The Trumping of Darrell Issa (2024)

On May 12th, while Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, met at R.N.C. headquarters, in Washington, Representative Darrell Issa tried to figure out how to leave the building. The sidewalk in front was blocked by protesters and reporters, and Issa, who had recently endorsed Trump, expected to be harassed by them. “I wish you had a back door,” Issa said, according to a reporter inside who overheard the remark.

Issa, who is sixty-two, is one of the more colorful members of Congress. An Ohio native who was accused two times of car theft in the nineteen-seventies (Issa has denied the charges), he moved to Southern California in the mid-eighties and became a car-alarm magnate. After years as a major Republican donor, he won his congressional seat, in a conservative district near San Diego, in 2000. He is currently the wealthiest member of the House.

Issa has had a topsy-turvy relationship with Trump. The congressman, who spent four months campaigning for Marco Rubio, said in February that if Trump were the Republican nominee, he might endanger all Republicans running for reëlection. Appearing on CNN, Issa compared Trump to Todd Akin, the former Republican congressman who lost his 2012 bid to unseat the Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill after claiming that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely become pregnant. Issa said, “He was the wrong candidate, and it wasn’t until later that they realized that somebody who wasn’t thinking about what they said, who was saying things that were off the wall, brought down the Party.” He went on, “Donald Trump could be a national Todd Akin if our party doesn’t coalesce behind a single candidate.”

But in May, after Rubio left the race, Issa transferred his allegiance to Trump with an almost Chris Christie-like enthusiasm. At a May 27th Trump rally in San Diego, Issa compared Trump to Ronald Reagan. A few weeks earlier, he had published anop-edinThe Hillchastising fellow-Republicans for not backing Trump. The piece was headlined “Memo to Bushes, Other G.O.P. Holdouts: Get on the Trump Train.”

During his spring transformation into a Trump superfan, Issa may have calculated that his own primary, on June 7th, would benefit from a surge of Southern California Trump voters. California uses a so-called jungle-primary system, in which candidates of all parties run in the same race, and the top two candidates advance to the general election.

The Trump surge never materialized. Issa won just fifty-one per cent of the vote. The runner-up, who is now Issa’s general-election opponent, was the retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate, a Democrat who had never run for office and was outspent by Issa fifteen to one. News of Issa’s near-upset shocked political observers. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Applegate to a list of candidates who could flip a House seat from red to blue, and Applegate attracted the services of an experienced campaign manager, Robert Dempsey, whose most recent job was overseeing Bernie Sanders’s primary campaigns in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New Jersey. When I spoke to Dempseythis week, he told me that Issa’s embrace of Trump would be a dominant issue in the campaign. “Issa called Trump ‘the obvious choice,’” Dempsey said. “He is all in on Trump.”

Issa has never received less than fifty-eight per cent of the vote in his eight winning general-election campaigns. Polls released by Democrats, which should be treated with caution, suggest the Issa-Applegate race is within the margin of error. In other words, Issa, one of the best-funded and strongest Republican House candidates of the two-thousands, may now be an indicator that Trump is a Presidential-level Todd Akin who will bring down much of his party with him in November.

It’s not too surprising that Issa, in the year of Trump, is having some trouble. His San Diego-area district has more millennials, more Latinos, and fewer older white voters than ever. “I think the reality of the evolving demographics in San Diego County, coupled with the influx of turnout from the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, created a much more challenging environment for Darrell than we've seen in years past,” Kurt Bardella, a former top aide to Issa, said of the closer-than-expected primary. Bardella, who went on to work as a spokesman for Breitbart News, resigned from that position in March, citing Breitbart’s closeness to the Trump campaign. Earlier this month, in an op-ed for The Hill, he wrote that he believes that Trump is so toxic that he has decided to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Bardella still thinks his old boss will prevail this year, but he noted that the Issa race is yet another sign of the obvious demographic changes to which Republicans know they must adapt. “Having Donald Trump and his racist immigration policy at the top of the ticket certainly doesn't help, especially in an area as diverse as San Diego County,” he said. “I think Darrell will win, but in the long run, four to eight years down the road, it'll be a competitive situation for any Republican candidate.”

He noted that even if Issa is reëlected, he might retire if he doesn’t win more than fifty-five per cent of the vote this year. “If he clears that, he's in solid shape going forward,” he said. “If he doesn't, he could face a much more serious challenge in the next election, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he opted for retirement instead of a long and drawn-out two-year fight.” (Issa’s representative responded, “The congressman has been and looks forward to continuing as a leader in Congress.”)

In other words, even if Issa wins this time, he may still look for that back door.

The Trumping of Darrell Issa (2024)


The Trumping of Darrell Issa? ›

Issa was CEO of Directed Electronics, which he co-founded in 1982. It is one of the largest makers of automobile aftermarket security and convenience products in the United States. With a net worth of approximately $460 million, Issa is the wealthiest serving member of Congress as of 2023.

What is Mr Issa's political party? ›

HouseCalifornia, District 48 118th (2023-Present)
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California, District 50 117th (2021-2023)
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Who is Mr Issa senator? ›

Issa was CEO of Directed Electronics, which he co-founded in 1982. It is one of the largest makers of automobile aftermarket security and convenience products in the United States. With a net worth of approximately $460 million, Issa is the wealthiest serving member of Congress as of 2023.

Are there any Republican congressmen from California? ›

Current members

As of 21 May 2024, California is represented by the following elected officials, 40 Democrats and 12 Republicans.

Who is the congressman for El Cajon? ›

Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (she/her) is a third-generation San Diegan and proudly serves California's 51st Congressional District, which includes San Diego, El Cajon, La Mesa, and Lemon Grove.

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