The GOP’s Intra-Party Primary Wars
Sometimes the Tea Party picks the best candidates, but sometimes the establishment does.

Virginia congressional candidate Bob Marshall (left) and California gubernatorial hopeful Tim Donnelly


John Fund

Tea-party conservatives have become so suspicious of the primary recommendations of establishment GOP figures such as Karl Rove that they dismiss them out of hand. That’s wrong. There are times when Republicans need to sound the alarm bells to avoid catastrophic candidates whose nomination can only help Democrats.

Rove was in my hometown of Sacramento, Calif., last week for a speech to the National Federation of Independent Business. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Rove was asked his opinion of the two major GOP contenders vying to oppose Governor Jerry Brown this fall. Rove said he wouldn’t formally endorse anyone but that he had met with Neel Kashkari, a former Bush Treasury Department official. According to someone present, Rove told NFIB members that “if Republicans have to pick someone to lose to Jerry Brown, they’d be stupid not to pick” Kashkari.

He then turned his attention to Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican who is currently on track to do well enough in California’s open primary in June to snag a runoff spot in the November election; the top two finishers in June’s primary will advance regardless of party affiliation. “The comments that the other guy has made in the past are going to damage the party with Latinos on Election Day,” Rove said, referring to Donnelly.

That’s an understatement. The Los Angeles Times reported last week that in March 2006 Donnelly used inflammatory language in railing against illegal immigrants at a rally. “I am a descendant of Jim Bowie, who died at the Alamo,” Donnelly, a founder of the Minuteman border-patrol group, told Minuteman members: “It is rumored that [Bowie] took a dozen Mexican soldiers to their deaths before they finally killed him. How many of you will rise up and take his place on that wall?”

Donnelly also had words for some of the people who had marched earlier that day in Los Angeles in support of illegal immigrants. Some waved Mexican flags, prompting Donnelly to argue: “We are in a war. You may not want to accept it, but the other side has declared war on us.” Illegal immigrants were part of a “growing insurgency,” he added. “We need to begin to root out the insurgency in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, just as we are doing in Baghdad, Samarra, and Tikrit, 9,000 miles away. Right now, in the United States of America, there are 850,000 gang members, two-thirds of whom are illegal aliens.”

Donnelly defended his remarks after the story appeared: “I am not backing away from the fact that we are in a war.” He appeared to step back only slightly from that last week when he insisted he was not inciting violence or racism: “Everybody who knows me knows that,” he said. “I was giving a call to action in a historical context, for people to join our group. . . . I have stood up against the cartels who don’t just traffic in drugs, but in kids and women.” So “these are serious issues. . . . I’m grateful they brought it back up.”

But it’s untrue to say that everybody who knows” Donnelly agrees his remarks were acceptable. Rosario Marin, who served as the U.S. treasurer under President George W. Bush, is “just appalled” by Donnelly’s remarks. “It’s an embarrassment not only to himself and the efforts I am involved in,” she says. “It makes my job much more difficult.” In 2010, Jerry Brown defeated Republican Meg Whitman by 13 points statewide, but by 33 points among Latinos.

Neel Kashkari, Donnelly’s opponent, is no conservative dreamboat. A former Goldman Sachs executive and Treasury’s first administrator of the TARP financial bailout, he is clearly a competent administrator who approaches issues from a pragmatic rather than ideological perspective. But his detailed plans to give tax holidays to firms locating in California, dump Brown’s white-elephant high-speed-rail line, and expand charter schools do address the root causes of much of the Golden State’s rot. Debates between him and Brown would be substantive and revealing. Having a son of immigrants from India run for office would also improve the Republican name brand in an increasingly diverse state.


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