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My Lunch with Donald Trump: Behind The Scenes at the Presumptive GOP Nominee's Bay Area Visit

The contentious celebrity candidate's appearance last week revealed a Republican party unhinged.



Editor's note: This story was published before Sen. Ted Cruz suspended his GOP presidential campaign.

A text message flashed on my phone's screen: "Fifth floor." Boom: I power-walked to the nearest elevator, passing law-enforcement officers in riot-gear-style helmets and hotel security waving walkie-talkies. A few floors up, and I was the lone journalist to see the deed from high: A mustard-yellow banner some three stories tall dangling over the Hyatt Regency's lobby. Workers and guests craned their necks upward. Custodians groaned as they prepared to fish it down. Through the hotel's glass façade, passers-by could read the words emblazoned on the banner for blocks:

"Stop Hate."

Somehow, a trio of protesters armed with the banner and some mountaineering gear weaseled through security on Friday in Burlingame, day one of the California Republican Party's annual convention. They straddled a beam perched hundreds of feet above the ground, wiggled their butts to its edge, and hung the declaration.

It was a glorious feat for the Bay Area's civilly disobedient, not unlike flying a Warriors championship banner in Oracle's rafters. A "yuge" success: the words "Stop Hate" unfurled just as Donald Trump and the Republican Party were unraveling downstairs.

This went down just before the brash and bombastic Trump's lunch in the Bay commenced on Friday. Feverish starfuckers queued for hours to kiss his ring, but the party establishment was chagrined by his arrival. And his presence also triggered ferocious, creative protests by the Bay's most prominent activist groups — which will surely be the norm in blue cities nationwide if Trump seals the nominee deal.

Many likened the Hyatt that morning to a hotel under siege (see Sam Lefebvre's sidebar feature for more on the protests, page 20.)

And there I was, man on the inside, behind enemy lines, with a pass to Trump's sold-out, $150-a-pop banquet lunch. It would be an unequaled window into this bizarre collision of a celebrity politician, Big Money power, and one very angry mob. Pass the bread rolls, please.

Hours before the banner incident, Burlingame was its sleepy suburban self. Seven California Highway Patrol officers stood near their vehicles at the Hyatt's offramp, all but one wearing shades as the sun inched into the Bay sky. This was 8:30 a.m. Traffic was breezy. One of my colleagues, Lefebvre, took a smartphone pic of the officers. Irked, they shot us a look, then snapped a photo back.

The Hyatt stretches nearly the length of a city block. Law-enforcement officers from a smorgasbord of jurisdictions dotted its front lawn, a waist-high metal fence separating them from a smattering of early-arrival protesters. Hotel employees wouldn't even let this writer enter through the front doors. Later, at a side entrance, they patted down my black hoodie (George Zimmerman style) but didn't even search by backpack. Finally, two kindly volunteers granted me into the media pen. I made it.

A woman in all black shouted directions to more than a dozen volunteers wearing red Sen. Ted Cruz T-shirts. "We're here to be positive about Ted Cruz," she instructed. "Don't argue or fight with anyone." Was this a GOP convention, or Wrestlemania?

Cruz signs dominated nearly every wall, corridor, staircase and lounge inside the hotel. Not a single Trump sign or banner, though — and there wouldn't be any by the time I left in the afternoon, either. Talk about ground game.

The security they had would make TSA blush. Organizers corralled journalists and made them enter the luncheon banquet room two full hours before Trump's speech was scheduled to begin. The line inched forward slower than the queue at the latest trendy bagel spot. Secret Service told photo- and video-journalists to dump their gear in a pile, where a police dog sniffed it all at once.

Then, yelling. A woman and a megaphone. A Trump protester! She'd infiltrated the convention, her shouts reverberated through the lobby. A media scrum of dozens shot toward her. Pack journalism at its finest. Hotel security snatched the woman by her limbs and dragged her out of the building.

Convention-goers whispered concerns in the men's restroom. "I'm a little worried about security because I saw a woman wearing an SEIU T-shirt," a man confessed while washing his hands.

I heard at least four "You're Fired!" jokes. Quota met. At ease, GOP jesters.

The vibe at the convention skewed more nervous than enthusiastic, which was odd, given that GOP presidential primaries have not mattered in California in decades.

"California's going to be decisive," reminded Jon Fleischmann, a prominent conservative blogger and consultant who's been attending conventions since 1988. "It's not like Trump is going to clinch the nomination before June 7." He noted that absentee ballots beging to go out next week, and that the near-constant electioneering in the Golden State will make it feel like election month.

"The stakes are pretty high," he said.

Party loyalists should be stoked, right? Reality check: One of the most progressive states in the nation will decide if Trump will be anointed— and nobody is thrilled.

How will it all work? California awards three delegates per Congressional district, which means there are a total of 30 in play in the greater Bay Area. The Golden State also bestows an additional 10 delegates to whoever wins the state outright. There's a total of 172 in play for the Reeps, and the state's bounty will make or break Trump hitting the magic 1,237 number.

This likely means more Trump appearances in the Bay. And, by turn, more Trump fanatics and their "papier-mâché crazy shit," as Fleischmann put it. (He's pro- Cruz and, like a majority of his party, "can see through [Trump's] bullshit," he says.)