WHINING AND DINING: If bad actor, Republican congressional candidate, and alleged Tea Party dahling Christopher Mitchum woke up Wednesday morning and thought it was Christmas, he is to be forgiven. That’s because Wednesday morning’s political headlines were hyperventilating over the surprise defeat of Republican House majority über boss Eric Cantor of Virginia. He got thrashed by David Brat, a Tea Party nobody and no-name college economics professor who came out of nowhere to knock off the second most powerful Republican in the country. Even sober-minded news reporters have described the upset as a tsunami, an earthquake, and a volcanic eruption all in one. And that was just the first paragraph.
People will draw whatever lessons that best serve their purpose. If I were Mitchum — who appears to have cinched the Republican nomination for the 24th Congressional District — it would serve mine to believe I stood a chance against Lois Capps, the Democratic, nine-term, 900,000-pound political behemoth who is given to masquerading as a former school nurse. Sorry, Chris; you don’t. Brat worked his ass off. He believed fervently in something specific and talked about it incessantly: Immigrants are bad. Cantor, disconcertingly reptilian, did himself no favors by so assiduously ignoring the folks back home. Capps may not have a single signature bill to her name, but she works her ass off. And she red-eyes back to the district every single weekend she’s in D.C. It’s gotten to the point I can’t get my blood drawn, go to the hardware store, or buy groceries at Ralphs without bumping into her. I may need a restraining order.
As a Yellow Dog Democrat, naturally I am thrilled to see the Republican Party so utterly discombobulated. But as a citizen of the empire who relies on a functioning government, I actually like to see shite get done. The likelihood of that happening in a post-Brat political universe, however, hovers somewhere between null and nil.
To the extent Brat’s victory constitutes a political tsunami, it ain’t one Chris Mitchum will be surfing anytime soon. Mitchum — who has run for public office twice before and lost both times — coasted on the name recognition he inherited from his father, the great sneering bad-ass actor Robert Mitchum. As a campaigner, Chris is rhetorically generic and endowed with all the drive and agility of a mattress soaked in rum. As a fundraiser, he underwhelms. Of the $119,000 Mitchum raised, he raised $27,000 from individual supporters — not enough to wage a credible race for Goleta City Council — and “loaned” himself the rest.
The genuinely cool thing about Mitchum is all the boobs-and-body-count chop-socky movies in which he’s starred. With titles like Death Feud, The Executioner Part II, Lethal Cowboy, and Lethal Seduction, Mitchum’s oeuvre calls to mind the bad old days where a man could lay low an enemy with one single well-placed karate chop — openhanded, of course — to the neck. Rather than wallow in such kitschy glories with self-deprecating good humor, or perhaps hosting the First International Chris Mitchum Film Festival, Mitchum whines how he was forced to take such embarrassing roles because Hollywood’s liberal elite blackballed him for the politically incorrect sin of having appeared in Rio Lobo with John Wayne. That was in 1970, back when Wayne was still an unapologetically fascist icon. And I thought liberals were the only ones who obsessed on victimhood. If nothing else, Mitchum’s life experience shatters yet another stereotype. I now know that even privileged white guys with famous parents and lots of money can be victims of discrimination.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should state up front I really wanted Santa Barbara City Councilmember Dale Francisco to be the sacrificial spear carrier who took on Capps. And I took advantage of the new open-primary rules to cross party lines — gasp! — and actually vote for the guy: Shock! Horror! Dale, at least, would have made it a campaign. My motive, I admit, was venal. For the past 20 years, I’ve been forced to watch Capps mop the floors with a bunch of kamikaze no-name opponents who somehow thought by jumping headfirst into a wood chipper, their political careers might be enhanced. On occasion, a couple of has-beens and wannabes were tossed in, as well: The result was the same. Booooring! It’s true Dale can be prickly, arrogant, and self-destructively dismissive. Who can forget the time he was called out for reading a book during a recent council meeting, flagrantly ignoring the room full of people who showed up to testify. But Dale is also really smart, strategically creative, and has been enormously effective as a City Councilmember. It’s true I happen to disagree with the guy on just about everything. But of all the political palookas on the primary bill, he was clearly the most qualified to challenge Capps. And frankly, she could use one. Anyone would get a little flat and stale cake-walking into office 20 years in a row.
Naturally, Capps preferred the sweet safety of boredom to dueling with Dale at high noon. To that end, she did everything within her power to ensure Mitchum got the most votes among the eight challengers running for her seat. I’m not sure I like it, but you can’t argue with the results. Privately — in off-the-record comments — Capps’s campaign aids propped Mitchum up, describing his oratorical prowess as positively “Reaganesque.” And in all her TV ads, Capps made a big point to mention Mitchum — and only Mitchum — by name, generously paying big bucks to show his face to would-be voters, describing him quakingly as her “Tea Party” opponent. If campaign election law had any teeth, Mitchum would be required to list Capps’s vote-for-Lois TV commercials as an in-kind contribution. And if this were a boxing match, Capps might be sanctioned for fight fixing. But it ain’t.
In the meantime, merry Christmas to you, Chris Mitchum. And to twist a line from someone else’s movie, “No, Virginia, there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.” Just ask Eric Cantor.