When Democrats dare to dream of winning a House majority this year, they cite Representative Darrell Issa’s struggle to keep his California seat as proof it could actually happen.
“If Darrell Issa can lose, why not?” Representative Xavier Becerra, leader of the House Democratic Caucus, said this month.
Mr. Issa, a Republican and one of the richest and most obnoxious members of the House, is the legislative branch’s mini-Trump. (But who knows? If Mr. Trump ever released his tax returns, maybe they’d show that he is a mini-Issa.) Mr. Issa has embraced Mr. Trump, literally, and there’s video of that. Now Mr. Trump is tanking, and Mr. Issa, an eight-term congressman, looks vulnerable in his race against a retired Marine colonel, Doug Applegate. Mr. Applegate, a political neophyte, is stacking his military credentials against Mr. Issa’s all-heat-no-light record in the state’s 49th District, an area of south Orange County and north San Diego County that includes Camp Pendleton.
Surprised by the unexpected opportunity, Democrats are pouring millions into the race. Surprised by the unexpected challenge, Mr. Issa is, too. Though he has called President Obama “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times,” Mr. Issa is mailing out fliers with a nice photo of Mr. Obama at his desk in the Oval Office. “I am very pleased that President Obama has signed into law the Survivors’ Bill of Rights — legislation I co-sponsored to protect the victims of sexual assault,” it reads.
Mr. Obama traveled to La Jollaon Sunday to laugh at that flier, calling it “the definition of chutzpah.” At a $10,000-per-plate dinner for Mr. Applegate, Mr. Obama said defeating Republicans like Mr. Issa meant rejecting “the climate inside the Republican Party that resulted in Donald Trump getting the nomination.”
Mr. Issa is worth about $250 million, and he built his fortune on the Viper, a car alarm that uses Mr. Issa’s recorded voice to command passers-by to “step away from the car.” Republicans have been stepping away from Mr. Issa recently, finding the Viper King too vituperative even for them. When he was chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Mr. Issa, who has trumpeted his “tireless commitment to transparency,” used his considerable investigative power on inquiries that proved better at generating publicity for himself than uncovering any actual wrongdoing by the administration.
Mr. Issa had the Benghazi investigation wrested away from him after nobody could substantiate his claim that as Americans were being attacked, the defense secretary, Leon Panetta, was told to “stand down” by Hillary Clinton. Mr. Issa’s investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative nonprofit groups dissipated in a cloud of hyperbole and intraparty fighting as Mr. Issa angled unsuccessfully for his committee to be the first to interrogate key players.
“This event in history, like Watergate, like Teapot Dome and like many other historic events, will be studied by future generations,” he intoned during one hearing. Less than a year later, Republican leaders rejected Mr. Issa’s bid to extend his term-limited appointment as chairman, and moved his imposing portrait from the wood-paneled wall of the committee chamber to a less-revered spot near a coat rack.
Now Mr. Obama hopes to help usher Mr. Issa back into private life, saying Mr. Issa’s “primary contribution to the United States Congress has been to obstruct and to waste taxpayer dollars on trumped-up investigations that have led nowhere.”
Mr. Issa hit back in a statement, claiming, “You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks I’ve done too much to hold Washington accountable.” Let’s see if voters agree.