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How Lame Is Life as a San Francisco Republican?

This is a tough town for conservatives—whether the candidate is John McCain or Donald Trump.


Editor's Note: This is one of many stories about politics that San Francisco is publishing over the next month, all part of the October 2016 Democracy Issue. To peruse the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here.

On the evening
of July 19, San Francisco lawyer Harmeet Dhillon strode onstage at the Republican National Convention, donned a blue head scarf, and, in front of the party that would later that week nominate Donald J. Trump as its presidential candidate, began chanting in Punjabi.

Selecting Dhillon, a practicing Sikh and former vice chair of the California Republican Party, to offer a prayer flew in the face of the aggressively nativist rhetoric—banning Muslims, walling off Mexicans—that had propelled the reality TV star to the head of the American right. Her appearance earned Dhillon threats and hate mail (some of it, she says, “from liberals”). Dhillon’s no pushover, but she won’t put a Trump bumper sticker on her Jaguar or a Trump sign in the window of her Lombard Street home. Doing either would be an open invitation to get her car keyed or her home vandalized, she says. And had any of the other Republican candidates triumphed in the GOP primaries—Dhillon would have supported whoever got the nomination—she’d have had to be equally cautious.

It’s no secret that being a Republican is a challenge in San Francisco. You’re a distinct minority, viewed with fascination and disbelief, like a carnival freak or an archaeological relic. Supporting Trump merely gives the usual incredulity a different flavor.

The coming-out process happens about once a week to Jason Clark. At a party or in casual conversation, “something comes up, and it comes out that I won’t be voting for Hillary,” says the out gay lawyer who serves as the chair of the local Republican Party. “Then there’s outrage. It’s always the same, every time.”

Did San Franciscans react the same way when Clark supported John McCain and Mitt Romney as they do in response to his support of Trump today? Yup, says Clark. “It wouldn’t matter if it was Marco Rubio—or, heck, if it were Abraham Lincoln. There would be outrage. Instead of ‘How can you possibly support Mitt Romney? He’s so terrible!’ it’s ‘How can you possibly support Donald Trump? He’s so terrible!’ It’s just that the name has changed.”


Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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