Will Royce, Issa, Rohrabacher and Republicans Who Want Campbell’s Seat Side with the Adults or the Nihilists?


These are American hostages taken in Teheran in 1979 — so if that one in the middle looks to you like it might be Barack Obama, it isn’t. He wasn’t taken hostage until 2011 — and now it’s happening again.

This is probably the political news of the day — with likely reverberations for the rest of the decade:

[T]he partial closing of the government and the looming confrontation over the nation’s borrowing limit highlight the remarkable drop in the business community’s influence among House Republicans, who increasingly respond more to tea party conservatives than to the Chamber of Commerce.

On Wednesday, Obama is hosting chief executives from the nation’s 19 biggest financial firms. Moreover, the Chamber of Commerce has sent a letter to Congress signed by about 250 business groups urging no shutdown and warning against a debt ceiling crisis that they say could lead to an economically disastrous default.

Concerned, the Chamber of Commerce is preparing to participate in political primaries, protecting friendly lawmakers from conservative challengers. “Clearly we’re getting to a point where we need a Congress that’s going to be productive, proactive and create a stable environment for economic growth and job creation,” said Scott Reed, a Republican political consultant who is advising the chamber on its strategy.

That boldfaced sentence is key.  Republican politicians have been afraid to take on the Tea Party faction of the GOP because of the fear that the Republican Tea Party (and its big donors such as the Koch Brothers, who are quite happy to see more damage to government as a means of neutralizing and discrediting it) will knock them off in primaries.

Several of the GOP’s relative establishment candidates (I can’t even call them “moderates” except relatively), including those in Nevada, Delaware, Indiana, and Missouri, were knocked off in U.S. Senate primaries in the past few years — with their Tea Party opponents ultimately losing to Democrats.  One, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, survived losing the primary with a write-in campaign.  Others was defeated by Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, who won the general election.  Similar although less dramatic and consequential results have been seen in the House of Representatives.  This has Congressional Republicans running scared.

This fear of a successful primary challenge has emboldened the Republicans in Congress, putting personal safety above the welfare of the nation, to sign on to hostage taking and brinksmanship — threatening the nation’s reputation and credit by holding the economy hostage until Obamacare is repealed or delayed.  Even elder statesmen who should (and probably do) know better, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner — who sees a hungry and ambitious Majority Leader Eric Cantor over his shoulder — are making a show of support for this destruction.  Their bottom line is that, having taken the economy hostage, they have to get something good out of it so that it looks like a political victory rather than a defeat.

If all of this leads to people hating and blaming Congress — they don’t really mind so much.  After all, “blaming Congress” means in part blaming Democrats — the ones refusing to negotiate with hostage-takers — and so long as the blame is shared they’re OK.  (That people are overwhelmingly blaming Republicans and not Democrats doesn’t seem to have registered with them — or maybe they just think that that will naturally fade.)  They’ve gerrymandered the districts so well that it would be hard for some of them to lose pretty much no matter what they did.  The threat to them is in the primary, and only in the primary.

That’s been the reasoning, at least.  And that has just changed.

The problem is that political decisions don’t simply affect politics.  They affect policy — and policy affects the economy.  These self-interested politicians can afford to be nihilists; actual profit-seeking commercial interests, who don’t live in the bubble of Washington D.C., can’t.  And they’ve just announced that they’re fighting back.

They’re going to defend Republicans who will abide by basic rules of good governance — such as, ” don’t risk the country’s economic stability just to make a political gesture” — in primaries.  And it would surprise me if they ended up supporting even some liberal Democrats in Congressional races where the most strident Tea Partiers win the Republican nominations.  Yes, Democrats may try to take some coins off of their pile — but they’re not likely to bring in a wrecking ball and scatter the pile all over the place for ideological reasons.

As you can imagine, I’m ambivalent about depending on the Chamber of Commerce to swoop in and save the economy — for about five seconds.  Then, I think “OK, if their adults need to take back the party, fine.”  I’m happy to work in common cause with Tea Party libertarians on things like opposing corporate bailouts and giveaways and immunity from prosecution — but when they actually stop giving a damn whether the government operates or not I have to part ways.

Of the names in the title, one has already given his answer, in the same linked article:

When Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., was asked if he had heard business groups express fears of a government shutdown’s economic impact, he replied: “No. And it wouldn’t make any difference if I did.”

So you can write off Crazy Dana — unless a “moderate” candidate came forward and was able to force a top-two Republican runoff, in which Democrats might well join in with the one they dislike over the one who wants to destroy the government.  (Any politicians in coastal OC interested in taking up that sort of mantle?  You can look up the CoC’s address.)

And Issa, of course, has more money than the Chamber of Commerce if he wants to spend it — although a moderate Republican of stature could probably pick up a whole lot of Democratic support in his district along with those Republicans who work with the Chamber.  Democrats will profess indifference as to which of them was elected — but a long government shutdown with promises to make this a recurring nightmare might tilt them towards someone else.

The interesting questions regard Ed Royce and the competition for John Campbell’s seat.

Royce is an establishment Republican — the Committee Chair who failed to regulate the banks as they tanked the economy, in fact — who has nevertheless been a member of the Tea Party Caucus.  His breaking with the Ted Cruz faction of the party would be big news — possibly enough to start a landslide by itself.  So, will he take the Chamber’s invitation for political protection if he takes a major role in ending this hostage-taking?

If he doesn’t, then he truly is vulnerable.  Jay Chen showed that a competent challenger could put a butt-searing scare into Royce with much less money — even considering IEs.  If the shutdown continues — and especially if the debt ceiling hostage-taking continues — then he’s going to be ripe for challenge.  I’ve already said that Democratic officeholders looking for a winnable race should consider moving to the area — he can’t really complain about carpetbagging after he himself arranged the carpetbagging campaign of his aide Young Kim — and taking him on based on this issue alone: he could have stopped this and he didn’t.  Someone like John Perez or Wendy Greuel or Phil Angelides — you could beat him based on the simple campaign slogan of “Stop the Nonsense.”  (And a lot of money, of course — but any of you could raise that.)

As for Campbell’s CA-45 seat — what a great opportunity for a moderate Republican to differentiate himself from others in the pack!  Scott Lay lists five candidates for the district:

  • Pat Maciarellio (Republican) – Investor
  • Greg Raths (Republican) – Retired Marine Corps Colonel
  • Mimi Walters (Republican) – Member, State Senate
  • Steven Choi (Republican) – Councilmember, Irvine
  • John Moorlach (Republican) – Supervisor, Orange County

of whom the last three have some serious heft.  A Democrat will probably enter the race, meaning that the Republican who differentiates himself or herself from the pack — say, with a binding agreement to oppose any proposal that would lead to shutdown or default or similarly damaging results — could end up in a top two with that Democrat.  I don’t know if any of those three would do it — Choi, maybe — but if none of them will then room is open for an insurgent moderate.  (Tom Campbell could rely on the voters thinking that they were voting for John Campbell again, to boot.)

While only Congress will vote on this, it will affect lower-order races as well.  I’m certain that Sharon Quirk-Silva and Jose Solorio (if he survives a challenge from the Mystery Progressive) will both reject the idea of such hostage-taking.  Will Young Kim?  (She’ll probably do whatever Royce does — which makes his choice even more interesting.)  Will Chris Norby, if I’m right that he may be running?  (No.)  Will Janet Nguyen — who is presumed to have her eye on Alan Lowenthal’s seat in 2016 if she is elected to a four-year State Senate term next year?  That one is a puzzler.

Look to Orange County, Democrats and moderate Republicans!  We may have more competitive races here next year than you think!

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)