Shaking your head while listening to a Donald Trump campaign speech is the new national pastime. And after the Republican presidential candidate's verbal meltdown over the past two weeks, jumping off the GOP bandwagon has become the latest exercise craze.
Trump infamously disrespected the Gold Star Khan family and criticized the still-grieving mother of a slain U.S. soldier. That led to his immediate drop in the polls and made the bombastic Trump an obvious anchor around the necks of other politicians in the party—nationally and locally.
San Diego GOP members running as candidates in races for city council, county supervisor and city attorney have kicked him to the curb. Our Republican mayor has not endorsed Trump, and neither has the local head of the party.
Rep. Darrell Issa, though, is a prominent member of Congress still wearing the Trump anchor necklace. Elected to office in 2001, the Republican from Vista previously sailed to re-election seven times. After endorsing Trump he finished first in the June primary for the 49th District—but with just a 50.8 to 45.5 percent margin of victory over rookie Democratic candidate Douglas Applegate. Those two face off again in the November general election.
Wait—who and what happened? Some see it as wishful thinking that one of the GOP's most conservative lapdogs might exit the Washington Beltway. But Applegate—a retired Marine colonel with three decades of experience as an infantry officer and a Judge Advocate—is now getting national attention and lots more love from the Democratic National Campaign Committee.
Asked if he thought he'd fare so well in the primary, Applegate pauses. He's being interviewed by phone from his car, on the way from San Clemente to a fundraising event in Rancho Santa Fe.
"If I told you I did believe I'd do that well in the primary you wouldn't believe me," he said. "I didn't know what to expect. But the primary is a good indication people are looking for a different form of representation. Somebody who will listen with fairness, equality and rule of law for everyone and in a transparent manner."
But the Trump Factor is what gets the media gaze. Issa, the wealthiest member of Congress, was an early endorser and gave a welcome speech at Trump's controversial May rally at the San Diego Convention Center.
"I wasn't the one who linked my opponent to Donald Trump," Applegate said. "That choice was made by Darrell Issa. I haven't figured out yet what his intent was for backing Donald Trump."
What Applegate is sure of is that he and other members of the armed forces are dumbfounded about Trump's remarks regarding military issues. (Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton is part of the 49th District.)
"Even before Donald Trump's comments on the Khan family, he had repeatedly and directly said he was going to violate U.S. and international law and the Geneva Convention," Applegate said. "I consider him unfit to serve as the commander in chief. What he's said over the past two weeks only confirms that."
The "cherry on the top," according to Applegate, was Trump's tweets about the Purple Heart—a military medal bestowed on those injured in battle—that he accepted from a veteran.
"I always wanted one of these," was Trump's comment.
"Nobody wants a Purple Heart," Applegate said. "Anybody who wants a Purple Heart, I would question their sanity. It's something earned and rewarded. To say you wanted one is a poor joke. How he treated that award was completely disrespectful. Donald Trump will never command the respect of the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces."
Applegate has started a petition to demand Issa repudiate some of Trump's comments. Posted at applegateforcongress.com, it reads: "Donald Trump has insulted women, immigrants, Muslims, and now military families. Many Republicans...have condemned his insulting comments—but not Darrell Issa, he's still standing by Trump. Let's #DumpDarrell. We can't re-elect a man who is willing to support Trump over military families."
Issa's campaign couldn't be reached for comment.
In the primary, Issa outspent Applegate $740,000 to $50,000. Issa still has nearly $4 million in his campaign war chest, but a spokesperson reports Applegate is now close to the $1 million mark. Polling shows that the 49th Congressional District is in play. All thanks to Donald Trump.