Back Trump or not? A glimpse through the GOP establishment’s eyes.

California is the bluest of states, but it offers a window into how Donald Trump is fracturing traditional Republicans alliances. 

Published Aug. 5, 2016

Lance Watanabe has long bought into Republican ideals. He does not, however, buy into Donald Trump.

“I just don’t feel he’s qualified,” says Mr. Watanabe, a commercial real estate manager who lives in Santa Monica. “I watched him debate in the primaries and I never really was convinced with his arguments. I just hear him belittling his opponents so they can’t respond. That’s not the way to find solutions.”

James Mustain isn’t enamored either, but the lifelong Republican sees no alternative.

“I look at things through a biblical view. [Trump] doesn’t see the world through that biblical view,” says Mr. Mustain, a conservative Christian who teaches middle school in La Crescenta, just north of Los Angeles. But “I categorically oppose all of [Hillary Clinton’s] viewpoints. In my eyes, Trump is the lesser of two evils that we’re faced with.”

The two men’s different responses echo the frustration and discord Trump’s candidacy has sown among the GOP elite. Over the past few weeks, prominent Republicans have refused to show their support for their party’s nominee or – like Silicon Valley executive Meg Whitman – outright defected to the Clinton camp.

Interviews with GOP stalwarts like Watanabe and Mustain suggest that the turmoil is making its way down to voters in California, where a core conservative constituency continues to exist in the northern inland areas, Southern California outside of Los Angeles County, and the Central Valley.

So while the Golden State will almost certainly vote Democrat come November, political analysts say it’s still a good place from which to do a gut check on how establishment Republican voters across the nation are feeling about Trump and their party.

“California is America, only more so,” says Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, echoing the famous 1959 declaration from author Wallace Stegner. “He wasn’t talking about voter attitudes about Donald Trump when he said it, but he might as well have been.”

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