President Trump hadÂ harsh words for one of his most fervent opponents during the pre-Super Bowl interview with Fox Newsâs Bill OâReilly that aired Sunday. Not President Vladimir Putin, mind you, whose alleged unpleasant habit of murdering journalists met with a shrug from the president. No, Trump lashed out at the nationâs largest state, California.
âI just spent the week in California,â OâReilly said. âAs you know, they are now voting on whether they should become a sanctuary state. So California and the U.S.A. are on a collision course. How do you see it?â
âWell, I think itâs ridiculous,â Trump replied. âSanctuary cities, as you know Iâm very much opposed to sanctuary cities. They breed crime, thereâs a lot of problems. We have to well defund, we give tremendous amounts of money to California . . . California in many ways is out of control, as you know. Obviously the voters agree or otherwise they wouldnât have voted for me.â
âSo defunding is your weapon of choice?â OâReilly asked.
âA weapon. I donât want to defund the state,â Trump said. âI donât want to defund anybody. I want to give them the money they need to properly operate as a city or a state. If theyâre going to have sanctuary cities, we may have to do that. Certainly that would be a weapon.â
Weâll note first of all that sanctuary cities do not âbreed crime.â Analysis of FBI data shows that crime in sanctuary cities is generally lower than in non-sanctuary cities. But thatâs beside the point.
More importantly, Trump says two things. First, that California is âout of control.â Second, that he doesnât want to yank federal funding from the state, but he will if he has to.
California is one of the few states where federal funding isnât that great a point of leverage. In 2015, California generated $405 billion in tax revenue, more than $100 billion more than the next-closest state. It consumes a lot of federal funding, too, mind you. But data from Pew Research for 2014 compared to 2014 IRS data shows that California gives the federal government more than it takes.
Eight states give more, on net, to the federal government than California. Most states take more than they generate in taxes.
Whatâs more, data from the Tax Foundation indicatesÂ that federal funding makes up far less of Californiaâs total state revenue than most other statesâ. Itâs 43rd in that regard, with about 26 percent of revenue coming from D.C. Thatâs still a substantial portion, but Californiaâs in a much stronger position to negotiate than most places.
Itâs not clear why Trump says that California is âout of control.â If heâs talking about the stateâs finances, California is in a much stronger position than it was five years ago. After massive deficits in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the state has consistently operated in the black. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) recently warned that the state might operate at a deficit in 2017-2018, but relative to past deficits, the projection is fairly small. If, however, Trump is saying California is out of control in regards to his go-to metric, crime, the state is very much in control.
We need to step back from this, though, and recognize the broader context.
Trump is mad about California because voters there overwhelmingly rejected Trump inÂ November. Trump supporters have repeatedly tried to affix an âexcept Californiaâ asterisk to the popular vote result since, were it not forÂ California, Trump would have prevailed on that metric. Saying âexcept Californiaâ has the tricky flaw of equaling âexcept for 12 percent of the American population,â but, hey, itâs politics.
Trump hasnât said âexcept California,â except to suggest repeatedly that perhaps the 4 million-plus margin by which he lost the state includes perhaps millions of fraudulent votes. Thereâs no evidence of this whatsoever. Heâs also claimed that he intentionally didnât campaign in California because only the electoral vote mattered. Hillary Clinton didnât campaign there, either, but it doesnât seem to have hurt her much.
Last week, Trumpâs war with California took the form of attacking its public college system. After violent protests erupted on the campus of U.C. Berkeley, Trump suggested that he would pull funding from the school, which a) punishes the wrong party, since it wasnât as though the school asked people to riot and b) canât be done by executive order anyway.
For its part, thereâs a movement in California to secede from the United States. Supporters of the idea are collecting petitions to get it on the ballot in the state in 2018, which, if passed, would have the effect of doing basically nothing. (Weâve been through this attempt-to-secede thing before; it ended poorly.) When Barack Obama won reelection in 2012, there was a briefly a similar effort by the biggest red state, Texas. It didnât get anywhere, either.
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that the most visible manifestation of the California economy â the tech industry â had broadly united to file a joint amicus brief in opposition to Trumpâs executive order on immigration. The tech industry employs a lot of immigrants to the United States, so thereâs clearly a business motivation to take such a stand.
So this is the Cold Civil War thatâs erupted. Trump threatens Californiaâs funding; California threatens to pack up and go. Neither is likely to happen. But still â if you predicted that a presidentâs relationship with the Golden State would be rockier than his relationship with Russia, Iâd like to ask your help with some lottery numbers.