President Donald Trump, in his 2020 reelection bid, often seems to be campaigning against California — evoking it as a Democratic dystopia. (Illustration by Dan Hubig for CalMatters)

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Introduction 

The president clearly enjoys needling the nation’s most populous state.

Since his inauguration, Donald Trump has taken aim at California for its policies on immigration and environmental protection, its left-leaning cultural institutions, its poverty rate (which, if you factor in the cost of living, is the highest in the nation), its crime rate (which isn’t), its most recent choice of governor and its alleged tolerance of voter fraud (a charge that’s completely unfounded).

The state is accustomed to being a political foil of the right. Half a century ago Ronald Reagan rode popular resentment of UC Berkeley protesters and Hollywood lefties to the governorship. These days, on Fox News and right-leaning social media circles, “San Francisco” has become synonymous with a veritable hellhole, overflowing with discarded hypodermic needles and human excrement.

But Trump has taken the familiar script to new extremes. In court documents, regulatory maneuvers, executive orders and, of course, Twitter tirades (more than 40 mean tweets about California since Election Day), the president has assailed the Golden State as a dystopia of liberal laxity — and a cautionary tale of life under Democratic rule.

Now, as he hits the campaign trail, it’s become an even more frequent theme. For the president, the political risk of taking potshots at a state he lost by a 2-to-1 margin in 2016 is minimal. And anti-California sentiment might be an effective way to rally his base. But does he have a point?

In this survey of some of the president’s boldest California claims, we explore whether they stand up to scrutiny.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Ben Christopher, CalMatters

CALmatters