Steve Bannon Sees 'A Grassroots Army' in California

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Steve Bannon, speaking at the California Republican Party convention in Anaheim on October 20, 2017 (Scott Shafer/KQED)

California Republicans got what they signed up for from former White House adviser Steve Bannon, who spoke to a packed crowd at the state party convention Friday evening in Anaheim.

In a wide-ranging speech delivered without notes for nearly 40 minutes, Bannon warned that if California did not rethink SB 54, its so-called "sanctuary state" bill, "10 to 15 years from now the folks in Silicon Valley and the progressives are going to try and secede from the union."

Arguing that Democrats have overreached by passing liberal immigration laws, Bannon said, "they’ve given you everything you need to win."

He urged Republicans to put together a "grassroots army" to score some political victories.

"You can do it -- and you’re going to have to do it," he added.


Bannon insisted that while "it looks now like it’s impossible to win in California, it couldn’t be farther from the truth."

Speaking before a ballroom to some 500 California Republicans at the Marriott Hotel in Anaheim Friday night, Bannon focused on the economy and the global competition he said China is winning.

He noted that his brand of economic nationalism is about one thing: "Are you a citizen of the United States of America?"

"As a citizen," Bannon said, "you should have preference for jobs and economic opportunity. It’s not what's going to drive us apart -- it’s what’s going to pull us together."

Bannon was a polarizing figure in President Donald Trump's White House before he suddenly left in August, a couple of weeks after the arrival of President Trump's new chief of staff John Kelly. Bannon immediately returned to his prior job at the helm of Breitbart News, and has since declared "a season of war" on establishment Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

He also had harsh words for former President George W. Bush, who he sarcastically described as "beloved."

Commenting on a speech former President Bush gave yesterday that was seen as a thinly-veiled criticism of President Trump, Bannon said the former president "embarrassed himself" with the speech and "has no earthly idea if he’s coming or going, just like when he was president," adding "there has not been a more destructive presidency than George W. Bush's."

Longtime California conservative activist Jon Fleischman dismissed concerns voiced by some state GOP moderates that inviting Bannon would alienate voters.

Asked if Bannon's presence would limit Republicans' efforts to broaden its base in California, Fleischman said "Bannon's messaging helped attract blue collar voters to Trump" and suggested it could work here in California as well.

"It will also put the state's Republican party in the national news for a day," added Fleischman, who is a contributor to Breitbart News.

Bannon wasn't the only political lightning rod at the convention. Former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio was in attendance, with a Republican candidate for Congress -- Omar Navarro, a 28-year-old challenger to longtime Democratic incumbent Maxine Waters.

Arpaio has endorsed Navarro's long-shot bid to unseat Waters from the Los Angeles congressional seat she has held for 26 years.

It was recently reported that Navarro was on probation after a criminal conviction for illegally putting an electronic tracking device on his wife's car.

Earlier in the day Republican State Party Chair Jim Brulte said Bannon's invitation had doubled ticket sales for the dinner, forcing the GOP to negotiate with the Marriott Hotel for more space.

Brulte, a political strategist and former State Senator from Rancho Cucamonga, didn't seem troubled by concerns of some Republicans that Bannon's appearance would push swing voters away from the GOP.

"The polarization of the electorate, which began a few years ago, is accelerating," Brulte said during a lunchtime speech.

"Education is the new cultural divide," said Brulte. "The GOP does better in states where voters don’t have as many advanced degrees," before adding, “Hey, I’m white trash from the Inland Empire. I love that.”

On Saturday, the convention hears from Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield at lunch and later Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who is pushing stricter limits on legal immigration.