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How much Trump is too much Trump?


Donald Trump might as well be known as He Who Must Not Be Named at this weekend’s California Republican Party convention.

That’s because the California GOP has a tightrope to walk. Republicans don’t want to talk too fondly of Trump in a state where twice as many people (64%) hold negative views of the former president as positive ones (32%), according to a Berkeley IGS Poll. And they especially don’t want to focus on him when Democrats are already casting the potential recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom as a Trumpist plot.

But the GOP can’t disown his name like it’s a San Francisco high school. Not when 2 out of 3 California Republicans say they would back Trump for president again in 2024, according to that same poll. The party is going to need its Trump-loving base to be energized if it hopes to recall Newsom.

That’s why party chair Jessica Millan Patterson has reflexively shrugged off Trump questions for most of her four-year term. (She’s expected to be re-elected to another Sunday.) But others are taking a nuanced view.

Corrin Rankin, a Stockton resident who was a member of the advisory board of Black Voices for Trump during the 2020 campaign, told me that while Trump is “still the leader of our party, when it comes to California, we are best served by focusing on California and giving voters very viable options and solutions to our current administration.”

Tim Rosales, an adviser to GOP governor candidate John Cox — whom Trump endorsed in his failed 2018 bid against Newsom — said, “You cannot succeed in the future by running the last campaign. And in the case of California, that future doesn’t include the former president.”

GOP governor candidate Kevin Faulconer pivoted so sharply away from a Trump question I asked him the other day when he was campaigning in San Francisco that it’s surprising he remained standing. The question: How should California Republicans handle Trump?

“What our California Republican Party is rightfully focused on is this recall of the governor and the governor’s race in California,” Faulconer said.

But while party leaders try to avoid the T-word, the scheduled lineup of speakers at the state GOP’s virtual convention this weekend would feel right at home at Mar-a-Lago.

It includes New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, whom Trump called “a star” for the way she defended him during his first impeachment; Florida Sen. Rick Scott, one of only eight senators who voted against certifying President Biden’s Electoral College victory in Pennsylvania; and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who gave Trump a $1,100 bust with his face on Mount Rushmore. Yes, really.

Disclaimer: No presidents currently on Mount Rushmore were kicked off to make room for Trump on the 4-foot-high sculpture.

Of course, these speakers also get something in return by appearing virtually at the convention: face time in a state that gave more to Republican candidates than any other in 2020, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Some of those speakers may run for president in 2024.

Progressive challenge to Newsom? Speaking of the recall, one of the scenarios that keeps Gov. Gavin Newsom’s supporters up at night is another Democrat jumping into the race — especially if that Democrat is a progressive who can rally the Sen. Bernie Sanders wing of the party.

But that person has yet to emerge, said Norman Solomon, co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org, a former Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention and an organizer in progressive circles.

“I haven’t heard any feelers, even second- or third-hand, from someone who would be interested,” said Solomon, who lives in Marin County.

Fremont Rep. Ro Khanna has said he isn’t interested. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be reluctant to lose other progressive Democrats, like Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland or Karen Bass of Los Angeles, while holding such a narrow majority in the House.

Solomon is no fan of Newsom. He wrote in the progressive publication Common Dreams last week that both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Newsom “know how to talk progressive, but they’re corporate Democrats to the core.”

Nevertheless, Solomon is opposed to the recall, “as are most progressives. But if we’re stuck with it, we’re going to have to hash out what to do.”

California Exit Interview: The story of why people are leaving California will dominate upcoming political campaigns. Here’s the latest California Exit Interview, where we ask ex-Californians why they left.

Deanna Rhoades, 25, didn’t want to leave for Tucson, Ariz. She’s a native Californian who was born in Walnut Creek and graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in ecology and evolution. She was looking for a research job studying wildlife.

“A lot of people think that if you study that there must be tons of jobs in Santa Cruz, because everyone there wants to do that. But that’s exactly the problem,” she said.

It’s a pricey place. Rhoades grew tired of paying $750 to $800 a month for a room in a house with three or more roommates. So in July, she moved to Arizona. The job scene isn’t much better, but the cost of living is.

• What she found outside of California: Plenty of studios for less than $700 a month.

• What she didn’t expect to find, but did: racial diversity — and good food.

• Biggest surprise: “How politically blue it is here.”

• What she misses most: “Being around a thriving community of hippies. I really vibed with a lot of hippies.”

• Surprising trade-off: Although she misses the ocean breeze and the redwoods, “I was so stressed out by my economic situation that I didn’t have the mental health to be able to fully appreciate them. I feel like because that aspect of my life is better here, I’ve actually been able to appreciate my surroundings more.”

• Least favorite thing about Arizona: “It gets really hot here in the summer. But my boyfriend likes to say that the heat is good because it keeps away Californians who might want to move to a more affordable place.”

Joe Garofoli is The San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political writer. Email: jgarofoli@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @joegarofoli





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