ANAHEIM, Calif. (KABC) — Supporters and critics of former President Donald Trump gathered Friday outside the California Republican Party convention in Anaheim, where Trump delivered a speech that was at times dark and profane.
“First of all, we will support him — even if he goes to prison — because he is a man for the people and for the people,” said Antoinnette Del Peral, one of hundreds of supporters outside the Anaheim Marriott where the convention was being held.
“And people,” Del Peral told a reporter, “it’s not a riot. You’re all lying.”
While many of Trump’s comments at the convention were familiar repetitions of his attacks and grievances, his encouragement of violent retaliation against criminals marked an escalation of his longstanding tough-on-crime message.
“We will stop all looting and theft immediately. “It’s simple: If you rob a store, you can expect to be shot as you leave the store,” he said, drawing loud applause. “Shot!” he added for emphasis.
Dozens of protesters, including Democrats from Orange County and Los Angeles County, voiced criticism of the former president.
“I don’t think we should give him control again,” said Jacob Ortiz of the OC Justice Initiative, referring to Trump. “If he has already experienced so much controversy in one term, imagine what another will bring.”
Trump was one of several Republican presidential candidates to appear at the event in this Democratic stronghold. While there is little hope for any of them to defeat President Joe Biden in a general election here, California will play a crucial role in the list of states voting in the so-called Super Tuesday primaries on March 5.
With 169 delegates at stake, a victory in California would move a Republican presidential candidate significantly closer to the nomination. And a recent rule change could give Trump, who has dominated the primaries so far, an advantage. If he receives more than 50% of the vote, he would be awarded every delegate in the state.
“We exercised our right here to say that we don’t want Trump here,” Ada Briceño, chairwoman of the Orange County Democratic Party, said before the convention, “and that we voted him out of office here in Orange County in 2020.” and that we will do it again in 2024.”
The largest gathering of protesters occurred at the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Convention Way.
Anaheim police increased staffing for the event and officers remained on standby with riot gear.
A police spokesman said the crowd was “mainly peaceful and law-abiding.”
ABC7 witnessed several angry confrontations between opposing protesters. Democrats canceled their rally, saying it was for the safety of their volunteers and staff.
A voter survey by the Public Policy Institute of California released Wednesday but conducted in late August and early September found that Trump is supported by nearly half of likely Republican primary voters. DeSantis was far behind at 14%, while the rest of the field trailed in single digits.
Trump’s comments Friday underscored a central issue surrounding Trump’s efforts to return to the presidency. While his focus on red meat resonates well with the GOP base, it’s unclear whether he will have much appeal with the broader group of voters needed to win general elections.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.