In the days following San Diego Assemblyman and mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher's announcement that he was abandoning the Republican Party to become an independent, Fletcher was predictably pilloried by conservative activists and commentators.
They reaffirmed their support for the Republican Party-endorsed candidate for mayor, Councilman Carl DeMaio, and asserted that Fletcher's decision, far from being an expression of personal principle, was a crass attempt to reinvigorate his sagging campaign. Wrote conservative consultant Tab Berg on Flashreport,org, "I don't know what is in his heart, but I cannot help asking if this was a crisis of conscience or simply raw political opportunism... To me, it screams that he values his personal success more than the ideas all of us have fought for together."
But there was one conservative voice -- someone who is also a blogger on the right-wing Flash Report -- who fired off a post in Fletcher's defense. That individual was Sen. Tony Strickland of Moorpark. On April 6, reaffirming his endorsement of Fletcher, he wrote, "
"It's okay to be sad he left the party, many of us are, but attacking Nathan's character is taking it too far."
Strickland, it should be noted, is not exactly a prolific contributor to the blog. It was just his third post this year, and he has written none since.
After Strickland's blog post was published, I got a call from a leading California conservative activist who was steamed over it -- and who asserted that the only reason Strickland jumped in to defend Fletcher was his own brand of political opportunism. This conservative's reasoning was this: Strickland is running in a congressional race in Ventura County against an independent candidate, Supervisor Linda Parks, and he was desperately trying to position himself as an independent-minded Republican.
I didn't buy that then, but now comes this -- a mailer sent to no-party-preference voters in the 26th Congressional District with a testimonial from Fletcher, under the headline, "From the only registered independent legislator in California." It includes a photo of Strickland and a tag line, "Thoughtful. Independent. For Congress."
The fact is, however, is that there are few more committed partisan Republicans in California than Strickland. He recruits Republican candidates, he is active in state party affairs, he is an acknowledged leader of the state GOP. He is, in every respect, a proud Republican -- except during the months before elections, when he seems to run from the party label and seeks to portray himself as an independent. He did that four years ago, and he's doing it again.
Getting Fletcher in his corner certainly helps.