Media's Knives Out for Donnelly

Media's Knives Out for Donnelly

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Tea Party favorite Tim Donnelly was in second place in the latest poll, with a net favorable rating. California’s newspapers, however, seem determined to change that. 

The Los Angeles Times has focused on comments Donnelly made about illegal immigration several years ago, while the San Francisco Chronicle has seized on Donnelly’s defense of his vote not to ban state sales of Confederate symbols.

In 2006, Donnelly told a rally that the fight against illegal immigration was akin to a “war,” while on Friday the state legislator told a radio station: “I would never vote to ban the Nazi flag…I would never vote to ban the Israeli flag, or the Palestinian flag or any other flag.” 

Donnelly stands by his comments on illegal immigration and says he was merely using the flags to illustrate his point about free speech, not to equate Israel and Nazism.

In each case, the media manage to find representatives or supporters of Donnelly’s main Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, to criticize Donnelly and to describe him as an embarrassment to the party as a whole. 

The effort here seems to be to set Donnelly up as a kind of Todd Akin for 2014–something that conservatives fear, as well, as evidenced by a recent article by John Hrabe citing Donnelly’s more colorful and controversial statements.

Donnelly’s temperament and rhetoric are, of course, fair game. Yet it ought to be easier to raise that as an issue when the candidate in question is on probation for bringing a loaded gun to an airport

Part of the reason it is so hard to convince voters in general, and Republicans in particular, to dislike Donnelly is that they have already priced Donnelly’s madcap style into his profile. They don’t expect more than they are getting from him.

That was not true of Akin, who was widely seen as a methodical, policy-savvy legislator before he made a bizarre comment about “legitimate rape” and abortion in an interview with a liberal television host. The revelation of Akin’s fundamental confusion about biology destroyed his brand, while Donnelly’s new controversies confirm what voters already know. In a sense, the stories help him: the party’s base sees him as an authentic person.

Often, Donnelly’s statements also possess more than a kernel of truth. The U.S.-Mexico border is a war zone in places–thanks partly to botched federal efforts like Operation Fast and Furious. Kashkari did, in fact, address a conference on sharia finance–not itself a scandal, except that his campaign insisted on mischaracterizing it

Unless the media want Donnelly in the general election–and some actually might–their effort is backfiring.