Dodging protesters, Trump woos Big Tech donors in stealthy Bay Area visit

Donald Trump stepped off Air Force One at Moffett Field in a dark suit and bold yellow tie Tuesday for his first presidential visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, tapping Silicon Valley campaign wealth in seeming defiance of his unpopularity in the Democratic stronghold.

His arrival in Mountain View, not far from House Speaker and political nemesis Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district, was greeted by a small group of party officials and supporters chanting “USA!” before he headed to a tech mogul’s Portola Valley mansion for a fundraising luncheon.

“Coming here makes great political sense,” said David McCuan, a politics professor at Sonoma State University. “He’s showing he can come into the center of anti-Trump energy, right into Nancy Pelosi’s backyard, thumb his nose at her and still walk away with a wad of cash.”

Before Trump’s arrival, his campaign and local GOP officials had been tight-lipped about the location of the fundraiser, citing violent demonstrations that broke out during Trump’s visits to the Bay Area as a presidential candidate in 2016.

Though word had spread by mid-morning that the event would be held in Portola Valley and protesters began to gather there, the demonstrations were uneventful, and there were no reports of arrests.

The Bay Area voted against Trump by the highest margin of any large metro area in 2016, and his trip comes amid acrimonious and escalating battles with California leaders on a host of issues, from sanctuary cities to greenhouse gas emission standards to high speed rail. State officials have sued the Trump administration more than 50 times since he stepped into the presidency. Most recently, Trump criticized the California Democratic leaders over the state’s growing homelessness problem and suggested he could take federal action to “clean it up.”

“What they are doing to our beautiful California is a disgrace to our country,” he said at a campaign rally last month.

But there are plenty of big Republican donors in the Bay Area. Trump’s campaign and joint fundraising committee received more than $6.5 million in large-dollar donations from Californians in the first six months of the year, more than many other Democratic presidential candidates.

Trump’s four events in California today and tomorrow are expected to raise $15 million for his joint fundraising committee with the RNC, a GOP source said. Today’s Bay Area luncheon will bring in $3 million, the source said.

McCuan said that for Trump, California “is the Golden State because of the money, the coverage and the contrast it lets him draw” between him and the state’s Democratic leaders.

“He’s able to use California as a symbol of brokenness across the country,” McCuan said. “He uses us as a foil.”

After headlining the Portola Valley fundraiser, a luncheon for which tickets ranged from $1,000 to $100,000, Trump left for other fundraising events in Los Angeles and San Diego.

The fundraiser was held at the 32,000 square-foot mansion that Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy put on the market last year for nearly $100 million. The five-bedroom house, completed in 2008, sits on 13.35 acres and offers “four floors of seemingly infinite amenities,” according to real estate agents. Among them: a 110-yard golf practice area with putting greens, an indoor hockey rink and tennis pavilion, and a large “social room” for hosting events. If the home, which technically sits just over the border in Palo Alto, sells at its original $96.8 million asking price, it would more than triple the previous record for the most expensive home ever sold in the city.

State and federal campaign finance records show Scott and Susan McNealy have given nearly $1 million to Republican candidates in state and federal races since 2000 but don’t list any contributions to Trump. The couple has supported Republicans who have sparred with Trump — they gave $156,600 to committees supporting Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and $88,500 to committees associated with former House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Their only contribution from the 2016 presidential campaign, according to the FEC, was $2,000 Susan McNealy gave to a committee supporting Carly Fiorina before the Republican primary. Within California, state campaign finance records show they contributed to the gubernatorial campaigns of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman.

Scott McNealy did not respond to efforts to reach him for comment by phone or email after the fundraiser.

Trump touched down at 11:02 a.m. at Mountain View’s Moffett Field, where several dozen supporters had gathered on the tarmac, some wearing red Make America Great Again hats and carrying a big Trump 2020 banner.

Trump waved to his fans, who were chanting “USA,” as he descended the steps from the jet. He shook hands with RNC committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon, her spouse Sarvjit Randhawa, and Robin Aube-Warren, the associate director of NASA Ames Research Center, before getting into his car as the motorcade sped away. He did not take questions or talk to reporters.

“There’s such a thrill in being here,” said Rick Carraher, 71, who with his wife, Janis, got up at 4:30 a.m. and went to Moffett Field from their Antioch home to greet the president. “We finally have somebody who’s doing a great job for Americans, and we wanted to show our support.”

About a mile from the fundraiser, a crowd that at one point grew to about 100 people gathered at Rossetti Field on Alpine Road along the motorcade’s route to the fundraiser. A balloon shaped like a baby Trump, mounted by the protesters, flew overhead.

Yolando Sanchez, of Sacramento, joined four friends from the immigration advocacy group Abuelas Responden, or Grannies Respond, to protest. The five women spent the night in Newark, then drove around Tuesday morning until organizers told them to go to Alpine Road in Portola Valley.

There they joined others who held signs and chanted slogans as officers stood sentry between the crowd and the road where Trump’s motorcade drove past.

“We wanted to send him a message with how unhappy we are with him,” Sanchez said.

The motorcade arrived at the McNealy’s home at 11:40 a.m. Along the street, more than a dozen protesters standing behind secret service officers held banners depicting Trump as a baby, as Pinocchio, and in a straitjacket. Kira Od, a local artist who made the banners, urged her fellow demonstrators to keep things civil.

“This isn’t going to change the world, don’t get me wrong,” Od said. “But he’s so protected from criticism that I really wanted to be here so that he couldn’t avoid me and see this.”

Ralph King, a filmmaker who lives up the street, held a hand-written sign declaring, “You are not welcome here” and said, “It’s offensive that Trump is bringing his toxic message into our backyard.”

A few feet away, three Trump supporters unfurled an American flag and a Trump campaign banner.

“People think that to be conservative, you’ve got to be racist or rich,” said Kenny Camacho, 24, who came from Union City to catch a glimpse of the president. “It’s the complete opposite — we’re a silent majority in this country that supports him.”

The event was closed to the press. The White House pool report said attendees were served salmon and vegetables, there was a golf hole in the backyard with a Stanford flag, and at one point a cheer went up from inside the house.

But Dhillon said in an interview afterward that Trump “was incredibly funny and relaxed.”

“People were on their feet several times during his speech,” she said, adding that she thought the event went so well because the secrecy around its location prevented larger protests. Trump didn’t seem to notice the demonstrators, she said.

“He didn’t even make eye contact with any of that garbage,” she said.

She added that Trump talked about how he was fighting for Americans and responded to several questions from attendees. He said California is “a beautiful state” but claimed its elections are unfair, and he blamed Democrats for homelessness that is bringing back “medieval diseases,” according to Dhillon.

Trump’s motorcade swung out of the Portola Valley estate at 2:32 p.m. as a small group of protesters who had been waiting across the street for more than an hour chanted “shame on you!”


His last visit to the Bay Area was for a June 2016 campaign rally in San Jose, during which protesters attacked and scuffled with Trump supporters, leaving some bloody. Several Trump supporters attacked at the event have sued the city for not providing adequate police protection, and the case is still working its way through the courts.

Before that, protesters surrounding an April 2016 Trump campaign event in Burlingame forced him to jump over a highway median to get into the hotel where he was speaking.

Traffic was snarled along Alpine Road following Tuesday’s presidential visit, annoying several residents.

“I realize this is a First World problem — I live in Portola Valley,” said one Portola Valley woman who did not want to be identified. “This will be over in a couple of hours. But this is a terrible inconvenience.”

Staff Writer Elliott Almond and Linda Zavoral contributed to this report.


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