Right Wing Credential Battle Ends In Paradox: Cook Wins Endorsement Over Donnelly

The paradoxes that beset the political ascendancy of Donald Trump are in full evidence in this year’s race for Congress in California’s 8th Congressional District.
The vast majority of the 8th Congressional District’s voters live within San Bernardino County. The district encompasses all of 18,000-population Inyo County and 14,000-population Mono County and a major portion of San Bernardino County, primarily its desert region. In its current configuration, which was set following the redistricting that went into effect in 2012 based upon the 2010 Census, the 8th District is tilted heavily in favor of the Republican Party. At present some 40 percent of its voters are registered Republicans and 32.5 percent are registered Democrats, with 22 percent expressing no party preference and 6.5 percent affiliated with more obscure parties such as Green and American Independent.
The degree to which the Republican Party dominates the 8th Congressional District is illustrated by the consideration that in the 2012 election, it was one of two districts in California where two Republicans faced each other in a runoff election. That is again the case this year, as it is the only Congressional district in California where two Republicans are facing each other in the 2018 runoff election. In June, the incumbent, Paul Cook, who has been in office since 2013, was the clear victor in a race featuring two Republicans, himself and Tim Donnelly, and three Democrats, Marge Doyle, Rita Ramirez and Ronald O’Donnell. Cook captured 41,585 votes or 41.54 percent and Donnelly finished second with 23,214 votes or 23.19 percent.
As the incumbent, Cook is the odds-on favorite in the November contest against Donnelly, who was a member of the California Assembly representing the 59th Assembly District from 2010 to 2012 and then the newly redistricted 33rd Assembly District, consisting of much of the former 59th District, from 2012 to 2014. Donnelly in 2014 undertook an unsuccessful bid to capture the Republican nomination for California Governor in 2014, which necessitated him foregoing reelection to the Assembly.
Cook, who was born in 1943 and enlisted in the Marine Corps after finishing college in 1966, the year Donnelly was born, and then served as an infantry officer during the Vietnam War with multiple tours of duty in that Southeast Asian Country during that conflict, retired as a colonel in 1992. He was later mayor of Yucca Valley and himself a member of the California Assembly. His highest profile assignment in Congress has come as a member of the Armed Services Committee, under which he is involved on both the Tactical Air and Land Forces as well as on Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittees. He is also on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and its subcommittees on Europe and Eurasia and on Terrorism Nonproliferation and Trade. Additionally, he is a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and its Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and Economic Opportunity subcommittees.
With his credentials, it would seem that Cook would be unassailable by another Republican. Nevertheless, Donnelly appears intent on challenging Cook as insufficiently conservative and lacking dedication to a host of Republican ideals.
Donnelly’s base is the Tea Party, a subset of the Republican Party, a movement advocating lower taxes and the reduction or elimination of the national debt, the federal budget deficit and the rescission of federal welfare programs. The Tea Party’s stance with regard to foreign involvement is less clearly defined, with some members advocating a strict adherence to isolationism and others supporting preemptive war to ensure the imparting of American values. The Tea Party is strongly in favor of the Second Amendment’s protection of gun ownership by American citizens. The Tea Party is opposed to abortion.
Donnelly is further involved in the Minuteman border militia movement, which is committed to the concept of a hermetically sealed boundary with Mexico.
Donnelly is perhaps most strongly recognized as an unabashed supporter of the Second Amendment. As a member of the Assembly, he routinely carried a concealed gun on his person virtually everywhere he went, including on the streets of Sacramento and into the state Capitol, despite the fact that he did not have a concealed weapons permit. In January 2012, Donnelly had a loaded Colt handgun which was not registered to him while he was  attempting to board an airplane at Ontario International Airport when Transportation Safety Agency security screeners discovered it in his carry-on luggage. Donnelly said it was simply an “innocent and honest mistake” and in March 2012 entered into a plea bargain with prosecutors, pleading no contest to two misdemeanor offenses, a count of carrying a loaded firearm into a city without a concealed weapons permit and a count of possession of a prohibited item in a sterile area. The incident did not prevent him from being reelected to the Assembly later that year.
Donnelly remains committed to what he characterizes as conservative causes and has renounced Cook as insufficiently conservative to the point that the incumbent is, Donnelly insists, out of touch with his constituents. Donnelly touts himself as a superior choice to represent the people of the 8th District in that he embodies their values in a way that Cook does not.
Two national Tea Party stalwarts, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Iowa Congressman Steve King, have endorsed Donnelly. Donnelly has also picked up the endorsements of former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo and Charlie Kirk, the founder of the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA organization.
In the same time frame. President Trump endorsed Cook in the race against Donnelly
The president’s endorsement of Cook comes in the midst of escalating vitriolic attacks on the president by Democrats, who have demonized him as racist and resistant to the Democratic Party’s professed progressive values. In particular, Democrats have raised repeated objections to the Trump administration’s immigration policy, in particular the jailing of illegal immigrants and the now-abandoned policy of separating illegally immigrating parents from their children in the immediate aftermath of their detention by immigration and customs officials. Moreover, they have lampooned President Trump’s call for constructing an impermeable border fence or wall along the boundary with Mexico. And this week, as the confirmation hearings for President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, have gotten underway, a basic objection to the nominee the Democrats have made is their collective misgiving that Kavanaugh’s ascendance to the Supreme Court will threaten the principle established in the 1973 case of Roe vs. Wade that essentially legalized abortion, that Kavanaugh will ensure a majority vote on the Supreme Court insulating the president from an indictment if the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller should determine that such is warranted, that Kavanaugh will tip the Supreme Court into holding any legislation relating to limiting citizen access to firearms as a violation of the Second Amendment and that Kavanaugh will serve as a partisan jurist whose rulings will be tailored to favor the Republicans in any disputes impinging on policy differences the GOP has with the Democrats.
In the heat of this highly charged political atmosphere, Donald Trump tweeted “Paul Cook is a decorated Marine Corps veteran who loves and supports our military and vets. He is strong on crime, the border, and supported tax cuts for the people of California. Paul has my total and complete endorsement.”
Many found President Trump’s move puzzling because of the perception that his views are more closely aligned with Donnelly’s than with Cook’s.
Indeed, while Cook is a Roman Catholic, he has been far less strident in his anti-abortion rhetoric than Donnelly. While Cook ultimately supported Donald Trump in 2016, he appeared on multiple Republican endorsement cards with Trump’s last remaining rival in the race among Republican presidential hopefuls, Ted Cruz.
Donnelly reacted to the president’s tweet, “Mr. Trump, You just endorsed a NeverTrumper that bet $5,000 you would lose to Hillary Clinton. Whoever is advising you on this isn’t helping you. Paul Cook voted for amnesty at DUI checkpoints for illegal immigrants. Paul Cook is not Make America Great Again.”
Interestingly, though Democrats have little use for any Republican candidates, most are gravitating toward lining up with President Trump’s endorsement in California’s 8th Congressional District. Democrats simply find Cook more palatable than Donnelly, which virtually assures that Cook will prevail against Donnelly in November.
Another consideration in this regard is President Trump’s war of words with the multibillionaire Koch Brothers. David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch of Koch Industries are major backers of the Tea Party and are the founders of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a conservative political group with a self-described mission to “fight for less government, lower taxes, and less regulation,” goals indistinguishable from those of the Tea Party. The Koch Brothers have major differences with Donald Trump. At the same time, David and Charles Koch are the economic engine of what is arguably the most powerful political opposition to the Democratic Party.
Donald Trump in more ways than one is outside the mainstream of the Republican Party. With regard to certain issues he is closer to the Democrats than he is to the Republican Party or, at least, elements within the Republican Party. Nevertheless, the Democrats have so personalized their enmity with Donald Trump that in regard to a number of issues they are willing to deviate from their own goals in pursuit of disenfranchising the president.
Mark Gutglueck

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