That two AM-radio right-wing loudmouths hosted the only debate between the leading Republican contenders to challenge Governor Jerry Brown is testimony to what a tarnished booby prize the GOP nomination has become.
Last week’s face-off between establishment entrant Neel Kashkari and Tea Party contestant Tim Donnelly took place on The John and Ken Show, an L.A. drive-time blabberfest hosted by two Limbaugh wannabes. Moments before airtime, they marked the gravity of the occasion by seating and dressing up a skeleton in a shirt and tie to represent the Democratic incumbent, to the great amusement of several hundred folks on hand to watch the historic event.
“Tim, to be direct,” Kashkari said, in the most splenetic exchange of the “debate,” interrupted by frequent commercial breaks, “in the last few months, you’ve managed to denigrate Latinos, African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Hindus.”
“Go home!” bellowed one lout in the audience, dominated by Donnelly supporters.
The Party of Lincoln indeed.
WHY IT MATTERS: At first glance, the Kashkari-Donnelly matchup is simply a campaign clown show of scarce importance beyond the entertainment value to be derived by journalists and others with barren lives. As a political matter, however, the intraparty feud is significant in reflecting the national conflict between establishment Republicans, traditionally in the cultural and intellectual mainstream of the country, and the more extremist Tea Party, which, since the first days of President Obama’s presidency, has pushed the GOP further and further to the right, to the point where the fundamental value of political compromise (let alone science) carries little weight.
That’s why former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice last week became the latest member of the Republican elite class to endorse Kashkari, a former investment banker who ran President Bush’s financial bailout program. Also joining Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Representative Darrell Issa was former governor Pete Wilson, who expressed his support for Kashkari by denigrating State Assemblymember Donnelly in unusually harsh language for a party elder:
“Keeping public focus on the real and important issues facing California will require a candidate who does not have to defend Tim Donnelly’s bizarre votes and statements or his irresponsible personal behavior,” Wilson said in a written statement. “With Tim Donnelly on the ballot, it would be a losing campaign, risking injury to our party and our state and to other Republican candidates who deserve to win.”
If Donnelly becomes Brown’s reelection opponent by finishing second in the balloting for governor on June 3, Wilson and other California Republicans worry that the state GOP’s hemorrhage of registered voters, now just 28 percent of the electorate, will accelerate.
DONNELLY DEMAGOGUERY: Feeding Kashkari’s debate argument about offending minorities, Donnelly in recent weeks not only became the only member of the Assembly to vote against a ban on state-run souvenir shops selling Confederate memorabilia but also compared President Obama to Hitler and Stalin because of his gun-control policies. This followed his earlier participation in inflammatory demonstrations by a Minuteman group against illegal immigrants, his arrest at an airport with a loaded handgun, and his violation of his probation in that matter by firing weapons at a gun show.
It’s notable, however, that Wilson and several others did not speak out until Donnelly posted an item on his Facebook page accusing Kashkari, a Hindu, of seeking to impose sharia, Islamic religious law, on the U.S. because he spoke at a 2008 educational conference, sponsored by the Treasury Department and Harvard University, to discuss banking laws in Muslim countries.
“This type of stupidity disqualifies Tim Donnelly from being fit to hold any office anywhere,” said Rep. Issa, an Arab American, in a characteristically understated criticism.
Donnelly, who has since removed the Facebook post, insists that it was legitimate to raise questions about Kashkari’s views on sharia: “This is a barbarous form of law,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Why would we want to be compliant with anything sharia?”
The raft of Kashkari endorsements, which came as public-opinion polls, showed him well behind Donnelly in a field where not one-fifth of voters know anyone but Brown. Donnelly continues to scrap for campaign money, however, while Kashkari has raised $1 million from others and kicked in $2 million of his own.
BOTTOM LINE: To Donnelly, this serves a narrative of himself as the fighting underdog of the people, shunned by the tax-, abortion-, and gay-loving elitists intent on restricting guns.
“I’m a threat to the country-club Republicans,” he said. “I’m a danger because I might bring a little more country into the club.”