HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — California has dug in at the front lines of the resistance to President Trump, suing to overturn his environmental policies, passing legislation to hamstring his immigration enforcement and marching in mass demonstrations of defiance.
Then there is Orange County, a stubborn redoubt of conservatism that keeps defying prognostications that 80 years of Republican dominance will come to an end.
Democrats claimed gains in Tuesday’s statewide primary, securing slots in the November election for three crucial House seats that represent Orange County.
But Republicans also found some assurances. Their voters turned out in greater numbers. Republican House candidates, over all, garnered more votes than their Democratic counterparts, providing conservatives hope that the county will serve as a shore break to the blue wave many of them fear is coming in the general election.
Conservative views, though fading, remain strong across this rectangle of Pacific beachfront and suburban sprawl southeast of Los Angeles.
At least 10 Orange County cities have sided with the Trump administration in its fight with California over a law that forbids state and local law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration agents in many deportation cases.
The Orange County sheriff has flouted the state by posting the dates and times when inmates will be released, in effect creating a tip sheet for federal officials so they can more easily find undocumented immigrants they deem high-risk enough to deport.
And in a show of solidarity that would be unthinkable in most other parts of the state, the county board of supervisors voted to join a Justice Department lawsuit against California and its so-called sanctuary laws.
Many Republicans in the county lack a passionate loyalty to Mr. Trump, even if they generally approve of his leadership. While they are satisfied with individual achievements like the tax cut, they say they could live without his histrionics and his constant use of social media.
Yet they find themselves driven to defend the president because of what they see as an irrational and sometimes hysterical response from Democrats. As the response to the state’s immigration law has shown, many Orange County Republicans who are ambivalent about Mr. Trump believe that Democrats have crossed a line.
“There’s a very palpable sense that the left has overplayed their hand,” said Lanhee Chen, a native of Southern California and a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution who, as a onetime adviser to Mitt Romney, the former presidential candidate, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, is no Trump apologist.
The sanctuary law debate, Mr. Chen said, along with the perception that places like San Francisco have become overrun with intractable problems like homelessness and housing affordability, are part of the “broader critique of liberal governance having reached a tipping point.”
The vote to join the Justice Department suit, along with the spate of activity in city councils, suggest that Republicans are in the mood to make sure that the county’s leadership doesn’t end up like the state: entirely at the will of Democratic politicians.
The undersheriff for Orange County, Don Barnes, said that Democrats were using localities like his as “a social science experiment” to work out their frustrations with the president.
“This is politics over public policy,” he said.
Mr. Barnes, a Republican who is running for sheriff, shared a story of his trip last fall to Sacramento to lobby against the sanctuary state law on the grounds that it would put arbitrary limits on the sheriff’s office.
He recalled one lawmaker telling him, “I get it, and I agree with you.” Then, Mr. Barnes said, the legislator explained why the law was going to pass anyway: “We want to send a message to Trump.”
Democrats have been eyeing the county for years, betting that demographic shifts have made it far friendlier territory than when Ronald Reagan joked in 1984 it was the place “where the good Republicans go before they die.” It is definitely no longer that. In 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win it since the Great Depression.
Certainly the long-term prospects for Republicans in Orange County are challenging.
No longer majority white — it is 34 percent Hispanic and 20 percent Asian — the county is full of potential voters that Democrats hope will be turned off by Mr. Trump.
Orange County’s situation is, on one level, an example of how Mr. Trump inflames any issue he goes near and turns it into a referendum on his presidency, no matter how parochial.
After the sheriff started publishing information about when inmates would be released, Mr. Trump praised “the brave citizens” who were defending themselves against “illegal and unconstitutional” state policies. He also hosted a group of officials from California last month at the White House who oppose the state law.
The festering revolt on the question of sanctuary policies points to a broader dynamic that could shape elections across the country. To persuade voters to toss out Republican incumbents, many Democrats believe they need a more compelling reason than their hostility to the president.
At some point, efforts to thwart the president risk becoming a smaller version of the debate over impeachment: It energizes the Democratic hard left but alienates many other voters.
As Orange County shows, Democratic obstinacy can embolden Republicans. In Huntington Beach, a diverse town of upscale outdoor malls and million-dollar condos along the Pacific and, farther inland, middle-class neighborhoods of bungalow-style homes, the Republican-led city government is suing the state over the sanctuary law. Its lawsuit claims that the Legislature exceeded its authority by restricting what the city can and cannot do with its resources like law enforcement, which is now forbidden from communicating with federal authorities on immigration matters.
The mayor, Mike Posey, says he is a fan of the president, but usually only wears his “Make America Great Again” gear around friends, not in public. After all, it is still California.
Mr. Posey mentioned a familiar sentiment among Republicans in Orange County that is motivating them to push back against the Democrats: The sense that no one in state government has taken them seriously.
“We have a Democrat supermajority,” he said. “They don’t even need to talk to Republicans anymore.”
South of Huntington Beach and a few miles inland, the Aliso Viejo City Council lodged its protest by voting to join an amicus brief in support of the Justice Department suit against California in the sanctuary law fight. The mayor, Dave Harrington, proudly introduced himself at a recent Tea Party forum as “mayor of the anti-sanctuary city, Aliso Viejo,” a classification that won him applause.
The mostly white and older crowd, which arrived decked out in various American flag-themed fashions for Memorial Day, nodded in solidarity when Mr. Harrington told them that Democrats “want us out of power — completely and in every way.”
“We’re not at the table anymore,” Mr. Harrington added, “we’re on the menu.”
Aliso Viejo is one of several Orange County cities that have joined an amicus brief drafted by lawyers for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, an arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which wants to sharply reduce immigration. Other cities include Fountain Valley, Mission Viejo and Yorba Linda.
Los Alamitos in northern Orange County, right on the Los Angeles County line, has gone a step further and voted to opt out of the law. Whether it can do that is a matter of legal dispute. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the city, prompting the mayor to start a fund-raising drive online. So far the drive has raised about $26,000.
The mayor, Troy Edgar, said he supported the president, but was quick to add, “I don’t play that up where I live.” He was one of the local officials invited to the White House to discuss immigration policy.
Mr. Edgar’s concern is not primarily immigration, but the blunt use of political power by a majority party. “This is about checks and balances between state and local agencies,” he said.
Some of the cities that are part of the revolt are far whiter than the rest of the county, like Newport Beach (80 percent white) and Mission Viejo (67 percent). Critics of the sanctuary law backlash also point out that many of the cities are rather small.
Los Alamitos has a population of about 12,000. Aliso Viejo has just over 51,000. The county’s second-largest city, Santa Ana, went in the opposite direction and voted to file an amicus brief in support of the state in its dispute with the Justice Department.
Sameer Ahmed, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of Southern California, said the anti-sanctuary movement was “completely out of touch with the present Orange County and the future of Orange County.”
At the Tea Party forum in Huntington Beach last week, Eva Weisz, a Hungarian immigrant who came to the country 45 years ago, blamed the “radical” Democratic Party in Sacramento. “They want to take absolute control,” she said, wearing a red cap that had “Make California Great Again” stitched on it.
“We are fighting back,” Ms. Weisz said, insisting that Orange County’s resistance was not the last gasp of a withering political movement.
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