As Trump heads to Southern California, vulnerable House Republicans navigate his guilty verdict – Pasadena Star News

As Trump heads to Southern California, vulnerable House Republicans navigate his guilty verdict – Pasadena Star News

Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a luncheon at the California Republican Convention in Anaheim, CA, on Friday, September 29, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Before the historic guilty verdict in former President Donald Trump’s felony case, vulnerable House Republicans had to walk a tightrope.

Since his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump has been a polarizing figure in American politics. Candidates in Southern California swing districts in these past election cycles, like Rep. Michelle Steel in California’s 45th District, where voters solidly chose President Joe Biden over Trump in 2020 and chose to send Steel back to Congress , have had to weigh aligning themselves with a president who could alienate independent voters or lose the support of a Republican base that reveres Trump.

And with Trump set to land in Southern California later this week to bolster his campaign coffers, that balancing act just got a little tricky. His visit comes on the heels of his conviction on 34 felony counts related to falsifying business documents to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election.

While many Republicans defended Trump following the verdict (echoing Trump’s own criticism of the judge and accusations that the trial was “rigged”), there has been silence from several of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents and candidates. of the House of Representatives in deep, blue California. And it’s unclear which Republican candidates, if any, will take advantage of the opportunity to chat and take a photo with Trump when he’s in Beverly Hills and Newport Beach.

Steel and Rep. Young Kim, whose district covers Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, did not respond to requests for comment on the verdict. His social media accounts have also had no supportive posts.

A spokesman for Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, also did not respond to requests for comment. His latest social media accounts also made no reference to the trial.

“It is a very difficult line to walk. Trump and his campaign have made it clear for some time that his strategy is to attack the judge and the judicial system,” said Dan Schnur, a professor of political messaging at USC and UC Berkeley.

“That’s a very smart way to motivate his base, but it’s not so clear whether it helps undecided voters,” Schnur added. “So Republicans in safe districts can follow Trump’s lead without hesitation, but those in competitive races may not have that luxury.”

Still, some Republicans have expressed support for Trump since the verdict, including Scott Baugh, who is running for the 47th Congressional District in Orange County. Election analyst site Cook Political Report considers the vacant seat “leaning Democratic.”

“The verdict should surprise no one,” Baugh said. “A politically motivated prosecutor and a hostile judge set up the trial for so many damaging errors. “President Trump will have the opportunity to appeal and I am confident that a fair hearing will expose and resolve these issues.”

“Political prosecutions are increasing,” he said.

And Rep. Ken Calvert, who represents CA-41 in Riverside County, deemed a “Republican divergence” by the Cook Political Report, expressed concern about the verdict. on social networks without directly invoking the name of the former president.

“Americans who believe that justice should be blind to politics and administered equitably should be concerned about today’s outcome,” Calvert said. “It is alarming that partisan prosecutors continue to take advantage of our criminal justice system to use the power of their office to influence our democratic elections.”

While voters do care about “law and order” or “the rule of law,” Schnur said, it is just one of many issues that may be at the top of their minds this election season.

Even before the trial, Republicans in swing districts were focused on issues like immigration and inflation, Schnur said.

And those are the issues most likely to resonate with undecided voters, said Jon Fleischman, former executive director of the California Republican Party.

“At the end of the day, undecided voters are going to worry about gas prices, grocery prices and fentanyl coming across the border,” Fleischman said. “I think this is what all the partisans on both sides are obsessed with (Trump’s guilty verdict), and I don’t think swing voters are focused on it.”

Case in point: While neither Kim nor Steel have posted about Trump on social media, both used their respective X accounts, formerly Twitter, on Friday to discuss the southern border.

Still, while focusing on so-called kitchen table issues may be “as strong a formula for Republicans in today’s competitive races as it was last week,” Schnur said, “it’s going to be a bigger challenge for them to make that message heard. now.”

“You’ve already seen a lot of Republicans talk about how there are other issues that are going to be more important to voters than the trial,” he continued. “That means they don’t want to talk about the trial.”

following the money

While Republicans may not want to talk about Trump’s conviction now, there’s no doubt they see a positive potential in it: the influx of cash.

Trump’s campaign says it has raised nearly $53 million in online donations since the verdict. The press release says more than a third of donors are “new to the campaign,” but offers few other details.

But for Republicans in competitive House races, what might interest them more is the haul reported Thursday by the National Republican Congressional Committee of more than $300,000. (As Punchbowl News reported, that far surpasses the congressional campaign arm’s previous one-day record by about $125,000.)

“Even over the course of the trial, there was already a marked increase in Trump’s fundraising,” Schnur said. “This is likely to continue and even intensify.”

Trump is scheduled to travel to Southern California later this week for two in-person fundraisers: the first in Beverly Hills on Friday, June 7, and the next in Newport Beach the next day at an event hosted by the businessman. of virtual reality Palmer Luckey, who has also hosted private fundraisers for the former president in previous election cycles.

But don’t expect to see any of those Republican congressional candidates in competitive Southern California races flocking to fundraisers.

“This is just for our supporters and donors, and we’ll probably be back in the fall to help with congressional campaigns,” said Tony Strickland, a Huntington Beach councilman and Trump campaign spokesman in Orange County.

The goal is to help the president, Strickland said, and “the aides are dominated by people who write the checks.”

Lance Trover, a spokesman for Steel, declined to answer questions about whether he would attend a fundraiser for the person who leads his party or whether he plans to campaign with him before November.