RIO RANCHO, NEW MEXICO - President Donald Trump rarely passes up the chance to throw a sharp elbow at left-leaning California but he's more than happy to cash in there with a lunch-dinner-breakfast-lunch fundraising blitz expected to scoop up $15 million from wealthy Republicans in two days.
“There's not been a president in living history that is as unpopular in the state of California as Trump,” said Mike Madrid, a GOP political consultant who is an outspoken Trump critic. “But our money spends the same as everyone else's.”
With protesters already circling, Trump kicks off his money-making Tuesday with a $3 million Palo Alto luncheon and a $5 million Beverly Hills dinner at the home of real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer. He'll bring in another $7 million on Wednesday with a breakfast in Los Angeles and luncheon in San Diego.
By mid-morning, demonstrators had inflated a giant Baby Trump balloon ahead of Trump's arrival in the Bay Area.
Trump, nonetheless, tweeted a cheery message as he departed New Mexico on Tuesday to fly to the state: “Just departed New Mexico for California, where we are delivering results!” The tweet included statistics about the state's unemployment rate and job creation.
California was an incubator for the modern conservative movement that swept the state's former governor, Ronald Reagan, into the White House in 1980. But demographic changes and an influx of new residents have helped drastically rework the political contours of the country's most populated state, with the former GOP stronghold of Orange County now home to more registered Democrats than Republicans.
For Republicans, who have been resigned to political irrelevance at the state level, a donation to Trump can amount to its own form of protest.
“By showing up to a fundraiser deep in the belly of the beast, one is saying: `I don't care what the liberal politicians are saying and I want to show my support for him publicly,”' said California's Republican National Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon, an ardent Trump supporter.
She added: “I sold $100,000 worth of (tickets), and I could have sold another $100,000 more.”
California has long been a key fundraising hotbed for politicians of both parties, which have relied on the entertainment industry and wealthy industry heads to finance their political ambitions. But under Trump, the run-of-the-mill fundraising trip has taken on a complicating dimension due to his harsh criticism of everything from the state's immigration laws to its forest management practices, which he blamed for fatal wildfires.
Earlier this month Trump lashed out at “Will and Grace” TV star Debra Messing after she tweeted that attendees of the Trump's California fundraisers should be outed publicly.
Trump tweeted back: “I have not forgotten that when it was announced that I was going to do The Apprentice, and when it then became a big hit, helping NBC's failed lineup greatly, (at)DebraMessing came up to me at an Upfront & profusely thanked me, even calling me “Sir.” How times have changed!”
In August, Trump took aim at the state's massive film industry, calling Hollywood “very dangerous for our country.”
“Hollywood is really terrible. You talk about racist — Hollywood is racist,” he said.
That's contributed to heightened security concerns surrounding the president's visit.
Overall, Trump continues to rake in gobs of cash more than a year out from the November 2020 contest, with his campaign and the Republican National Committee pulling in more than $210 million since the start of 2019, Federal Election Commission records show. That's more than all the current Democrats seeking to replace him raised combined during that period.
The visit this week marks Trump's fourth visit to the state during his presidency. Of late, he's been complaining loudly about the extent of homelessness in the state.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is expected to follow Trump to California, one day behind the president, with visits to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. A senior HUD official said Carson would speak on a range of issues, including increasing the supply of affordable housing and promoting investment in distressed communities.
In an unusual move, Trump campaign officials — not his top donors — have been listed as sponsors of the event.
Dhillon said there were concerns that Antifa, an anti-fascist group, could stir violent protests.
Trump began his three-day western swing with a rally Monday in New Mexico, where he referred to California a couple of times in his speech — and not in a good way.
The president noted that his administration is at odds with the state over fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. He long has made clear he wants to end California's clout in setting mileage standards, and Monday night he said he wants heavier cars because they're safer and cheaper, even if they are less fuel efficient.
“California wants you to do the other cars and we don't,” Trump said. “We will end up in big litigation and I am fighting for you,” he told the crowd.
He also joked about moving part of the border wall in San Diego to someplace it would be more appreciated.
“I would love to take that sucker down and move it right now to New Mexico,” he said to rousing cheers.