Only one person in Santa Barbara has donated to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign: Joel Stagis — a thirty-something founder of tech company GrubSurf, the self-described Uber of home-cooked meals — wrote a $250 check to the Republican front-runner. Trump’s campaign is largely self-funded; in California, he brought in just under $250,000 while the other GOP candidates together have $20 million.
Yet Republicans in the northern parts of Santa Barbara County are certainly supporting The Donald, said former county supervisor Mike Stoker, while moderate Ohio Governor John Kasich is carrying many South Coast Republicans. A number of Santa Barbara Republicans interviewed by The Santa Barbara Independent dismissed Ted Cruz as unelectable.
In fact, a majority of the Santa Barbara County Young Republicans have jumped onto the Trump bandwagon after initially favoring dropout Florida Senator Marco Rubio. “Ultimately we need someone like him,” said club treasurer Celine Dilfer. “He’s a winner.” Asked if the board grappled with his racist, sexist, and tyrannical rhetoric, she said they discussed it. “We have become such a nanny state,” she said. “We don’t need to be so PC about every single thing.”
Pundits predict Trump will get very close — if not exceed — the 1,237 delegates necessary to secure the nomination before the July convention. That makes California — with 159 total delegates, three in the 24th Congressional District — all the more relevant. “That possibility is somewhat exciting,” said Cory Bantilan, who is supporting Kasich and is County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino’s chief of staff.
“The GOP plans to stop Trump,” Bantilan said, but now it could be too late. “There is no plan to convince the 52-year-old guy from Kansas who likes Trump not to like Trump,” he said. “It’s not a fad.”
On Tuesday, Joe Armendariz — County Taxpayer Association president who moderated a quasi-debate at the Root 246 restaurant in Solvang — wasted little time asking Republican congressional candidates Katcho Achadjian and Justin Fareed who they support for president.
Achadjian dodged the question: “I’ve been very involved with my own campaign,” he said. “Obviously [Trump] is gaining momentum, but we’ll see what the end result is.” Fareed said who he would absolutely not support — Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. “I will support any [Republican] by the time the California primary comes around.”
Armendariz pressed both candidates to take firm stances on immigration, terrorism, and tariffs. On immigration, Achadjian, 64, who emigrated from Lebanon in 1971 and now serves in the State Assembly, said his citizenship is his most valuable asset. “I don’t believe in amnesty,” he said. He added that he did not like it when his “favorite president” Ronald Reagan gave citizenship to four million people in the country illegally. “On the other hand, if we throw all of them out, what would happen to some of our industries?” he asked. He said he has “no mercy” for illegal immigrants with a criminal record — they should be deported. “That should have been done a long time ago,” he said. He added that if the U.S. did not “have all of the freebies, I don’t think people would find us as attractive.” He also called for a guest-worker program. That “does not mean they will earn citizenship,” he said.
Fareed, 27, said the United States needs to secure its borders to find a long-term solution. “We need to handle it on a step-by-step basis,” he said. Armendariz, who personally endorsed Fareed, pressed him. Again, Fareed emphasized secure borders. “You don’t want to answer the question,” Armendariz challenged him, asking if he would support deporting the 11 million people in the country illegally. “There is no solution in that regard,” Fareed said. “How many people in this room want taxpayer dollars spent to do something that does not solve a problem?” One member of the audience chimed in: “We do that already.” Fareed responded, “My point exactly.”
Asked about imposing tariffs on China, Achadjian, who owns a few profitable gas stations in San Luis Obispo, said, “I believe in free trade but not so quick.” He said it is not fair that farmers work so hard but that we can import strawberries from Mexico where there are “no regulations.” “That’s not fair,” he said. “I don’t support that kind of trade.” This time, Armendariz pressed Achadjian: “Would you support higher tariffs?” Achadjian replied: “We have to treat other countries the same as ours. If that means higher tariffs, so be it.”
Fareed, who is the vice president of his family’s medical device company, agreed. “To an extent, yes,” he said of higher tariffs. “I support free trade,” he added, because “lower costs allow people to thrive.” “We also need to make America more competitive,” he said.
The event occurred the same day dozens of people were killed in a terrorist attack in Brussels. Asked about Muslims entering the country, Achadjian spoke about being a Christian whose parents settled in Lebanon. “We need to sit down and brainstorm this [and figure out] how to help,” he said. “We cannot just open the borders and let everyone come in.”
Fareed called national security a significant problem. “We have seen the rise of ISIS,” he said. “We’ve left a vacuum there. The only way to find a solution is to get rid of ISIS’s concerted approach.”
Last month, Santa Barbara’s GOP central committee endorsed Achadjian; the S.L.O. chapter does not endorse in the primaries. Republican Issues for Tomorrow’s America, an area women’s group, backed him. Fareed secured the support of County Supervisor Peter Adam — who had previously urged central committee members not to get involved before the primaries — along with that of former county supervisor Joe Centeno. Montana Congressmember Ryan Zinke backs Fareed and has hosted a fundraiser for him at his Hope Ranch house.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this story stated Celine Dilfer was a student at Santa Barbara College of Law. She attends the Santa Barbara campus of the Southern California Institute of Law.