I'm a "Republican in Name Only" - in the best sense. Maybe you are, too.
My appropriation of the RINO label may be a bit ... well, heterodox. After all, RINO is generally understood as a term of abuse - and a greatly overused one at that. But when I say I'm a RINO, I mean that being considered a "Republican" is less important to me than adhering to the principles that put the "grand" in Grand Old Party.
Both of the "serious" Republican candidates for governor have a RINO problem. But neither is my kind of RINO.
Neel Kashkari administered the U.S. Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program, the biggest corporate welfare giveaway in U.S. history.
What's worse, however, is that Kashkari wrote off many gun owners a few months ago when, in a fit of flippant disdain for those who have serious questions about his commitment to the Second Amendment, he said, "If you just want someone to give you a full capacity assault rifle magazine, God bless you, you can go vote for somebody else. I'm not your guy." Duly noted. And maybe I'll take his straw man with me the next time I go to target practice.
In truth, Kashkari barely qualifies as a Republican in any sense. Sure, he opposes high-speed rail. So does Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. But one does not vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and get to be the GOP standard-bearer in 2014.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly is little better, not even on the issues he claims as his hallmarks, such as gun rights. Donnelly introduced a union-backed bill exempting corrections officers from gun laws - a strange position for a Second Amendment absolutist to take. The Second Amendment is meant to protect the rights of the people, not to create special rights for agents of the government. But carving out special exemptions and rights for favored constituencies within the government is par for the course for Donnelly.
Until it became a campaign issue, Donnelly supported reviving the state's defunct redevelopment agencies out of some misbegotten notion of "local control," despite their reputation for trammeling property owners' rights.
Conservatives frustrated with their ill fortune in the Golden State have a point when they note that if Kashkari is the best the vaunted Republican establishment has to offer, then we no longer have use for a Republican establishment. Thanks for your service, Pete Wilson. Fare thee well, Mitt Romney. Put a sock in it already, Karl Rove.
But if conservatives think Donnelly is their man just because he irks those other guys, they should think again.
True, the good people of the 33rd Assembly District - which includes the Southern California desert cities of Hesperia, Victorville and Barstow, along with the mountain towns of Lake Arrowhead, Crestline and Twin Peaks - have elected Donnelly twice. That must count for something, though he's often been an isolated voice in the Legislature.
The trouble is, Donnelly doesn't know what he's talking about half the time, and appears to talk nonsense the other half. Accusing the Hindu Kashkari of submitting to Islamic law is the least of it.
When Donnelly debated Kashkari on a major L.A. talk radio station last week, he could barely defend his own bill to liberalize California's concealed-carry laws. Kashkari grossly mischaracterized the legislation, saying it would entrust Attorney General Kamala Harris "with our gun rights." In fact, AB 1563 gives the attorney general no discretion. If you pass a background check, you get a permit.
Donnelly stammered a bit before laughing off the idea that this RINO interloper would dare question his fidelity to the Second Amendment. It took a sharply worded press release from the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees to explain that Kashkari was misleading at best with his claims.
But Donnelly disqualified himself before he entered the governor's race. I don't mean his leadership role with the Minuteman movement and his outspokenness about illegal immigration. His aspirations for higher office were dashed in January 2012, when he was arrested at Ontario Airport with an unsecured, loaded handgun in his carry-on bag.
At the time, Donnelly called it an "innocent mistake," but his gun wasn't even registered. No sensible, law-abiding, responsible gun owner does that and gets to be the Republican standard-bearer in 2014.
It boils down to prudence - the quality any statesman must possess. Prudence and common sense. Donnelly apparently has neither.
Where does that leave California conservatives? Third party? Stay home? Write-in?
I favor the latter, even though the top-two primary rules state that only votes for certified write-in candidates count. A squandered write-in vote would be better than a vote for these pathetic Republicans, who stand no chance against Jerry Brown anyway.
So I'm writing in conservative classicist-historian and Central Valley farmer Victor Davis Hanson. As a fifth-generation Californian, Hanson understands how Democrats' multiculturalism and environmentalism have undermined an older "progressive" understanding of economic growth and opportunity in the Golden State. And as a registered Democrat, he puts these RINOs to shame.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.