Before Trump was going to withhold California’s wildfire funding, though, he was going to withhold funding for its National Guard deployment unless Gov. Jerry Brown (D) instructed the troops to take a harder line at the border.
Before that, Trump was going to halt construction of the border wall in California until Congress funded the whole thing (apparently because California had enough votes to make that happen?).
Before that, Trump was going to maybe pull Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers out of California for other immigration-related reasons.
And before that, Trump was going to defund California entirely if it voted to become a “sanctuary state.”
It’s apparent what Trump is doing. California — or at least the caricature of it that Trump has presented — has long provided a convenient political foil for Trump and the broader Republican Party. With lax immigration enforcement, a solidly Democratic-led government and a culture that is viewed with suspicion by conservative swaths of the heartland, it makes a lot of sense.
But it’s also worth noting how toothless these threats have been. Trump hasn’t made good on them, and even some of them that he could have followed through on — such as halting construction of the border wall in the state — didn’t make much sense. California isn’t particularly pro-border-wall, so it’s not as if there would have been an outcry.
The broadest threats, particularly the defunding and emergency funding threats, might make the least sense. Whatever you think about California’s immigration and forest policies, it is not the drain on the federal government that Trump is suggesting. A nonpartisan Tax Foundation study found that in 2014 California ranked 43rd in terms of how much federal aid it gets as a percent of its general revenue. The same think tank showed California has generally received less in federal funding than it paid in federal taxes.
In other words, if Trump wants to go there on whether California is a drag on the federal government, California will happily go there. (There has even been some chatter about the state threatening, in turn, to withhold its federal taxes in response to Trump’s saber-rattling.)
But Trump doesn’t actually want to go there — especially not when it comes to withholding emergency funding from a U.S. state dealing with tragedy. Instead, he just wants to talk about going there.