messina calls himself “a Trump fan, not a Trump supporter.” He likes the way Trump has forced people to talk about issues such as illegal immigration and national defense in ways Ted Cruz and John Kasich did not.
“Trump definitely brought enthusiasm,” Messina said. “He did what Reagan did – make you feel good to be an American, and nobody else picked up on it.”
What most people picked up on were Trump’s sound bites: He’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, ban all Muslims from entering the country, deport all illegal immigrants, and insults women.
“Donald’s candidacy was a surprise to everyone,” said Paige Weaver, president of the SCV Republican Women Federated. “When I first heard him, I thought I’d send him to his room, and the next day, (Trump’s polling) went up.”
However, Weaver seems to have come around after originally favoring Cruz and Ben Carson.
“I want somebody who will fight for us,” she said. “I’m sick of people not fighting for us. I think he’ll do it.”
Not everyone has enthusiastically turned to Trump. Saugus realtor Steve Petzold is an unabashed Cruz supporter and plans to vote for the Texas senator in the June 7 primary. But if Trump is the nominee, Petzold said he would begrudgingly vote for him.
“He’s a wild card,” Petzold said. “I can’t say if he’s the lesser of two evils, but I know Hillary is evil.”
As apprehensive as Republicans can be, local Democrats are positively giddy at the idea of Trump topping the ticket.
Stacy Fortner called Trump “a whack job.” Lawyer David Barlavi said Trump is “an orange clown.” Both are confident a Democrat (most likely Clinton) will win the White House.
“I can’t believe Republicans would put him forward as a presidential candidate,” Fortner said. “He has no experience with foreign policy, with government. He has no qualifications whatsoever.”
Barlavi said Trump is the monster the Republican Party has created. He believes Trump says what Republicans really think, but don’t have the courage to say it, leaving Republicans in a quandary.
“Will the Establishment bite the bullet and still vote for him … or will they try and get their party back?”
Barlavi also believes that Trump topping the ticket could adversely affect other races that typically go Republican. These include incumbent Steve Knight and attorney Jeffrey Moffatt in the 25th Congressional District, Santa Clarita councilmember Dante Acosta in the 38th Assembly District, and current Assemblyman Scott Wilk and attorney Star Moffatt in the 21st Senate District.
Barlavi sees Republicans being hurt in three ways. First, a high voter turnout is expected, which he says favors Democrats. Second, endorsing Trump could cost votes from among established Republicans. Third, not endorsing Trump could cost votes from the Republican base.
“So, it’s a lose-lose,” Barlavi said.
Acosta said meetings made him too busy to be interviewed. The Moffatts, meanwhile, believe having Trump on the ballot can work to their advantages.
Star Moffatt, who said she voted absentee for Trump, said Trump is not a “bought and paid-for politician,” and neither is she. Knight, on the other hand, is “accountable for his own actions and how he has voted.”
Jeffrey Moffatt said Knight has indicated it would be a cold day in hell before he’d support Trump, while Moffatt said he’s like Trump in many ways.
“He’s anti-politics. So am I,” Moffatt said. “I’m (running) because I was asked to. … I’m not a people-pleaser. I’m a doer. That’s exactly what Trump does.”
One difference, however: Moffatt isn’t accused of racism, because he’s been married for 28 years to a black woman and has represented many Hispanics in his law practice.
“If Trump is (on the ballot), I don’t have to tap dance around like Steve Knight supporting Cruz,” he said. “I don’t have to put on a veneer. I can be me. Trump helps me be able to do that.”