Steve Bannon, the controversial former strategist for President Donald Trump, told California Republicans on Friday that if they don’t join together to take back the state, they’ll see a breakaway effort to create a sovereign nation.
“You are a sanctuary state,” he told a sold-out dinner crowd of about 500 gather at the Marriott Anaheim for the state GOP’s semi-annual convention. “If you do not roll this back, 10 or 15 years from now the folks in Silicon Valley and progressive Democrats are going to try to secede from the union.”
Republicans are just 26 percent of the state’s voters and Democrats hold every statewide office. But Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, told the crowd they could overcome that deficit by building the same unifying coalition carried Trump to the White House.
“We’ve got a tough slog ahead of us,” Bannon said. “You have to put together a grassroots movement. If you don’t put your shoulder to the wheel, it’s not going to happen.”
Bannon was frequently interrupted by applause in a broad-ranging, 40-minute talk that ranged from the Trump campaign to arguments for “economic nationalism” and building a border wall. He criticized the Senate for insufficiently supporting Trump.
“Donald Trump know all the games, all the scams that go down in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Donald Trump is an existential threat to the system.”
Bannon also sharply criticized Sen. John McCain and former President George W. Bush, both of whom gave speeches this week that were thinly veiled condemnations of Trump.
“President Bush, to me, embarrassed himself,” Bannon said. “He has no idea whether he’s coming or going, just like when he was president. … There’s not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush’s.”
The choice of Bannon to headline the convention’s opening night dinner prompted blowback from some Republican insiders, who complained that it was sending the wrong message in a state where the GOP trails Democrats in voter registration by 19 percentage points.
Even Orange County, once a famously Republican stronghold, voted for the Democratic presidential nominee last year for the first time in 80 years. That result was caused in part by usual Republican voters turned off by Trump choosing not to cast a vote for president.
Bannon embraced his role as a Trump surrogate Friday. While he was enthusiastically received by the crowd, some Republicans say his appearance only hurts efforts to attract new voters to the party.
“It’s a huge step backward and demonstrates that the Party remains tone deaf,” tweeted moderate Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley. “As in life, you can’t have it both ways and today’s announcement made clear the direction the party wants to go.”
Mike Madrid, GOP consultant and former state party political director who’s worked to attract more Latinos to the party, was also critical of the choice of Bannon.
“You’re seeing the Republican Party devolve into a race-based party,” he told the Southern California News Group.
Outside, about 100 protesters denounced Bannon’s appearance.
“Boycott the Marriott!” and “Racists go home!” the boisterous throng yelled in unison while corralled behind a metal barrier across the street from the hotel.
There did not appear to be any counterprotesters.
About a half-dozen or so Anaheim police officers looked on but did not intervene, and no arrests were made.
Register staff writer Scott Schwebke contributed to this story.
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