Mike Stoker | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

DISTANT KARMA: It may be worth recalling how members of the California delegation at the 2016 Republican convention that nominated Donald Trump for president were  stricken with the virulent norovirus virus. This induces an especially explosive form of retching and diarrhea. Nature, it seems, was trying to warn us. 

Mercifully spared from this outbreak was Santa Barbara perennial Republican warhorse Mike Stoker, ever ebullient in both his ambition and enthusiasm. Seized by the passions at that convention, Stoker famously launched the chant that would shake the world. “Lock ’er up,” he shouted to the crowd. “Lock ’er up,” the crowd shouted back.

It was like church.  

The “’er” in Stoker’s equation, of course, was Hillary Clinton, the Democrat candidate running against Trump for president. The ostensible reason for locking ’er up had something to do with Clinton’s stubbornly stupid insistence upon using her own private e-mail server and BlackBerry devices instead of the federal government’s when she served as Secretary of State under Barack Obama. This reckless disregard for basic security protocol, it was breathlessly intimated at the time,  somehow implicated Clinton in the deaths of  four Americans killed during an attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, which took place 10 years ago this week. 

Since then, we have mercifully expunged all memory of Benghazi — and the attendant “Benghazi-gate” scandal. See, the brain does heal itself. 

But at the time, Benghazi was the subject of more government hearings, investigations, inquests, probes, reports, and leaks than perhaps any time in human history. It was for a very long moment the single most overreported story in American journalism. It may still be.  

But no, it did not help Trump beat Clinton, as Clinton herself has long insisted. Instead, it helped Clinton — always her own worst enemy despite the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy that in fact has dogged her every step — beat Clinton. And she did so decisively even though she won 3 million more votes than he in the popular count.   

So why dredge all this up now?

Two obvious reasons. 

First, Mike Stoker is back. This time, he’s running for State Assembly in November against Gregg Hart, the 2nd District county supervisor, an experienced bureaucratic apparatchik, and long the Democratic Party’s resident grown-up in the room.  When deciding between these two, I think “Lock ’er up” qualifies as a relevant data point. I suspect it’s the main reason Trump later appointed Stoker to run the West Coast Division of the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Second, what’s now unfolding at Mar-a-Lago with the boxes of classified documents Trump took as mementos of his days in the White House makes anything Clinton did — or even may have done — pale in comparison. On a scale of severity, Clinton’s offenses were akin to forgetting to lock your car at night and perhaps leaving your lights on. Trump’s transgressions, by comparison, are like leaving the uranium pellets needed to power the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in a shopping cart in a Costco parking lot alongside several boxes of the best screw-top Chablis. 

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If I have it right, Clinton ran about 30,000 emails through her personal server related to her work as Secretary of State along with another 30,000 or so personal ones. Not one of these work emails indicated they contained classified information.  In fact, it turned out, 110 should have been stamped classified — 65 of them were later deemed “Secret” and 22 “Top Secret.” Another 2,100 were reclassified, after the fact, as “confidential” info. The FBI undertook two investigations. Twice it found Clinton guilty of sloppiness and carelessness; twice it concluded no criminal charges were warranted. Had Clinton heeded advice offered early on, she would have put all work communications on a government-protected server, but she chose not to. 

For that, “Lock ’er up?”

Okay, then what about the 300 obviously marked classified documents over which Trump is now claiming after-the-fact executive privilege. Some of these contain such top secret information that the agents executing the search needed their clearances upgraded just to look at them. Some of these are so top secret that they remain off-limits to many high-ranking Biden administrators. 

Now the Washington Post— yes, I know, the lick-spittle lackey doormen for the Deep State — reports some of the documents contain details about the nuclear capabilities and military defenses of unnamed foreign governments. Yes, it’s true there’s a dangerous tendency to over-classify documents. But all these were clearly and dramatically marked as “classified.” About the only things missing were the radioactive skull and crossbones. As a result, files including the identity of “human assets” might have been strewn around Trump’s country club along with his news clippings and old underwear.

I like Mike Stoker. I can’t help it. It’s a failing of mine even though he declined — however graciously — to participate in a candidates’ forum jointly sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Independent were I to have moderated. He said I was too biased.  My feeling was hurt, but truthfully, I was also relieved. Those things take a lot of work. And he wasn’t wrong.  

As far as Republicans go these days, Stoker is the one-eyed man among the army of the blind. To his credit, he’s never espoused Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was somehow stolen. To the extent election fraud may have taken place, I believe Stoker said, it was not sufficient to change the results. In today’s context, that qualifies Stoker as a moderate Republican.

For this, we should be grateful? 

As for the upcoming candidates’ forum between Hart and Stoker, I’m hoping whoever moderates asks Mike to explain “Lock ’er up.” I’m hoping  he might amend that to “Lock him up, too.”

If I had a farm, I wouldn’t bet it.

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