LONG BEACH, Calif. — Hundreds of Donald Trump’s California supporters gathered over the weekend to celebrate his impending inauguration — and to try to funnel the energy that propelled him to the White House into turning their cobalt-blue home state red.
“If we can get Donald J. Trump to be president of the United States, certainly we can get Californians registered to be Republicans,” longtime conservative activist Johnnie Morgan said to applause. “With the energy we have now, with the momentum we have now, with the inspiration we have now, with the committed people we have now, we can do this. It will spread like wildfire.”
It’s a tall order. Voter registration in the GOP is at a historic low in the state, no Republican has been elected statewide in more than a decade, and Democrats dominate the state’s congressional delegation and Legislature. Trump supporters hope this could be dislodged by the coalition the Republicans stitched together to win the presidency, although most acknowledge the hurdles they face.
“We’re not being heard right now because the numbers are against us and that’s OK. We know the realities,” said Rachel Gunther, the leader of the newly formed nonprofit Make California Great Again, which had its inaugural meeting in a Cambodian community center in Long Beach on Saturday. “We’re not going to change the landscape in one year or two years or even four years. We just want our voices heard. We want to show the political elite that we exist and that we are not happy with some of their legislation and they can’t just ramrod things like that without considering us.”
Gunther was a volunteer leader for Trump’s campaign and said she decided to form the group after talking to fellow volunteers who didn’t want to stop working after Election Day. The group also plans to launch a political spinoff soon.
Despite California’s overwhelmingly Democratic tilt, the president-elect does have significant support in the state. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won California by a nearly 2-1 ratio, but because of the state’s enormous population, Trump still received nearly 4.5 million votes. That’s more than he received in every other state except Texas and Florida. Hundreds of thousands of those supporters volunteered to help Trump win crucial battlegrounds, making phone calls and traveling to knock on doors.
Gunther and other organizers hope to transform this grass-roots energy into something that can support Trump, similar to Citizens for America, which supported the late President Ronald Reagan’s administration, or Organizing for America, which backed President Barack Obama’s efforts.
Their effort is not sanctioned by Trump, but his national backers are reportedly looking to set up an outside effort to support the president-elect’s agenda.
The California group’s goals would be twofold: supporting Trump’s policy efforts and trying to change the political leadership in California or in liberal enclaves such as Long Beach or Los Angeles.
“We need change. We have that in Washington, but we need change in Sacramento to bring down the liberal pathetic establishment that has destroyed this state,” said Nestor Moto, 22, a gay Latino GOP activist from Long Beach. “This country belongs to people like you and me … and it is time we take it back.”
The energy at the gathering was palpable — and at times controversial. A band called Tracy Barnes and the Deplorables sang “Make America Great Again” as a man dressed in drag as Clinton shook a tambourine. Supporters posed with a cardboard cutout of Trump beneath a red, white and blue balloon arch. One speaker told a crude joke about former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
There were few details on actual efforts to support the president-elect’s agenda or any California-specific plans. An afternoon break-out session focused on the latter was canceled. But many in attendance — who have grown accustomed to long periods of losses — were simply happy to celebrate a victory.
“The Republican Party in California, they just feel it’s a lost cause,” said actress Reatha Grey Simon, 67. The Los Angeles resident was a Democrat in her youth, helping Tom Bradley’s campaigns, but she became a Republican during Reagan’s presidency.
“We’re motivated now. We have Donald Trump leading the crusade,” she said. “We’ve got all these wins right now. This is a perfect time for the Republicans to really turn California red for a change.”
Mike Simpfenderfer, a delegate to the Republican National Convention, instructed the audience to chant “President Trump” three times, which they did with increasing gusto.
“We did it! We did it!” Simpfenderfer said. “Today is when we start helping our president govern!”