Being a Donald Trump supporter in Silicon Valley was never easy.
In 2019 after the president announced his reelection bid, Justin Aguilera, a 33-year-old GOP candidate for Congress, told San José Spotlight many conservatives in the South Bay were scared to express their political views publicly for fear of social shunning and professional retaliation.
To be fair, Aguilera’s support for Trump was insipid in 2019.
“If he loses, he loses,” he said. “We’re not going to have a damn riot about it. We respect the law.”
That was before the leader of the Republican Party lied about losing the election, pressured government officials and party members to go along with false claims of voter fraud and then led a mob of angry supporters on a deadly rampage at the Capitol.
In the South Bay’s cluster of blue-voting districts, local Republican leaders say now they fear even more conservatives will hesitate to share their views.
“A lot of people were appalled by the insurrectionists,” said Santa Clara County GOP Chair Shane Patrick Connolly. “But I think because of the reaction of some, people are more concerned than ever about the ability to have their free speech honored and are concerned about their job prospects.”
Despite the dominance of Democrats in Silicon Valley, Republicans say support for their party grew under the former president. Poll results prove their point: About 25% of Santa Clara County voters cast their ballots for Trump in 2020, compared to 20% in 2016.
Silicon Valley Republicans lost across the board in the November election, but saw more voters cast ballots for them. That was the case for Aguilera, who saw more votes than in his 2018 run for office.
Aguilera lost to veteran Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, by a whopping 43% margin. But he received 88,642 votes, which accounted for 28.2%, compared to only 57,823 votes in 2018.
Connolly said he saw a more diverse group of Republican voters get involved in the general election in 2020 and he’s looking forward to more of the same.
“In four years there’s been a lot of energy brought to the party,” Connolly said. “We saw in-roads in the party that weren’t there before.”
Younger conservative organizers and political candidates say both parties have given up on the center, becoming more polarized.
“That’s where the real issue is, there’s no more fair and balanced,” said Aguilera. “It’s just extreme. You’re this extreme or you’re the other extreme, and there’s no middle.”
Aguilera said the constant division between parties is alienating potential voters and a new independent party may pick up steam.
“A lot of the younger people are independent,” Aguilera said. “Honestly, they don’t want to be affiliated with a party because they know that it’s dirty.”
To boost young people’s energy and interest in politics, Silicon Valley’s right-leaning advocacy groups are starting to stray away from the conservatism of the past.
Kenneth Del Valle, 30, a former president of San Jose State’s chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative nationwide college campus organization, said the group attracted people with the promise of open discussion and advocacy of right-wing views.
He said many of the students involved in Turning Point see their universities pose as a space for free discussion, but feel a different reality.
“College professors that have a particular bias, (do) a disservice because it communicates if you’re smart you’re probably on this side of the spectrum,” Del Valle said. “Well, that’s a little delusional … you’re saying half the population is absolutely discredited.”
But Del Valle said campus Republicans may start to differ in view from the majority of the party. Ultimately, he said, change needs to come to conservative politics from new young voters.
“I absolutely agree that the party needs to get shaken up a little bit by younger minds and people who understand a little bit better what’s going on,” Del Valle said.
SJSU political science Professor Emeritus Terry Christensen said established Republicans will have to weigh attracting new voters and drawing back alienated moderates while maintaining loyalty to Trump’s base.
“That’s a two-edged sword for the Republican Party,” Christensen said. “Stick with Trump and risk keeping everybody else alienated. Dump Trump and risk the voters who are loyal to Trump and not the Republican Party.”
Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.