ground game

Calif. was the exception to 2016’s red wave. Now it might be Trump’s bulwark too.

People hold signs during a march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 12, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS
Protesters held signs during a march and rally last month in Los Angeles against the election of Donald Trump.

In last month’s election, Republicans even surprised themselves with how well they did across the country.

Except in California.

Donald Trump won the popular vote when you add up 49 states.


Except when you include California.

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Hispanics and white liberals simply didn’t turn out to vote at the levels they needed to give Hillary Clinton a victory in the presidential election.

Except in California.

Indeed, Democrats are at a low point nationally.

Except in California, where they control the governorship, both Senate seats, and super-majorities in the Legislature.


Following Trump’s election, Democrats are trying to figure out the path forward, how to respond to an unprecedented president, and how to work against him.

Except in California, which could well serve as the political adversary to the Trump administration in the coming four years.

The nation is coming to terms with the populist pushback made manifest on Nov. 8 — the working class who, in pursuit of shaking up the political system, elected our nation’s first president without any government or military experience. At the same time, California remains even more institutionally entrenched, filling its ranks with more old-school Democrats than nearly anywhere else in the country.

California’s governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, was first elected in 1974, and he is the son of a governor. In the Legislature and congressional delegation, the districts are drawn to advantage Democrats (not the case in most of the rest of the country).

“When Donald Trump talks about how he blasted through the blue wall, he forgot about California,” said Roger Salazar, a California-based Democratic consultant.


California was, indeed, the outlier state in 2016. Sure, other states, such as New Hampshire, bucked national trends, but the Golden State completely reversed course by electing Democrats, many of whom are nonwhite, up and down the coast. Golden State Democrats have a new US senator who is black and a new state attorney general who is now on the path to become the first Hispanic governor in the state history.

While Trump was flipping traditionally Democratic counties to vote Republican last month, Orange County — a deeply Republican area southeast of Los Angeles — voted for a Democrat for president for the first time since 1936.

What’s more, Clinton performed better among California voters than Barack Obama did in 2012. Clinton’s team cannot say this about any other state except Utah, where a third-party candidate took a chunk out of Trump’s winning percentage.

There are reasons why California voted the way it did. Nonwhite voters make up a bigger share of the electorate there than they do nationwide, and those voters overwhelmingly preferred Clinton. But even white voters picked Clinton by a larger percentage than they did in the entire country.

This is a problem in the long term for Republicans in California, which recently implemented a primary system that allows the top two vote recipients, regardless of party, to continue to the general election. As a result, often two Democrats (and sometimes, two Republicans) advance to November.

Andrew Russo, a Republican consultant based in the central coast, chalks up the GOP’s California nightmare to two factors: this primary system and the lack of national GOP investment in the state.

“This (primary) reform has been damaging to Republicans and to those running as a third party,” Russo said. “In a lot of races Republicans don’t even bother running. What is the point?”

Republicans are also still feeling the lingering effects of a Proposition 187, a measure that passed in the 1990s that would deny public services like health care and education to those in the country illegally.

Eventually the proposition was struck down in court, but Salazar argues that there are still lasting implications of that effort today.

“I do feel there is a parallel between what happened with Prop 187 and the backlash still 20 years later, and what could happen in the backlash of Trump nationally 20 years later,” Salazar said.

There are only five states where Democrats control the governor’s office and a majority in state houses. In addition to California, they are Connecticut, Hawaii, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

Nationally, Republicans have largely written off California, declaring it a place only to raise money. Once upon a time, California gave rise to President Reagan, but the GOP has not competed for the White House there in two decades.

And following an election in which Trump found a way to win the White House by flipping states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania to the GOP, there will be even less of an incentive to figure out how to win California.

The flip side of this is that California politicians might be in the best position to serve as a bulwark against Trump, especially given how safe they are politically at home.

Beyond House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from San Francisco, the state is home to two other rising stars on the national scene: Senator-elect Kamala Harris and the state’s newly appointed attorney general, Xavier Becerra.

Any statewide politician from California will have donors up and down the coast, from Hollywood to the Silicon Valley, in a state that has the world’s sixth-largest economy.

Demographers often point to California’s diverse population and suggest that it’s America’s future. Politically, it could point to America’s future as well, but for the time being it remains the nation’s political oddball.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell, or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: www.bostonglobe.com/groundgame.