California GOP convention sees raised stakes on abortion, and Trump
Trump will be in California two days after skipping the GOP debate there.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- After former President Donald Trump's snub of the second GOP primary debate Wednesday in Simi Valley, California, a showdown between him and his closest primary rivals could happen this weekend when he joins Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy in Anaheim for the California Republican Fall Convention.
But the Golden State gathering may not be the roaring face-off some observers have anticipated.
California's Republican presidential nominating contest, for the first time in decades, was slated to be competitive this year, after the state's primary contest was moved up from after an early window in mid-March to a decisive Super Tuesday slot.
The delegate-rich, blue bastion will now be one of the most decisive and essential primary prizes.
But in July, a party rule change engineered by the Trump team overhauled the state's nearly 20-year delegate selection process and replaced it with a proposal that many observers and competing campaigns have characterized as favoring Trump.
The newly imposed delegate rules, along with Trump's widening lead over his GOP competitors in California, according to recent polling, could make this weekend's gathering in Anaheim a hostile one for anyone else.
"If the election was held today, we know that the polling shows that Donald Trump would get anywhere between 53 and 55% of the vote in California, that would mean that all delegates do go to Donald Trump [under the new delegate rules]," said Charles Moran, a Trump delegate in 2016 and 2020.
"There's gonna be really big enthusiasm at this convention for Donald Trump. His lunch is sold out tomorrow. I know there are still tickets available for DeSantis and others," he said.
Still, California Republicans are eager to host the slate of presidential hopefuls.
"What's more exciting than seeing Donald Trump at noon for lunch. Then at three o'clock Tim Scott. Are you kidding me? Then DeSantis for Dinner?" said Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel, mirroring the excitement of a number of other California Republicans.
Though unlike other multi-candidate cattle calls, or even past California GOP conventions, separate tickets are required for each presidential speech with the price varying depending on the candidate. Tickets to Trump are the most expensive, followed by those for DeSantis, then Scott and then Ramaswamy.
Opposing campaigns not likely to challenge Trump-friendly delegate rules
In July, California Republicans unanimously approved a delegate selection plan for 2024 that assigns convention delegates based on the statewide vote and transitions into a winner-take-all system of the 169 delegates if one candidate gets 50% +1. For much of the past two decades, delegates have been divided proportionally based on victories in congressional districts.
Many, including opposing campaigns, say this move directly boosts a clear front-runner like Trump, who would likely garner 50% +1 of the vote.
After the changes were proposed, Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting DeSantis' bid for president, confirmed to ABC News that it was suspending its door-knocking operations in California and Nevada -- another state where the Trump team has wielded some influence over the nomination process -- and investing some of those field resources into three early-voting states.
"With neither state having a fair process, the door knockers that were in Nevada and California -- we decided to make them kind of refocus into the first three," PAC spokeswoman Erin Perrine told ABC News.
DeSantis himself waved off the opportunity to campaign in California while at an event in Iowa ahead of Wednesday's second GOP debate.
"Next week, I'm going to be in California for this Reagan Library debate. But we'll be back in Iowa on the tail end of that. You're going to be seeing a lot of us over these next many months," he said.
But it's unlikely there will be a serious challenge to the rules at this weekend's convention, despite some discussion over the past months that efforts to recall the process could arise from allies of DeSantis' campaign. Scott's campaign said they had nothing to share on the topic and Ramaswamy's team did not respond to requests for comment.
Two-thirds of the party would need to vote to change the delegate plan in order to make any revisions to what has been adopted for 2024, which would be difficult to obtain.
"They'd have to get two thirds of the body to agree to do that. They just don't have those types of votes. I mean, that's just what it is. There's just not a vote to do something like that," said Moran. "And, you know, the people who know how the rules work the best are the people who generally win these fights."
DeSantis-aligned members agreed that convincing garnering a two-thirds vote of the party would be unlikely.
"I didn't think the rule change was a good one for the party. But the way that the bylaws operate, it makes it very challenging I would ever say, daunting to change the rule on the floor. So I think that's probably not likely," said Orange County Chair Fred Whitaker, who has personally endorsed DeSantis.
California Republicans spar over platform language on abortion and same-sex marriage
The convention will also serve as a time for the California Republican Party to further iron out the language of the party platform -- a process that has proved contentious between one flank of the party, which seeks to remove a section including language against abortion and same-sex marriage, and another that claims the changes would modernize the party and bring more moderate Californians into their fold.
The new proposal removes phrases such as "it is important to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman," and that the California Republican Party believes "life begins at conception," along with language opposed to federal abortion protections.
The group opposing the measures, which includes longtime California political leaders like RNC Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon and Rep. Michelle Steel, have objected to the changes, claiming in a letter addressed to delegates that it is "watering down our language on many other core principles through vague language and faddish buzzwords in a strained attempt to stay "current.""
Moran, a member of the group championing the platform's changes, is also the the head of Log Cabin Republicans, LGBTQ+ rights advocacy organization from within the GOP.
"What our changes do is it reduces the demonization of people who don't necessarily agree…This is a situation where you're trying to create space for people to find themselves in the Republican Party, not creating very rigid lines," said Moran, who argued the new proposal still upholds pro-family values.
"As a gay man, I believe in traditional family values, but that includes my family too … It articulates the fact that we need to reduce abortion, and that we need to do everything possible to increase the ability for adoptions and make that less bureaucratic, that is inherently a pro-life platform."
Democrats also blasted California Republicans who did not embrace the new platform, noting that elected officials who had signed onto retaining the old language were "affirming their fealty to Donald Trump."
"These so-called moderates are not concerned about the needs of hard-working Californians -- only about themselves, their donors, and their far-right policy agenda that jeopardizes veterans, law enforcement officers, women, children, and seniors," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Dan Gottlieb.
ABC News' Will McDuffie contributed to this report.