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San Diego GOP Leaders Mostly Silent as Trump Announces 3rd Race for President

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Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday, announcing another bid for the White House. Image via Sky5

Donald Trump is running for president again. Local GOP reaction is muted, if a day-old survey is any indication.

Times of San Diego on Monday night contacted more than 40 prominent local Republicans, asking if they’d support a 2024 Trump candidacy or someone else’s.

Five responded Tuesday. One — defeated 79th Assembly candidate Corbin Sabol — said he had no opinion, since “a lot can happen between then and now.”

Among those not answering email, Facebook messages or website forms were Rep. Darrell Issa, county Supervisors Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and radio host Carl DeMaio.

But San Diego school board candidate Rebecca “Becca” Williams did.

She hoped Trump wouldn’t run.

“He would lose by a large margin,” said Williams, the District C hopeful who lost to Cody Petterson. “Everyone needs to move on.”

She said she was unfairly labeled a “MAGA extremist” in opposition mailers.

“I look forward to the day when Republicans can run for office and this no longer ‘sticks,’” Williams said, later adding that if Trump does decide to run, “and Democrats are clever, which they are, they will boost him through the primaries.”

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, a former Trump supporter, is conflicted this time.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells says he’d prefer a GOP nominee who could advance Trump policies “without the vitriol.” Photo by Chris Stone

“Though the primary system is often painful, I think that competition is usually a good thing,” he said via email. “I have faith that the right person will prevail. If that person is Donald Trump, I will support him.”

But Wells says he’s open to a less offensive hopeful “if that candidate could be as effective as was President Trump.”

He says he also admires Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former Congress member and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who visited El Cajon in July 2021.

He added: “When people complain to me about how bad [Trump] is, or was, I asked the question: What policy did he enact that was damaging to you or someone you know?”

Invariably, he said, most people “can’t answer that question. I think the reason for this is that his policies were overall very good for the country, but there is a palpable fear and hatred of the man.”

So Wells would prefer a GOP nominee who could bring “the solid policies of the Trump administration without the vitriol. … However, I fear that whoever takes on the conservative mantle will become the next most hated man in the world, or perhaps the most hated woman in the world.”

Eric E. Gonzales, a 22-year Navy man who lost to 78th District Assemblyman Chris Ward, is all in for the 45th president becoming the 47th as well, however.

Trump proved that a career politician is detrimental to America while making the case that an outsider can make a difference in politics, he said.

“His record from his first term will stand as the best four years of any president,” Gonzales said, “compared to the atrocity that is occurring from the current sitting president.”

He added: “President Trump’s unrelenting capacity to work for the people of the United States is well-documented. I look forward to campaigning for him in his bid for a well deserved second term.”

Calling himself an America First candidate, Gonzales said Trump led the country in the right direction for the first time since President Reagan.

“We need to get back to that!” he wrote. “Our constitutional republic requires individuals who will uphold those values according to what our Founders insisted upon. Which we currently do not have.

“President Trump exposed what the political elite have been compromising what the United States stands for and the expectancy of its people. All across our nation, ordinary people have risen up to the challenge to bring back the American greatness and display of strength abroad.”

He concluded: “As a retired Navy veteran, I did not serve our country to watch it go by the wayside.”

Dan Summers, leader of the American Liberty Forum of Ramon, is another Trump booster.

Dan Summers, president of American Liberty Forum of Ramona, is happy about a third Trump candidacy. Photo by Ken Stone

“The vast majority of politicians are talkers not doers,” he said. “President Trump is an unapologetic doer. He accomplished more in four years than perhaps any other president in history.”

Summers said he didn’t care about Trump’s mean tweets or his sometimes gruff exterior.

“I only care about his accomplishments at home and abroad,” he said. “Ask economically challenged families in the Northeast how they are going to pay for their heating bills this winter. Ask the parents of dead youngsters who died from fentanyl overdoses about Biden’s open border. Ask the veteran about the improvements Trump accomplished at the Veterans Administration.”

Summers continued: “Ask the parents of the dead soldiers killed in Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan who they support. And I maintain that Russia would never have invaded Ukraine if Trump was president.”

Other notable no-responses to the Times survey were county GOP Chairwoman Paula Whitsell, sheriff candidate John Hemmerling, re-elected state Sen. Brian Jones, Assembly members Marie Waldron and Randy Voepel and termed-out San Diego Councilman Chris Cate.

Chula Vista mayor leader John McCann, Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones also didn’t respond.

Announcement at Mar-A-Lago

Trump, who has mounted relentless attacks on the integrity of U.S. voting since his 2020 election defeat, is aiming to pre-empt potential Republican rivals.

Seeking a potential rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden, Trump made his announcement at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida a week after midterm elections in which Republicans failed to win as many seats in Congress as they had hoped.

In a speech lasting a little more than an hour and broadcast live on U.S. television, Trump spoke to hundreds of supporters in a ballroom decorated with several chandeliers and lined with dozens of American flags.    

“In order to make America great again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Trump said to a cheering, phone-waving crowd, which included family members, donors and former staffers.

Earlier in the day, aides filed paperwork with the U.S. Federal Election Commission setting up a committee called “Donald J. Trump for President 2024.”

Trump steered clear of the name-calling that has marked other public appearances, opting instead for a critique of Biden’s presidency and a review of what Trump said were the policy achievements of his own time in office.

“Two years ago we were a great nation and soon we will be a great nation again,” he said.

Trump laid out familiar dark themes from his playbook, denouncing migrants – “We’re being poisoned” – and portraying American cities as in the grip of a crime wave that has left them “cesspools of blood.”

He said he would push for the death penalty for drug dealers and term limits for lawmakers and rehire members of the military who had been dismissed for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Although he assailed the U.S. election process, he did not use his speech to relive his false claims of massive voter fraud in 2020 and did not mention the Jan. 6, 2021 attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol.

Trump predicted his campaign will be opposed by left-wing groups, the Washington establishment and the news media. “But we will not be intimidated. We will persevere. We will march forward into the torrent.”

Long Road Awaits

There is a long road ahead before the Republican nominee is formally selected in the summer of 2024, with the first state-level contests more than a year away.

Trump’s announcement comes earlier than usual even in a country known for protracted presidential campaigns and signals his interest in discouraging other possible contenders such as Florida Gov. DeSantis or his own former vice president, Pence, from making a bid for the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination.

DeSantis handily won re-election as governor during the midterms. Pence, while promoting his new book, has sought to distance himself from Trump. Other potential Republican presidential hopefuls include Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Pompeo.

Trump played an active role in the midterms, recruiting and promoting candidates who echoed his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.

But many of his candidates in key battleground states lost, prompting some prominent Republicans to openly blame him for promoting weak candidates who derailed the party’s hopes of taking control of the Senate.

Control of the House of Representatives remains up in the air, but Republicans are on track to win a razor-thin majority.

Trump will seek his party’s nomination even as he faces trouble on several fronts, including a criminal investigation into his possession of government documents taken when he left office as well as a congressional subpoena related to his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault. Trump has called the various investigations he faces politically motivated and has denied wrongdoing.

Trump, 76, is seeking to become only the second U.S. president in history to serve non-consecutive terms, after Grover Cleveland, whose second stint ended in 1897. Biden, 79, said last week he intends to run for re-election and will likely make a final decision by early next year.

In an Edison Research exit poll, seven out of 10 midterm voters expressed the view that Biden, who remains deeply unpopular, should not run again. In the same poll, six of 10 respondents said they had an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

Trump’s Presidency

During his turbulent 2017-2021 presidency, Trump defied democratic norms and promoted “America First” nationalism while presenting himself as a right-wing populist. He became the first U.S. president to be impeached twice, though congressional Democrats failed in their attempts to remove him from office.

At a rally that preceded the Capitol attack, Trump urged supporters to “fight like hell” and march on Congress to “stop the steal,” but the mob that subsequently stormed the Capitol failed to prevent Congress from formally certifying Biden’s election victory.

Even though court and state election officials rejected Trump’s false election claims, about two-thirds of Republican voters believe Biden’s victory was illegitimate, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

Trump has elicited passionate support from many Americans, especially white men, Christian conservatives, rural residents and people without a college education. Critics accuse Trump of pursuing policies built around “white grievance” in a nation with a growing non-white population.

The political landscape has changed dramatically since he won the presidency in 2016 and some in his party, including major donors, are exhausted by the drama surrounding him.

His single term as president stands as one of the most contentious in U.S. history. He secured sweeping tax cuts, imposed curbs on immigration and orchestrated a rightward shift of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

He alienated U.S. allies abroad, abandoned international agreements on trade and climate change, and praised authoritarian leaders abroad, including Putin.

The Democratic-led House impeached him in 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after he pressed Ukraine’s leader to investigate Biden and his son on unsubstantiated corruption accusations. The Senate acquitted him, thanks to Republican support.

The House impeached Trump again a week before he left office, this time for incitement of insurrection. He was acquitted by the Senate after he left office, again thanks to Republican senators.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Palm Beach, Florida, and Andy Sullivan in Washington; )

Reuters reporting by Steve Holland in Palm Beach, Florida, and Andy Sullivan in Washington. Additional reporting by Gram Slattery in Washington.

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