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When a stranger says hi to you in Los Angeles, it’s safe to assume he’s either a homeless guy hustling for change, or he’s someone fresh out of the Midwest who hasn’t yet learned proper LA manners. But at a Californian-Italian bar in Santa Monica recently, strangers were greeting one another like long-lost friends. They smiled. They introduced themselves. They shook hands and hugged. And then they sat shoulder-to-shoulder, broke bread over spaghetti and beer-battered mushrooms, and castigated California liberals.
It was the kind of camaraderie that instantly forms among people with a common enemy. Here, communist is a swear word and Fox News a secret pleasure. When a speaker got up and said, “Now I’m going to let you say what you’ve never been allowed to say out loud,” people shouted in unison, “I am a Republican!” Then they repeated it over and over with all the bittersweet relief of an addict confessing his drug of choice in a therapy group.
It was a Thursday evening, and I was at a “meet and greet” event for Travis Allen, a Republican California assemblyman who’s running in the state’s 2018 race for governor. The 44-year-old California native is one of the most outspoken and controversial assemblymen in the Legislature, and he’s the only gubernatorial candidate who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 (“If you didn’t vote for Trump in 2016,” he said, “you voted for Crooked Hillary!”).
Travis Allen ... is one of the most outspoken and controversial assemblymen in the Legislature, and he’s the only gubernatorial candidate who voted for Donald Trump in 2016
Any conservative who dares run for governor in the nation’s bluest state might be deluded or brave or both, but the crowd of about 100 people who squeezed into the backroom of that Santa Monica bar seemed to believe the impossible could happen. At least five heads donned “Make America Great Again” hats—a gutsy fashion choice in certain parts of LA—and one woman received several compliments for the badge pinned to her chest that read: “Trump won—DEAL WITH IT!” I had expected the typical Orange County-type Republicans at this event, but the room was filled with people of various ages and races. I saw a lanky gay black man, a young black woman with a red MAGA hat, a Latino man from Koreatown who also wore a MAGA hat, a gray-haired Asian lady in a black blazer, and a middle-aged guy wearing a mustache and carrying a copy of the Jewish Journal.
It was the kind of enthusiastic crowd any candidate longs for—people who were already riled up, sick of the way the “Democrat mafia mobs” dominate their state, sick of being shamed and silenced for their unpopular political views, sick of bleeding their hard-earned money into bloated state and city coffers. They were ready for a savior, ready for a change, ready for a revolution.
So when Travis Allen showed up in a black suit, navy tie, and American flag lapel pin, people cheered. When he grabbed the mic, leaned forward, and bellowed, “Who here is ready to take back California?” people went nuts. When he bashed the villains—Crooked Hillary Clinton and Sleazy Gavin Newsom and their cronies—people gnashed their teeth. But the most thunderous applause came when he promised to reverse “the illegal sanctuary state” and called out Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for warning illegal immigrants of imminent raids by federal agents in her area. “Fire Libby!” one woman shouted, and Allen delighted his audience by rebutting, “Fire her? Prosecute her!”
As I stood in the back corner of the room, I could sense the energy and excitement fizzing like a shaken Coke bottle. This was a minority people who had for many years seen California swing further and further leftward, and they had reasons to be alarmed: The 84-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein looks like a conservative next to her primary opponent Kevin de León, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for Feinstein’s U.S. Senate seat. Many young liberals in California see de León as a sort of Che Guevara figure boldly defying President Trump and his perceived xenophobic, racist, and tyrannical leadership.
As the California Senate’s Democratic leader, the 51-year-old de León has authored a “sanctuary state” bill and championed single-payer healthcare and a 100 percent clean-energy mandate. At a recent Democratic Party convention, de León drew 54 percent of the vote versus Feinstein’s 37 percent—a sign that California Democrats are tired of conventional leaders like Feinstein, who lost party favor when she wished Trump’s presidency well.
Then there’s Gavin Newsom, a 50-year-old former San Francisco mayor who supports universal healthcare, a sanctuary state, Planned Parenthood, LGBT rights, and stricter gun control. The ruggedly handsome Newsom, now the front-runner for California governor and a so-called courageous liberal crusader, was once a self-described “dogmatic fiscal conservative” who annoyed his leftist colleagues with his pro-business, anti-tax increase stances. Today, perhaps sensing the political tide flowing left, he’s loudly taken the most liberal positions out of any candidates in the governor’s race.
And now here’s Travis Allen, a fine-looking surfer with beach-bleached hair, a self-assured grin, smart-dude charisma, and all the straightforward, cut-the-bull rhetoric of Trump: “Are you tired of losing in California? Are you ready to win? We will no longer be the silent majority, the forgotten ones! When I’m governor, we will make California great again!”
A tall, dark-haired man who looked something like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s younger brother (don’t even mention Schwarzenegger’s name in this group—everybody here knows he’s a faux Republican) was livestreaming the whole event with his iPhone, growling with his booming, raspy voice, “Oooh yeeaaaah! Take back Californiaaaa!” Another Hispanic pounded his palms together and screamed, “Let’s go Travis, let’s go! Let’s go Travis, let’s go!”
Allen smiled, acknowledging the impassioned outbursts. As he waved white envelopes ready for donation checks, he promised tax cuts, gun freedom, border control, tougher law enforcement, less traffic, better water storage: “When I’m your governor, you’re going to have green lawns, long showers, and toilets that you actually flush!”
That night, as I walked out of the bar, a young woman in yoga pants and a bouncy, chestnut-brown ponytail jogged past me and stopped when she recognized me from the event. “Hey!” she exclaimed, waving her white donation envelope. “Wasn’t that interesting?” Then she lowered her voice: “I was so afraid I’ll run into someone I know—you always have to be careful with these kind of things—but then I saw a neighbor and two people from church!” She blinked, as though surprised she wasn’t the only conservative in her neighborhood.
We chatted awhile about life in Santa Monica, and then she dashed off again, saying, “OK, time to run and hide!” Left unspoken was her fledgling hope: Maybe soon she would no longer have to run and hide. Maybe, just maybe, even as Trump shocked the nation by winning the presidency, this fresh guy would have what it takes to topple the Democratic throne in Sacramento. If Trump could do it, can't Travis Allen?