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California Republicans swoon over Trump despite debate no-show

Former US president Donald Trump claimed credit for Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ electoral victories. (AP pic)

ANAHEIM: Donald Trump received a rapturous welcome at California’s Republican Party Convention on Friday, mocking party rivals and dishing out red meat for an adoring audience in this Democratic stronghold.

The former reality TV star, who holds a commanding poll lead in the race to become the 2024 Republican presidential candidate, called rival Chris Christie a “loser” and claimed credit for Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s electoral victories.

“I’m the one that turned Florida red, not him,” the 77-year-old told party members in Anaheim, days after he skipped the Republican presidential debate in nearby Simi Valley.

“Without me, he was dead,” Trump said, a reference to the endorsement he gave DeSantis before he was swept to the governor’s mansion in 2018.

DeSantis, who was due to speak at the gathering later Friday, is currently a distant second in the contest to capture the Republican nomination, polling at just 16% against Trump’s 59%, according to an NBC News survey.

“They told me ‘Don’t hit him, he’s a Republican.’ I don’t give a damn. I hit him hard and now he’s like a bird that is seriously wounded,” he said.

At the Republican debate earlier this week, DeSantis and Christie both launched broadsides against the former commander-in-chief, demanding to know why he was ducking questions over his record and his divisiveness.

But none of the six men and one woman on the stage on Wednesday landed any knock-out blows.

Trump is favoured to win California’s Republican Party primary, which, because of the size of the state, could put him on a path to quickly clinch the national nomination.

His 90-minute speech on Friday focused on the US-Mexico border, where thousands of people are crossing illegally every day, as well as rehearsing some of his regular lines about dismantling the “radical prosecutors” who are coming after him in his multiple legal cases.

He also touched on issues dear to the hearts of Californians, including the exploding homelessness crisis in Los Angeles and San Francisco, water resources and moves to transition to green power.

Attendees at the event, which runs until Sunday, were enthusiastic for the former president, with some bashing party bigwigs for not showing sufficient fealty.

“It’s unfortunate that the mainstream Republican Party that’s sponsoring this convention is not doing more to support president Trump,” Karen Anthoupoulos told AFP.

“They do more to sabotage him, really,” the 62-year-old said.

“I’m afraid there are some Republicans-in-name-only,” agreed Sharon Lyn Stein, 73.

“And I wish they would not be so unsupportive of a man who had the best four years in our country’s history.”