With the national Democratic Party in disarray, the outline of the Donald Trump resistance is taking shape far from Capitol Hill, with New York and California emerging as the East and West Coast headquarters of opposition to the incoming administration.
Officials and advocacy groups in the two Democratic strongholds are plotting how to use the power of state law enforcement agencies, municipal regulations, and regional bully pulpits, and they’re assembling a wide-ranging apparatus of political opposition that they hope will slow the Trump agenda.
In California, the state legislature has hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to serve as the tip of its legal spear as it prepares for an assault on Trump’s efforts to roll back Barack Obama’s government — a fight that will be led by longtime Congressman and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, who has returned to the state to serve as the equivalent of a wartime attorney general.
No state moved more aggressively to set itself up as an anti-Trump machine than California, where Clinton crushed Trump by a roughly 2-to-1 margin on Election Day — and where she won nearly a quarter of her 232 electoral votes.
Just hours after the dust settled on Election Day, the state’s Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon released a defiant statement promising to lead the anti-Trump charge. “We woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land, because yesterday Americans expressed their views on a pluralistic and democratic society that are clearly inconsistent with the values of the people of California,” they declared.
Before long, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown lured Becerra back West and the legislature brought on Holder, who is positioning himself on the front lines of the party’s nationwide rebuilding project through his work on redistricting alongside Obama.
The diverse and immigrant-filled state, the nation’s most populous, is stepping into the role played by Republican-led Texas during the Obama years — a litigious sparring partner determined to stop each new White House move with a corresponding lawsuit.
Meanwhile, with a handful of nationally recognized California Democrats — like Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and his predecessor Antonio Villaraigosa — either eyeing or already competing in the 2018 governor’s race, the state is bracing for a competition over who can oppose the president-elect most effectively — or with the most volume.
Villaraigosa announced his intention to run in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election, with an unmistakable nod toward the freshly-elected Trump. “We are a state that builds bridges, not walls,” Villaraigosa said in a statement. “We are inclusive. We celebrate our diversity. And we welcome newcomers.”
Trump’s home state of New York is likewise a hive of anti-Trump activity.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is painting himself as the anti-Trump as he runs for a second term this year, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the state a “refuge” in a state party email shortly after Election Day — an opening shot at the president-elect. Cuomo has been vocal about his intention to oppose Trump ahead of his own likely 2018 campaign — a reelection bid where he can protect his exposed left flank by confronting the president-elect, who is militantly opposed by progressives.
But it’s New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has already clashed with Trump during his office’s investigations of the Trump Foundation and Trump University, who is uniquely positioned to needle Trump Tower.
“We are independent, we have tremendous powers under the American federalist system,” he said. “The government of the United States was set up very much with the understanding that states were to be a protective layer, to protect overreach from the newly-created federal government.”
Viewing the attorney general’s role as “the first line of defense,” his office is watching the activities of Trump’s federal agencies closely, prepared to launch suits or serve as a regulator itself at signs of relaxed regulation enforcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Environmental Protection Agency or Department of Labor, for example.
Schneiderman, who is also up for reelection in 2018 — and who has been speaking with other state attorneys general about how to fight the administration — has already signaled to state employees and residents that Trump’s election has captured his attention.
“We are dealing with real problems in real time. As soon as Trump was elected there was a spike in hate crimes, so I issued guidance to law enforcement agencies all around the state of New York,” he said. “Immigrants are afraid, and we have a large immigrant population across the state of New York.”
While New York and California stand at the forefront of the Trump opposition movement, they aren’t lonely islands among the states. In the six states where Democrats have full control of the governor’s mansion and both branches of the state legislature — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon, and Rhode Island — Democratic leadership is also intent on setting the tone for the Trump era — whether it’s by sticking it to Trump or pushing an affirmative message for the opposition agenda.
“We have an opportunity, really a responsibility, to focus on results. When you have, as we’ve had, very strong job growth compared to every other state in the region, some of the best wage growth in the country, we’ve done that with Democratic control. We [now] need as a party locally, but certainly nationally, to have a positive agenda,” said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.
“It’s the opposite of what Trump and a GOP Congress is looking to do,” he said, turning to the fight over healthcare reform and GOP proposals to use Medicaid block grants as an example of Democratic governors’ responsibility to stand firm by using the national microphone afforded to governors. “If it has the effect of leading to a race to the bottom, it could be a disaster. We have to stand up, we have to make it very clear that some policy proposals threaten the country. [And] governors have a particular sense of how these policies will affect people.”
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who went out of the way during his State of the State address on Wednesday to address the fears of some residents of deep-blue Connecticut about the new, “unpredictable” administration, has threatened specific legal action against Trump’s potential moves. In November, when asked about how he would interact with the federal government if it tried to withhold funds from New Haven and other so-called sanctuary cities, he flatly responded that the state would sue.
“I am not a shy individual, I have opinions, and as long as people ask my opinion I will lend it,” said Malloy. “There are these states that are progressive that have benefited from that progressiveness, that are going to be examples of restraint and voices of responsibility. I would urge right-thinking individuals who’ve benefited from the advances our society has made to not be quiet. We’re going to continue to do the things we can do, and the things we can afford to do. We’re certainly not going to backtrack on refugees. We’re certainly not going to backtrack on gay, lesbian, transgender rights. We’re certainly not going to give up on making sure our citizens have healthcare.”
The blue-state strongholds are joined by another willing ally: the nation’s big city mayors. While New York’s de Blasio and Los Angeles’ Garcetti have been two of the loudest big city mayors trying to oppose Trump, other metropolitan leaders are also pledging to step up, most often by threatening to refuse federal attempts to implement Trump’s campaign promises on issues such as immigration.
“We’ve got a great police department, one that’s been nationally recognized for community relations. We’re not going to turn our Police Department into a mass deportation force. That would make our community less safe, not more safe,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, whose fast-growing city in August approved an ID program for undocumented immigrants. “The only way the president-elect can put this mass deportation force into place is by conscripting local law enforcement, and we’re not going to do that in Phoenix.”
That posture is hardly unique to Phoenix. Some big city mayors — who are typically Democrats — have pledged to protect their undocumented residents with “sanctuary” arrangements or by establishing tools like Chicago’s new $1 million legal protection fund promised by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in December. And in Mexico City last month, “you better bet all eyes were on the American mayors” in attendance at the C40 conference on climate change, said Stanton. A group of them agreed, he said, to take the lead if necessary when it comes to ensuring that the country follows its Paris climate change commitments signed last year.
Still, it’s cities like Stanton’s that are likely to face the most immediate set of battles.
“My philosophy is: I’m not changing a thing. I will continue to lead my city the way that voters of my city expect me to lead my city. We’re going to build a more innovative economy, a more export-based economy,” said the leader of Arizona’s capital, which has its own trade and investment office in Mexico City. “We’re going to continue to improve our relationship with Mexico regardless of the rhetoric of the president-elect, and soon-to-be-president. Our trade relationship with Mexico in Phoenix is hugely important to our economy: we have 100,000 jobs that are directly tied to Mexico. [So] my philosophy — which is based on the economic well-being of my city — appears to be in direct opposition to President-elect Trump.”