Jon Cordova was sitting with his wife one evening in their Danville home when an idea suddenly cropped up: “Why don’t we become delegates?”
At the time, the rancorous Republican primaries were still underway. Donald Trump had yet to clinch the nomination, but Cordova and his wife were resolute. Trump was their man, and they wanted to be a part of the process that put the blustery business mogul at the top of their party’s ticket. One Google search later, a few forms and phone calls, and they were picked: Cordova's wife, Janet, was chosen as a delegate, while he was selected as an alternate.
From there, a whirlwind trip through the Republican primary process began — a voyage that marked Cordova’s first foray into the political arena. It ended with him securing a spot on the Trump team as the California communications director in August, a job which he was arguably underqualified for.
“I had no experience doing this,” he admitted over coffee. “It’s completely new for me. ”
It’s been a bit of a learning curve, to be sure. Cordova traded his high-paying job at a technology firm to work for free in the communications position. He says he often puts in 16 hours a day, fielding media requests, scheduling surrogates and coordinating with other branches of the campaign.
The 57-year-old, whose previous political participation stops short at voting, says that he’s part of a groundswell of long-time Republicans who feel abandoned by the GOP, and he’s not wrong: Throughout the campaign, reports have shown that Trump has been able to resonate with a swath of the electorate — predominantly white men — who are tired of politically correct, erudite politicians. For them, the real-estate developer’s candidacy has been a long-awaited rallying cry.
Yet Cordova breaks the mold when it comes to the stereotype of many Trump supporters. He is college educated, certainly not poor and is of Latino heritage. As the election enters the final days, he says he's not entirely sure if he'll return to his old life in the tech industry.
“This has absolutely changed my life,” Cordova, clad in a black suit and shiny “Team Trump” pin, says. “It’s like going from T-ball to playing at Yankee Stadium. It’s something that I never thought I would be able to do with a candidate like this. It feels historic, like something special is happening in our society right now.”
Although most political analysts would agree that this election has been unique, there have been conflicting accounts on whether that "something" is ultimately beneficial to the electorate.
"Donald Trump has taken the politics of fear to a new level," wrote Robert Reich, a UC Berkeley Professor and former secretary of labor under the Clinton Administration, in a Facebook missive. "He's stoking our deepest dreads, conjuring up nightmares, suggesting conspiracies, and using every heinous act as evidence of impending danger."
But if Cordova has any qualms about Trump, he's not saying. The University of California, Los Angeles alum has a knack for pivoting when confronted with the various controversies surrounding the Trump campaign.
On the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, in which Trump boasts about using his celebrity to grab women by their genitals, Cordova disregards the lewd remarks, calls them unpleasant and eventually concludes by leaning forward and asking “Do you feel comfortable with Bill Clinton back in the White House?” A series of questions — including Trump on birtherism, John McCain, and allegations of racism — takes the conversation on a similar detour.
Perhaps the only criticism to which he readily agrees is that Trump could have streamlined his message: “But you’ve got to remember, he talks in hyperbole,” he says, immediately softening the blow. “He’s not a politician.”
That unwavering support for the Republican nominee has made him a target, even in Danville, a crimson enclave in a very blue Bay Area.
He recounts being called a racist and a piece of “white trash,” among other insults. While hosting a rally near an overpass last week, someone screamed at supporters to “go to college!” They assume, Cordova says, that he’s a “homophobe,” a “misogynist” or — to use a phrase affectionately adopted by the campaign — a “deplorable.” He claims to be none of those things, and is simply in favor of a business approach to government.
“In the Bay Area, it’s a more hostile crowd,” he opined. “It’s not a welcoming place for Trump supporters. You know, there’s a lot of intolerance from the left. I guess I didn’t realize that there was such a visceral hatred.”
At the time of publishing, 14 lawn signs he placed in his community have gone missing. Now, he and his wife only put theirs up when they’re home.The campaign has also traded bumper stickers for bumper magnets, as cars declaring affiliation with the campaign have been targets for vandalism. His "Make America Great Again" T-shirt draws icy glares, too.
But Cordova brushes it all off — the critiques, the sneers and concerns about a Trump presidency. When asked if he thinks the Republican nominee is headed for a victory, he doesn’t hesitate to say yes. However, he's a long way off from calling for an armed revolution, like some supporters, if the election doesn't go his way.
“Yes. Absolutely, I think he'll win” he says, waving a hand. “But, no, I’m not going to take up arms if he doesn’t.”
Gillian Edevane covers Contra Costa County for NBC Bay Area. Contact her at Gillian.Edevane@NBCuni.com