After winning the New York primary and following it up with a five-state string of victories last week, it was noted that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was acting more presidential.
Gone was “Lyin’ Ted,” the nickname he gave his rival for the nomination, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the third candidate still in the race, was “Governor Kasich.”
Forget all that.
Sans teleprompter, Trump on Friday delivered a rambling, 26-minute lunch address to delegates at the California Republican Party convention here in which he careened from one subject to another in rapid succession – and sometimes back again – and spared no one, not even his fellow Republicans.
He was back to calling Cruz “Lyin’ Ted.” He mocked Kasich for having fewer delegates than Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the presidential race last month. After laying off former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – who long ago dropped out of the race – Trump returned to calling him “low energy.”
And Trump even went after the GOP establishment with relish, which has long been popular with his legions of supporters.
He heaped particular scorn on Karl Rove, a political consultant and former top aide to President George W. Bush, who earlier this week said Trump was “graceless and divisive.”
“Is he the dumbest human being on Earth?” Trump asked.
Friday proved to be a wild day for both Trump and California Republicans in general, who long have been ignored in the Golden State. Not this year.
With the Republican presidential nomination still not settled, and with California and its Mother Lode of delegates coming June 7, Trump, Kasich and Cruz are all scheduled to speak at the convention. Up first was Trump, giving the Friday lunch speech. Kasich followed with the Friday dinner talk, and Cruz is scheduled for Saturday lunch.
As such, the media attention was intense – and so were the protests.
A day after demonstrations turned violent in Costa Mesa, things seemed close again to careening out of control in Burlingame. The protesters built in numbers as the morning went on, and at one point tried to storm the front entrance of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport, where the convention is being held.
Eggs were thrown. Delegates were showered with expletives from the protesters, who even succeeded in getting into the hotel’s upper reaches, where they unfurled a long banner that read, “Stop Hate.”
The protests succeeded in delaying Trump.
State Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte told the lunch crowd awaiting Trump that “some people who don’t believe in free speech tried to stop Donald Trump from getting into the hotel.”
During the speech, Trump joked that he had to go under a fence and crawl around to get into the hotel.
“I felt like I was crossing the border, actually,” he said.
Trump’s welcome felt muted, as the crowd included not only his supporters but those for Cruz and Kasich as well.
But at the end, he received a standing ovation.
“Donald Trump definitely gave the audience what they were looking for,” said Fresno resident Marcelino Valdez, the state Republican Party’s central region vice chairman. “It was the red meat that will energize the volunteers that already support Trump or maybe were on the fence.”
After some early trepidation from the crowd, Trump started to roll in what felt like a stream of consciousness, hitting on his main campaign themes of recent weeks – that he is destined to be the nominee, that the system of awarding delegates is rigged, that, backed by an endorsement from former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, he will win Tuesday’s Hoosier State primary.
Candidates need 1,237 delegates to secure the presidential nomination. At this point, the goal of Cruz and Kasich is not to win the nomination in the primary elections but to stop Trump from doing so. The nomination would then move to a floor fight at the party’s national convention this summer in Cleveland.
Trump on Friday would have none of that.
He said he has 1,001 delegates, just recently crossing the 1,000 mark.
“I think we’re going to hit that number quite easily,” he said of the 1,237 delegates.
Trump said the only way Cruz could win was to “go through the back door,” which would be winning the nomination on a second or third ballot at the national convention. “I would never use the word bribe, so if he bribed the delegates,” Trump said.
He openly doubted Cruz’s choice of former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina as his running mate.
“Maybe it’s a good move,” he said of picking the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, who will address the convention Saturday night. “Who knows. I’ll let you know in about a month. But I don’t think so.”
Related to his battles with Cruz and Kasich, Trump continued his war of words with the Republican National Committee over how presidential delegates are selected.
“It’s a rigged system,” he said. “It’s a horrible, horrible disgusting system.”
In many ways, the speech felt like a greatest-hits montage of all of Trump’s statements.
He mocked Cruz and Kasich for striking a deal to divide up the coming primaries in an attempt to stop him – and then derided them for letting the deal seemingly fall apart so quickly.
“These are politicians, folks,” Trump said. “They can’t make a deal. How are they going to deal with China?”
He criticized Kasich for supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement and dismissed him because he only has won one state in the primary election season – his home state of Ohio. He called him a “spoiled child” who hasn’t gotten his way for staying in the race.
He said China’s devaluation of its currency was killing the U.S. He again said he would build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and it would be so big someone who got to the top would wonder how to get down. The laughing commenced and then turned to clapping when Trump said he wanted people to come to the country, but legally.
He also called for party unity, but in the same breath he said he was ready to move forward without it.
“There has to be unity in our party. Solidarity, unity, friendship. Can I win without it? I think I can, to be honest.”
Trump said he doesn’t really care if Cruz or Jeb Bush endorse him.
He also said he is the best candidate for the GOP. He said that he would bring blue states such as New York into play in November and said that no other Republican contender could win in Florida, Michigan or Pennsylvania.
“Republicans will not beat Hillary in Florida, I will,” he said. “I will win Pennsylvania; I don’t think any Republican can win Pennsylvania.”
Before speaking to the lunch crowd, Trump stopped in at a VIP reception and also spent time talking to his volunteer leaders. Tim Clark, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s campaign consultant and Trump’s California state director, said that group meeting was important because those volunteers will be the ones charged with fanning out across the state and working to elect Trump.
Stockton delegate Carol Hadley came to the convention already a Trump supporter. She loves his bare-knuckle, unfiltered approach to politics. Trump’s speech just solidified that.
“He makes you want to get involved,” she said. “He wants you to make America better. It’s been a long time since a politician has said, ‘I care about the person who is going to go to the ballot box and vote,’ and that’s the most important thing.”