After walking through a field to avoid protesters, Donald Trump spoke at a meeting of Republicans in California and showed little conviction on the need to unify the party. Or moderate his name-calling.
BURLINGAME, Calif. — Donald Trump got a taste Friday of what his next month of campaigning in California could be like. He was forced to exit his motorcade and walk through a field, climbing an embankment with Secret Service agents helping him, to avoid angry demonstrators on the street.
“We went under a fence and through a fence, and oh, boy, it felt like I was crossing the border, actually,” Trump said when he finally made it to a ballroom to speak at California’s Republican Party convention.
For the next 25 minutes, though, Trump spoke little of California or its June 7 primary, which, with 172 delegates at stake, could decide the GOP presidential nomination.
Rather, he wrestled with whether he wanted to begin healing the fractured party he was seeking to lead. Trump, the Republican front-runner in the presidential race, mocked his conservative critics and his current and former rivals as dumb, “disgusting” and losers. He claimed at least twice that he could win even if the party did not unite. And with some conservatives still uneasy about his beliefs, he breezily dismissed questions about his principles.
“Folks, I’m a conservative, but at this point, who cares? We got to straighten out the country,” he said at a luncheon of party activists who seemed more curious about seeing a celebrity than enthusiastic about their potential presidential nominee.
During the same speech, though, he called for party unity to defeat Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic standard-bearer.
Trump’s remarks offered a vivid illustration of the current state of his campaign: As he edges closer to the nomination, he is under pressure to curb his hard-edged language and exude a more statesmanlike demeanor. But the continuing attacks from other Republicans plainly rankle him, and he appears to have little appetite to make peace with his critics.
“Ideally we’re going to be together,” he said. But he added: “I think we’re going to win even if we’re not together. There are some people, I honestly don’t want their endorsement.”
At another point, he said, “There should be and there has to be unity,” before adding: “Would I win, can I win without it? I think so.”
Trump singled out Sen. Ted Cruz, his most formidable remaining primary rival, and Jeb Bush, a onetime foe who emerged this week to again assail Trump, for harsh criticism.
“Does he want to endorse me?” Trump said of Bush. “I don’t care. It’s not going to have any impact on whether we beat Hillary Clinton.”
He also slammed the party’s nomination system, charging that GOP candidates must bribe the party’s delegates — a number of whom were in the audience — to win its nomination. “It’s a horrible, horrible, disgusting system,” he said.
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He also mocked Cruz’s newly named potential running mate, Carly Fiorina, for her presidential bid — “I like Carly, but when she left, she had no votes” — and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, whose fading campaign and penchant for eating on camera were subjects of ridicule. (Trump drew laughter when he said his 10-year-old son had deemed Kasich’s eating habits “disgusting.”)
Trump likened the persistence of his two remaining Republican opponents to the attitude of children who do not get their way. “I don’t care, Mom: I’m staying here, I’m not leaving,” he said, imitating a pouting child.
Trump’s insults have been a staple of his campaign, and the approach, he said again Friday, served him well in the course of knocking out a series of Republican governors and senators who had once been seen as stiff competition.
Yet as he closes in on the nomination, traditional party leaders are growing nervous that he cannot seem to resist the temptation to lash out even as he professes a desire for unity.
“I didn’t think that was particularly helpful,” Marty Wilson, a longtime Republican strategist and California Chamber of Commerce official, said after the speech.
But at least for the primary, Trump may not need the support of the sort of activists who filled the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency hotel just south of San Francisco. He has shown a capacity to win with little help from traditional Republican leaders.
In contrast with his address to the party Friday, Trump used a rally that drew a few thousand supporters in Costa Mesa on Thursday night to offer a sharp attack on immigrants in the country illegally. He brought the families of people who had been killed by such immigrants up onto the stage, and suggested the influx of such people from Mexico had been responsible for the recent crime spike in Los Angeles.
Protests that stayed mostly peaceful during that event grew in size and anger afterward. Police in riot gear and on horseback pushed the crowd back and away from the arena; one Trump supporter’s face was bloodied in a scuffle as he tried to drive away. One man jumped on a police car, smashing its front and rear windows and denting its top, and other protesters sprayed graffiti on a police car and the venue’s marquee. About 20 people were arrested, said the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
The protesters who gathered outside the Hyatt Regency on Friday appeared to be smaller in number but equally animated about Trump. Some waved signs using expletives to denounce him, a group chanted in Spanish while waving Mexican flags, and others burned an American flag. There was also a contingent of topless men and women who repeated, “Make love, not a wall; we want equal rights for all.”
Several protesters sat on the pavement, forming a chain that stretched across a street by the hotel. At one point, police in riot gear were unable to stop egg-tossing demonstrators who broke through street barricades and rushed to the entrance of the hotel, forcing Trump’s motorcade to pull over on the shoulder of the 101 Freeway.
Surrounded by Secret Service agents, the billionaire hopped a concrete barrier and entered the hotel through a back door.
Trump made light of the detour after he finally took the stage 45 minutes late.
Before he had finished his speech, Trump was already thinking of his exit plan.
“They’re going to take me under a fence, through a field,” he said at the end of his remarks. “You have no idea the route they have planned to get me out of here.”