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L.A.’s outdoor-mall developer Rick J. Caruso, a moderate Republican who’s long flirted with the city’s mayoralty, is taking on fellow billionaire real estate magnate Donald J. Trump in the presidential campaign. He signed on Thursday to fledgling GOP establishment choice John Kasich’s campaign as the Ohio governor’s national finance and California campaign co-chair.
“I believe strongly, and I know the governor does, that there’s a path to a nomination here,” Caruso tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Looking at who’s left in the race, it’s clear to me Kasich is the most qualified. He has the highest likelihood to win in the general election. And it would be a much healthier general election, which is a big concern of mine.”
While Caruso professes confidence in the governor’s chances in California’s upcoming nominating contest — Republicans vote June 7 in the state, where 172 delegates are at stake — he’s looking beyond the primaries.
“Nobody at the Kasich camp thinks we’re going to win a bunch of states,” he says. “It’s going to happen at the convention floor. Trump’s not going to come to the convention with the magic number, the delegates will be focused on picking a nominee who can win, and there’s no poll that says he can beat Clinton in a general election. This, by the way, was the intent of the convention in the first place. Historically, it’s very exciting. It’s what it’s there for, that’s for sure.”
GOP candidates require 1,237 delegates to secure the nomination outright. Kasich will enter next Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary with 143 delegates, while Trump has 736, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz currently has 463.
Caruso — a centrist political figure who has, in the past, switched his affiliation to Independent (it’s now back to Republican) and once observed, “I don’t think either party has the right answers” — previously has supported both Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Yet he “was not pleased” with the anti-Trump speech Romney gave in early March. “I didn’t think it was appropriate,” he says. “It just gave Trump a platform. It reinforced in people’s minds that there was an anti-establishment force, which just energized his base.”
Still, Caruso doesn’t mince words, himself, when it comes to Trump: “I clearly think he would be a bad candidate,” he says. “You’re seeing what he’s really about, even in just the past few days — the comment about women and abortion, the negative ratings he has with women in the country, which is completely understandable.”
While Trump has registered growing quiet support in the conservative pockets of Hollywood, Caruso dismisses it as an aberration. “People that I’ve spoken to in the entertainment industry are fearful of Trump. They’re fearful of Cruz, too. They are way too far to the right. And I think they are very excited about Kasich. Republicans clearly have a choice to support someone who is fiscally responsible and, at the same time, is moderate and balanced about how people run their personal lives.”
As it happens, Caruso — known throughout Southern California for his upscale retail centers, particularly The Grove, which draws the likes of Gwen Stefani and Jessica Alba — isn’t the first in his family to make an impact on the Republican race. His son, documentary filmmaker Greg, went viral on social media last September as “#HotDebateGuy” when he appeared on television seated behind moderator Jake Tapper at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Greg later told THR, “My dad was a big supporter of [Ronald] Reagan, back in the day.”
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