Photo illustration by John Lyman



Rick Caruso Looks to Pull a Donald Trump

Let me know if this sounds familiar: a prominent real estate developer who personifies his city’s enormous wealth sees the growing dissatisfaction with the political status quo. Although he enjoys proximity to elite political circles, he has never thrown his hat in the ring to run for high public office. Capitalizing on the disillusionment with the current state of political affairs, he decides to be a candidate for the highest political office.

His campaign centers on the failures of “career politicians” and the supposed corruption at various levels of government. His party’s establishment does not endorse him, but he maintains steady support among a core base of voters. This is not the story of Donald Trump but of Rick Caruso, one of the two Democratic candidates in the November race to become Los Angeles’ next mayor.

Of course, I recognize that Rick Caruso is not Donald Trump himself. But the comparison need not be exact to be rendered functional. It can offer a glimpse into the kind of leader Rick Caruso would be if he were to find himself in the Getty House.

Most notably, both men have had long-standing ties with the Republican establishment. Before his run for the White House, Donald Trump changed his political affiliation multiple times for decades. Many often questioned with which party his loyalty indeed lies. He chose the Republican Party, one battered by two consecutive presidential losses and changing demographics that increasingly appeared more unfavorable for them.

In 2016, Donald Trump profited from the growing cynicism in the electorate on immigration, trade, and the disconnect of the political establishment. This cynicism’s true gravity became evident when Donald Trump ascended to the highest echelons of American power.

Rick Caruso looks to replicate Donald Trump’s path to the White House in Los Angeles, possibly unintentionally. He has been a registered Republican for much of his life. Although his defense rests on being a former “centrist” Republican, his record of campaign donations and endorsements reveal a revisionist justification for his ties to the party. Rick Caruso served as an economic advisor for the Trump administration in 2020.

He’s donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates who oppose abortion access and stricter gun regulations. And at the eleventh hour, he changed his party affiliation to Democrat, likely because a Republican has only been mayor of Los Angeles once in the past six decades. Rick Caruso is counting on voters to be cynical about the issues affecting Los Angeles, just like the electorate was in 2016 for Donald Trump. But like the Greeks with the Trojan Horse, we may realize a little too late that we elected a Republican as the mayor of Los Angeles.

Crime & homelessness

There is no doubt that a sense of crisis currently pervades Los Angeles, especially concerning crime and homelessness. The city has an estimated unhoused population of over forty thousand, and crime has been on an upward trend since the beginning of the pandemic. Rick Caruso’s proposed plan to combat rising crime calls for an additional fifteen hundred police officers to be added to the force. However, vague details have been provided on the logistics of this proposed increase or on how it would be funded when the LAPD’s existing budget is $1.9 billion. Raising the number of police officers by such an excessive amount is also not conducive to improving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. This comes after multiple public incidents of police brutality across the country.

Rick Caruso touts his success as a real-estate developer for why he would be the most effective in building transitional units for the homeless. However, he doesn’t have much experience developing affordable housing. He supports rent control as long as it is contingent on an increased housing supply. Yet, he has been accused in the past of opposing rent control for his own properties. Nonetheless, the current affordability urgency should not be tied to a future supply solution. As these two issues define the mayoral race, Rick Caruso’s proposals lack the depth and policy details necessary to address either of these challenges.

He can still win

In early June, the residents of Los Angeles voted in the city’s primary election for mayor. Although no candidate met the fifty-percent threshold to prevent a run-off, Rep. Karen Bass (43.11%) and Rick Caruso (35.99%) came in at the top spots. With more than a seven-point lead, one can easily assume that Karen Bass will be the definitive winner in November. But that is a fatal underestimation of the likelihood that Rick Caruso can still win. Most notably, Eric Adam’s success in New York City with a law-and-order platform highlights the growing rejection of far-left policies in democratic centers and opens the door to a secret Republican, Mayor Caruso.