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Will inspect prototypes for wall

Issued: 2018-03-11

President Trump's well-documented clashes with California owe plenty to politics, culture and personality. But at bottom, what drives the president's toxic relationship with the nation's most populous state is this: his near-obsessive desire to be seen as a winner.

No state represents losing for Trump more than California, whether in business or politics. No surprise, then, that he didn't rush to visit. He arrives on Tuesday later into his term than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, back when presidents weren't flying routinely; F.D.R. crossed the continent by train.

Trump's trip, to inspect prototypes for a border wall with Mexico that many Californians loathe, is expected to draw large protests. Besides that inspection in San Diego, the president plans to meet with members of the military and attend a high-dollar fundraiser in Beverly Hills.

As a candidate, Trump used to boast he could become the first Republican to win the state, and its 55 electoral votes, in nearly three decades. Instead, Hillary Clinton won California by 4.3 million votes, more than accounting for her nearly 3-million advantage in the popular vote nationwide. California's result became the basis for Trump's false claim that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton.

It was a loss that stung long after his inauguration.

"If Abe Lincoln came back to life, he would lose New York and he would lose California," Trump fumed to the Associated Press last year.

His resentment toward California extends beyond the election, however. The Golden State is the seat of an entertainment industry that dismissed him as a reality television creation, the home of a business culture where his real estate dreams were stymied and, now, the headquarters of a resistance movement that has tried to cast a cloud over his legitimacy as president.

One of his most embarrassing controversies, an imbroglio over a pre-election payment to a porn actress to keep quiet about an alleged affair, is playing out in a Los Angeles courtroom.

Trump has at times tried to comfort himself with the notion that the state's protesters and its courts, which have ruled against him on significant immigration issues, stand apart from other Americans and other judges.

Barry Bennett, a former political advisor to Trump, said, "Never in history have the political beliefs in California versus the rest of the nation been so different."

Yet much of the nation, when it comes to Trump, is siding with Californians. The president's popularity is above 50% in only 12 states, according to the polling organization Gallup. In California, just 22% of voters approved of the job Trump was doing as president in a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll in November; 66% disapproved. That suggests a significant loss of support even from his dismal election showing, though two-thirds of Republicans remain supportive.

Decades before Trump, Republicans were using the liberal state as a foil, while ambitious California Democrats have long seen huge political upside in feuding with Republican presidents. Several Democrats running for statewide office this year bragged in fundraising appeals last week that they were defending California against a lawsuit from Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions over immigration enforcement — a suit that Sessions came to California last week to trumpet, in a sort of warm-up act for Trump.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who is also fighting the federal government's efforts to roll back environmental regulations, last week accused the Trump administration of "going to war" with the state.

The White House insists that Trump comes in peace — though with an edge that reflects the less-than-peaceable relationship.

"If anybody is stepping out of bounds here it would be someone who is refusing to follow a federal law, which is certainly not the president," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Friday. "We're going for what we hope to be an incredibly positive trip."

Many Republican politicians in the state won't be welcoming Trump either. Of more than a dozen GOP candidates The Times contacted, most said they had no plans to attend his events.

"I'm telling them to stay away," said one Southern California Republican consultant who requested anonymity to avoid alienating the president. "We're not going to diss the president, but we're not going to go do a photo op with him, either."


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