In the beginning, it isn’t clear if Donald Trump will even make it inside.
It’s around 10 a.m., April 29, on Burlingame’s Old Bayshore Highway—just south of the San Francisco International Airport—and protesters have just finished forming the second of two human fences that they hope will block access to the only road entrances to the adjacent Hyatt Regency, site of the 2016 California GOP Convention.
The protesters forming the fence sit cross-legged across the road, their arms joined through sections of plastic tubes that are penned with slogans such as “Stop Hate,” “Capitalism Kills” and “Love Trumps Hate.”
Trump, the leading GOP candidate, is slated to speak at a 12:30 p.m. luncheon, and Burlingame police officers line the sidewalk nearby, their eyes fixed on the protesters.
About 100 yards north up the road, closer to the hotel lobby, the crowd of activists surrounding the other human fence is far larger. There, dozens of anti-Trump protesters hold signs that read, among other things, “Make America Hate Again” and “Californians Against Trump/Hate.”
A brass band snakes through the crowd, lending an air of festivity to an otherwise tense scene. Tania Kappner, a Bay Area activist, directs much of the action through a megaphone.
“I need about half of you to go support the folks locked down on the other side. Not everybody, just half!” she says. “We need to shut this entire road all the way the fuck down!”
Inside the Hyatt, past the line of police, the mood is expectant, almost giddy. The line to see Trump speak stretches more than 100 feet long, and because he has a Secret Service detail, it moves slowly—aside from a bag check, attendees must pass through a metal detector.
Inside the banquet ballroom, after it is announced Trump made it into the building, albeit a bit late (he was secreted in through the rear), he is introduced by State Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, who hails Trump as “our next president,” and then gets the crowd involved. “To all the lobbyists who think they can buy our freedom,” he says, and then the crowd joins in, “you’re fired!”
When Trump finally enters, the mood is electric.
“That was not the easiest entrance I’ve ever made,” he says, drawing laughter. “It felt like I was crossing the border.”
Trump then goes on a rambling account of his campaign thus far, how he’s proven his doubters wrong, and how he’s more popular than the other candidates. (Just days later, the other two remaining Republicans would suspend their campaigns, clearing Trump’s path to the GOP nomination.) True to form, he calls Ted Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” and Hillary Clinton “Crooked Hillary.” He mocks John Kasich for eating during news conferences.
Trump says he will be heading to Indiana soon to hang out with coach Bobby Knight.
“He’s a winner,” Trump says. “That’s what we need now, we need winners.”
Aside from trade deals and immigration, Trump avoids talking about the issues, and mostly praises those who support him. He mentions an endorsement he received from 16,500 members of the U.S. Border Patrol, and refers to them as “phenomenal,” “great-looking,” “strong” and “in-shape.”
He also assures the crowd he will have no trouble building the wall he’s promised on the Mexican border.
“It’s so easy,” he brags. “I can just see that beautiful pre-cast plank, good solid foundations, nice and high … ”
One can barely hear his words through the applause.
When Trump finishes, the hotel is on lockdown, with police holding the line against an increasingly riled-up group of protesters. The only way out is a side door leading to the parking garage, and broken eggshells—from raw eggs thrown by protesters—line the walkway as luncheon attendees shuffle uneasily to their cars.
Back inside, the Monterey County Republican Party is the only county party with a booth, as was the case at the state GOP convention last fall. And once again, the table is set up with a “Delete Hillary” cornhole game that aims to bring light to Clinton’s so-called scandals. The game is in keeping with the wireless password for convention attendees: “hillarycantbetrusted.”
Monterey County GOP shotcaller Paul Bruno, the Central Coast regional chair for the Ted Cruz campaign, is sipping a cocktail near the table later in the day.
“We’ve been deleting Hillary, and we’re going to continue deleting Hillary,” he says. Bruno adds that he just got back from a Cruz rally in Indiana, and praises Cruz for being “somewhat of a maverick.” But, he says, all the GOP candidates “bring a lot to the table.”
The evening brings a speech by Kasich, the most moderate of the GOP candidates, who was trailing heavily in the polls. His tone is wistful, as if he already knew that his defeat was sealed.
“I’ve been endorsed by over 70 newspapers,” he says. “Wish it mattered.”
Kasich ended his campaign several days later.
The next morning, the Hyatt is packed with attendees wearing “Team Cruz” stickers. Cruz will be giving a speech at a 12:30 p.m. luncheon. For Cruz, the most conservative of the candidates, it’s been a tough week: On April 26, Trump swept Cruz in five states, and on April 28, former House Speaker John Boehner referred to him as “Lucifer in the flesh.” It would get even tougher in the week that followed: On May 3, Cruz suspended his campaign after getting trounced in the Indiana primary.
But on this day, the excitement in the banquet room is palpable, and Cruz is introduced by former Gov. Pete Wilson, a surprise guest who recently endorsed Cruz.
“Never has the California Republican primary election been so critical to the future of our nation,” he says.
When Cruz finally takes the stage, he is welcomed by rousing applause. “God bless the great state of California!” he says, drawing cheers. After thanking some people, he begins praising Carly Fiorina, who he named as his running mate April 27.
“Carly terrifies Hillary Clinton. I picture Hillary thinking about Carly, tossing and turning, and tossing and turning—in her jail cell,” he says.
He then goes on to describe his platform: Abolish the IRS, rein in the EPA, end Common Core education, “rip to shreds” the Iranian nuclear deal, and repeal Obamacare.
Shortly after Cruz’s speech is a seminar about the Republican National Convention, and the complex set of possibilities that would play out if Trump didn’t win 1,237 delegates—an outright majority that would secure the nomination.
After the seminar, in a men’s room across the hall, a 50-something man tells an elderly man that he didn’t know it cost $900 to become a delegate.
“You know what they say in Poland?” the elderly man says.
“I should let you know I’m Polish,” the other man responds.
“Tough shit-ski. You know what they in southern Poland?”
“I don’t know.”
“Tough shit-ski, y’all.”
Trump, who could barely make his way into his own party’s convention, may actually find his way into the White House.
This piece originally appeared in the Monterey County Weekly.