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Politics

Orange County Turns Blue: Now More Democrats

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by Dan Moran

It’s official: Democrats now outnumber Republicans in voter registration what once was the heart of the California GOP.

Political tectonic plates slipped past one another Wednesday, as the number of registered Democrats surpassed Republicans in Orange County, once a GOP bastion California and in the nation.

Orange County helped launch and nurture Republican politicians from Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to the congressman who went by the nickname “B-1 Bob” (Dornan).

It’s where Reagan launched his 1984 presidential reelection campaign, and tossed off the one-liner, at private fundraisers and later publicly: “It’s nice to be in Orange County, where the good Republicans go to die.”

But for weeks, students of political data have been counting the days when the inevitable would occur, and it happened with the latest registration numbers, posted Wednesday. Democratic registration hit 547,458 to the GOP’s 547,369, or 34% of the 1.6 million registered voters in Orange County. No-party preference voters grew the fastest to 449,711, or 27%.

Sacramento-based Republican consultant Mike Madrid, who spent a career trying to encourage a more ethnically inclusive GOP, sees that cause as lost now that the GOP is the party of Trump.

As President Donald Trump began running for the White House in 2015, there were 124,600 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the county. He promised to grow the party. The reverse has occurred. The numbers in 2015:

  • 575,329 were Republicans, 40%.
  • 450,704 were Democrats, 32%.
  • 327,222 were no-party preference voters, 23%.

What a change from the Orange County of yesteryear.

Orange County was the birthplace and the home of the former western White House for Richard Nixon, who is buried at his presidential library in Yorba Linda. The county’s business leaders were instrumental in recruiting Reagan, then a television spokesman for General Electric, to seek public office.

At one point, Orange County had 38 chapters of the conspiracy-minded, anti-communist John Birch Society. The late actor John Wayne, for whom the county’s main airport is named, was a member, as were members of Orange County’s congressional delegation, The Los Angeles Times recently noted.

It was predominantly white and generally wealthy. No more.

Reflecting California, the ethnic make-up has changed as the Latino and Asian population has grown, and it has become more economically stratified.

Sacramento-based Republican consultant Mike Madrid, who spent a career trying to encourage a more ethnically inclusive GOP, sees that cause as lost now that the GOP is the party of Trump.

“It is choosing extinction over evolution. It is the end of the line,” Madrid said.

In 1960, John Kennedy would not have needed Chicago to win the presidency if Orange County didn’t count. Nixon beat Kennedy by 35,623 votes in California, propelled by a 62,884-vote margin in Orange County.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson won in a landslide against Barry Goldwater. In California, LBJ won by almost 1.3 million votes. If Orange County had had its way, Goldwater would have been the man. He carried it with almost 56% of the vote.

In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, any statewide Republican candidate’s campaign playbook required an overwhelming margin in Orange County to offset the lopsided Democratic vote in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Without the Orange County vote, it’s not hard to imagine Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley beating Republican George Deukmejian for governor in 1982, or former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein beating former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson for governor in 1990.

Bradley lost by about 1% of the vote. And Wilson barely won in 1990, defeating Feinstein by about 260,000 votes statewide, almost all from his 2-to-1 victory in Orange County.

The stakes were high enough and the crowds enthusiastic enough that some of the most prominent political rallies for top state and national Republican campaigns, including the White House bids by Reagan and George H.W. Bush, were held at Orange County’s Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley.

In 1991, some of the first cracks appeared in President George H.W. Bush’s losing re-election bid when a little known Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton impressed a breakfast speech of Orange County business leaders about the need to boost a sagging economy.

The speech became national news news when some of those leaders, who were part of Bush’s elite “Team 100” campaign supporters, defected to support Clinton.

In 1994, Orange County was a hub of support for Proposition 187, the 1994, initiative that sought to beat back the shift by taking aim at undocumented immigrants. For a generation of Latinos, Proposition 187 came to define the California GOP as unwelcoming.

It did, however, work for a minute. In 1994, Republicans swept every legislative seat in Orange County, and, after a year of intrigue and maneuvering, Curt Pringle of Anaheim emerged as Assembly Speaker.

There hasn’t been another Republican Speaker since and won’t be for the foreseeable future.

“The Democrats have done a much better job of bringing in new voters, and getting those voters to vote,” Pringle said. “The Democrat Party in Orange County has been whupping the Republican Party.”

So much so that Democratic congressional candidates swept Republicans from Congress in 2018, and in 2020 are looking to hold those seats and win more state legislative seats.

“There are too many people who want to blame Trump for all the woes. I’m not going to do that. The decline began before that,” Pringle said.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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Politics

White House Gift Shop Selling Coronavirus Commemorative Coins

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White House Gift Shop Selling Coronavirus Commemorative Coins

WASHINGTON, DC (TMZ) — The White House Gift Shop is hawking some odd memorabilia … a coronavirus commemorative coin no one asked for.

The COVID-19 coin features the names of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence … and it depicts an empty presidential podium on one side, and a graphic of the novel coronavirus above the world on the other side.

The coin also shouts out the rest of the COVID-19 task force … with smaller printed names for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome AdamsDr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The collector’s item is emblazoned with tons of slogans … including “Together We FOUGHT The UNSEEN Enemy,” “Everday HEROES Suited Up,” and “Everyday CITIZENS Did Their Part.”

The White House Gift Shop is already taking pre-orders for the coin … and the price is slashed from $125 down to $100. The store, which is privately run and only loosely related to the actual White House, claims proceeds will be donated to hospitals.

The COVID-19 coin is the 11th in the gift shop’s “Historic Moments” collection, which also commemorates Trump’s meetings with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

So, at least the coronavirus coin is in … good company.

Trump's Coin Collection

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Politics

Trump Thinks Armed Michigan Protesters Are ‘Very Good People’

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Trump Thinks Armed Michigan Protesters Are 'Very Good People'

MICHIGAN (TMZ) — President Trump has found another group of “very good people” … the gun-toting right-wing extremists who stormed the Michigan statehouse to protest coronavirus restrictions.

Trump is strongly supporting the heavily-armed protesters … he says they are very good, very angry people who deserve a seat at the table with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Mind you, Michigan does not meet the very same federal guidelines for reopening that the President and his coronavirus task force announced last month.

Trump tweeted out his support of the rifle-clad protesters and tried to shift the onus on Whitmer, saying … “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry.”

POTUS added … “They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

The protesters are up in arms over the fact Gov. Whitmer extended the state’s emergency stay-at-home order until the end of May.

Of course, Trump started the battle cry for the “liberation” of several states — including Michigan — just hours after he laid out the federal guidelines. He, at least, said reopening should be done slowly and smartly … based on data.

That’s apparently out the window.

It has to be said … Trump’s comments about the Michigan protesters are reminiscent of the Charlottesville rioters, who he called very fine people.

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Health

Trump’s Own Officials Depended on WHO. Then He Turned Against It.

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Trump’s Own Officials Depended on WHO to Fight Coronavirus. Then He Turned Against It.

As President Donald Trump publicly bashed the World Health Organization over its response to the coronavirus pandemic last week, American aid officials tried to delicately sidestep the political tensions, internal documents shared with ProPublica show.

And Trump’s campaign upended weeks of partnership between his own administration and the WHO, which provides advice and support for health officials in developing countries. The U.S. Agency for International Development had chosen to funnel much of its pandemic response through the WHO.

Even as they dealt with the fallout of Trump’s decision to cut off WHO funding, his administration leaned on it for expert advice.

“Given the political dynamics, I do not recommend reference to WHO here or below,” wrote one U.S. Agency for International Development career official in a comment on a draft report about how emergency funding would be spent. “Recommend deleting.”

The April 10 comment on the document prompted a rebuttal a few days later from another career official, one of many who argued that the WHO’s role in the health crisis should not be caught up in a political spat.

“It’s actually important to reference WHO standards during this type of emergency pandemic response – even with current political dynamics,” wrote the official, who argued for leaving in the mention of the WHO. It’s unclear which wording made it into the final version of the document.

A redacted image of comments left on a USAID draft document suggesting omitting a reference to the WHO.

The exchange was just one example of the angst that spread throughout USAID as it became clear that Trump would follow through with his April 10 threat to cut off WHO funding, and it was indicative of efforts by officials to downplay the role of an important public health partner. Just a few days later, on Tuesday, Trump paused all U.S. funding for the WHO, upending crucial plans for containing the virus in developing countries and bolstering China’s narrative that it is stepping into the traditional U.S. role of global leader.

Interviews with current and former U.S. officials and the internal documents and communications show that despite Trump’s recent disparagement of the WHO, his administration was for weeks relying heavily on its expertise and global reach to fight the pandemic. And in a public relations battle between China and the U.S. over global leadership, American diplomats and aid officials have cited robust U.S. funding of the WHO as a key supporting argument.

The WHO’s expertise is a critical resource for developing countries that lack their own strong public health sectors, said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official during the Obama administration. Cutting the WHO out of funding means the U.S. is eliminating its own ability to control the pandemic in those countries, he said.

“If you want to try and fight a public health crisis in a developing country without the WHO, you are lost from the outset,” Konyndyk said.

Particularly in conflict zones where the U.S. has limited or no reach, such as Syria, Yemen and Libya, working with the WHO is crucial, one U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity.

Just one day after Trump’s announcement, on Wednesday, WHO staff held a presentation for USAID’s Global Health Bureau on health care in conflict settings, according to a description of the meeting seen by ProPublica.

USAID, the State Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment. The WHO referred ProPublica to comments on Wednesday by its director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying that his organization hopes the U.S. will continue to be a “generous friend” and that his agency “works to improve the health of many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

The State Department and USAID turned to the WHO soon after the agencies received nearly $1.3 billion in new funding from Congress to address the pandemic in March. That funding had few strings attached, meaning officials could disburse it largely as they saw fit and did not have to channel it through the WHO or any other specific entity.

In a March memo outlining the administration’s global pandemic response, obtained by ProPublica, officials wrote that the U.S. would work “in close coordination with” the WHO. Several strategy elements mentioned the WHO.

In a March 31 public statement, the State Department highlighted U.S. assistance to the WHO, boasting that the agency’s “broad-based effort would not be possible without U.S. support.” The statement made repeated swipes at China, comparing U.S. funding of multilateral organizations to China’s much lower contributions.

That view was also reflected in an internal document dated April 13 and titled “Countering People’s Republic of China (PRC) Propaganda on Health and Humanitarian Aid.” It cited “critical support” from the U.S. to “the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program and dozens of other organizations.”

Internal State Department guidance sent in early April, with diplomatic talking points about U.S. assistance, encouraged “Ministries of Health to reach out to the local WHO representative and other local partners to inquire about laboratory test kits, reagents, and supplies, laboratory supplies, and test kit availability in your region.”

The guidance also served as an endorsement of the WHO’s unique capabilities. “WHO uses existing agreements and its vast network of procurement mechanisms to purchase tests on behalf of countries that cannot afford them,” it said.

The U.S. quickly funneled nearly $700,000 each to Morocco and Iraq via the WHO last month. In response to a White House query this week, USAID officials compiled information on several grants they had made to the WHO that were supporting coronavirus relief and detection efforts in South Africa, India, Angola and elsewhere, according to a spreadsheet seen by ProPublica.

U.S. officials working on the response said they now worry about how they can help countries if they can’t channel the assistance via the WHO.

“For several countries, the WHO is the only way we can help them,” one official said. “We know nothing about anyone else who’s operating there.”

The significant U.S. reliance on the WHO in the Middle East prompted officials in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to write a memo to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning of the consequences of a funding halt. The memo, a draft version of which was seen by ProPublica, warned of undermining the global response to the pandemic, threatening American lives, and ceding ground to China.

Indeed, Trump officials have been preoccupied with the idea that China is winning the global PR battle. On Thursday morning, White House, State Department, USAID and Pentagon officials held a conference call to discuss the issue, focusing on the Middle East. Several diplomats in the region said that talking points against China gain little traction in their countries, according to someone with knowledge of the call.

Privately, USAID officials acknowledge that China is well ahead of the U.S. in pushing the narrative that it is the leading humanitarian actor responding to the pandemic, according to meeting notes and emails seen by ProPublica.

One U.S. embassy in North Africa reported to officials in Washington this week that the Chinese had until recently avoided bashing the U.S. in favor of boosting their own donations of medical equipment. There was one exception, they noted: The Chinese took the opportunity to highlight the U.S. decision to halt funding to the WHO.

Do you have access to information about the U.S. government response to the coronavirus that should be public? Email yeganeh.torbati@propublica.org. Here’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely.

ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force. We dig deep into important issues, shining a light on abuses of power and betrayals of public trust. Follow on Twitter at @ProPublica 

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