How the 'golden calf' Trump statue made its way from CPAC to Bakersfield

·3 min read

Dec. 5—It's dazzled the attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference. It's been mocked by the likes of Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert. CNN, BBC and The Washington Post have covered it.

And now, the "golden calf" Trump statue resides in Bakersfield, awaiting an auction its owner hopes will yield $2 million.

"I knew that the left would look at it as a ridicule, which is fine with me. I also knew that the right would accept it. And that's exactly what happened," said José Maurício Mendoza, one of the commissioners of the statue. "It just shows that we all see things the way we want to see things."

The bigger-than-life statue depicts Donald Trump wearing flip flops and American flag swimming trunks. He carries a magic wand in his left hand and a U.S. Constitution in his right. Made of fiberglass, the statute has been tinted gold.

Courting controversy from the start, the statue has ridden a long and winding road to reach Bakersfield. Conceived in 2019 as a way to honor the then-president, the statue was constructed in China and finished in the United States.

First noticed by the BBC when the statue appeared at a June 2020 Trump rally in Tulsa, Okla., the statue rocketed to stardom during this year's CPAC, an annual conference for conservative leaders.

A selfie-magnet, the statue was featured in numerous pictures from the event. Trump adviser Roger Stone even took a picture with it.

At some point, Mendoza, 68, says the media started calling the statue the "golden calf," a reference to the biblical story of the creation of the Ten Commandments, when Moses returns to the Israelites to find them worshipping a calf idol made from gold.

The story illustrates the fickle nature of idol worship. And despite what some may see as similarities to conservatives' embrace of Trump, the name stuck.

"Why not? Let's roll with the punches," Mendoza said. "People worship him. I can see it. I'm aware of both sides."

Brought to the country illegally from Mexico at the age of 6, Mendoza has worked as an entrepreneur in California for most of his life.

He says he only became a Trump supporter during Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination hearings. The fiery hearings took place in September 2018 after Kavanaugh's high school classmate, Christine Blasey Ford, accused him of sexual assault from 1982.

Previously an independent, Mendoza says the hearings coincided with his realization that his values leaned more conservative. He said he wasn't a fan of Trump's personality, but has become so.

"I thought, 'He's tough, like my dad,'" Mendoza said.

Plus, he said he agrees with Trump's border policies despite once being an undocumented immigrant.

"I was brought up as being American by my dad who adopted me," he said. "We never brought up, 'Hey, we're Mexican.' We just (acted like) we're here in America and we were patriotic. We became Americans."

Mendoza and the statue have kept a low profile over the last couple of months as he prepares for a sale. He claims to have moved to Bakersfield after receiving death threats at his home in El Monte, and he keeps the statue at an undisclosed location in the city. Mendoza could not provide evidence of the threats and said there were no reports to law enforcement agencies.

He is counting on increased interest in the statue from a 2024 Trump presidential run, claiming the statue's history could raise the interest of billionaire Trump devotees.

He says he will devote a majority of the proceeds of an eventual sale to veterans support groups.

As for the outrage the statue has caused, Mendoza says he is enjoying it. He claims to have been a low-key person his entire life, but something about Trump brought him to the forefront.

"I knew it was going to hit," he said of the statue's impact. "It had to."