Abel Maldonado is the 2014 gubernatorial standard bearer for a new, pragmatic-moderate coalition emerging from obscurity within the CAGOP.  But Tim Donnelly is also running for CA governor, and last week, former congressman George Radanovich (R-Fresno) threw in his hat.  We only lack a Silicon Valley libertarian to have each GOP faction within the larger, national party represented.

Donnelly’s Run

Tim Donnelly’s campaign has been described by SacBee writer Dan Morain as “a faux bid for governor.”

Donnelly is a salesman who gained attention as a “Minuteman,” [who] won an Assembly seat in 2010 in a district that includes the mountains and desert east of Los Angeles and was re-elected last year. It is the best job he has ever had.

Morain quotes Kevin Spillane, a GOP consultant who finds Donnelly, “very politically clever,” his run for governor “a publicity stunt… simply Tim advancing his political career.”  Spillane adds that Donnelly is “not going to give up a government paycheck” by relinquishing his Assembly seat before he’s termed out.  Rather, “Donnelly will run for a congressional seat in 2016, Spillane said.”

The Orange County Lincoln Club came out against Donnelly’s run. And the Wall Street Journal featured him in an article titled, California’s GOP Suicide Mission.

A Pied Piper?

As a freshman assemblyman, Donnelly wrote an Arizona style anti-immigrant law, then held a press conference on the capitol steps though his bill had no backers.  He boarded a plane with a loaded pistol, by accident.  He called for armed teachers after the Sandy Hook massacre.  He yanked his teenage boys from Rim of the World High School to protest the transgender bathroom law.  Tim Donnelly has a talent for political theater that plays to his Tea Party base.

Donnelly is shrewd, resourceful and aggressively ambitious; he won’t quit.  He wants very badly to be Congressman in the 8th CD where he can’t be termed out.

Hammering red meat issues to whip up the Tea Party statewide, Tim Donnelly has become the pied piper of the California TPs crusade.

The result may be formidable; at the CAGOP convention in Anaheim recently, Donnelly was the star of a brand new Tea Party California Caucus that had the largest and most energetic meeting of all the caucuses, some 300 people, high tech messaging,  slick graphics, many speakers and much sound and fury.  Donnelly was everywhere; at a press conference, at the TPCC caucus, at his own crowded hospitality suite, in the hallways and meeting rooms always the center of attention.

However, the energetic anger of the Tea Party—though real and politically reasonable given the assault on the middle class that began in 2007—may be dissipating.  The TPs elected a “principled” but inexperienced congress that has made no headway against the permanent government of embedded elites.  If the house TP caucus loses the shutdown and debt ceiling fight it will find itself increasingly marginalized.  Radicalism has a shelf life, the conservative center does hold.

But Donnelly will use the still potent energy of the TPs to further his own career.  The TPs will be around for a while even if they have passed their high water mark.  CAGOP Reformers, Libertarians, Social Conservatives and others who want a Big Tent party that has some hope of governing will need to limit the damage Donnelly may cause.

Why Donnelly vs. Maldonado Is Important

At the convention, Maldonado rolled out a brand new team that seems to know what it is doing.  Those who counted “Maldo” out may be surprised at his renewed passion, his common man themes, his well articulated personal story and his pollster-media-grassroots consultant team.  But Team Maldonado will have to fight if Team Donnelly doesn’t quietly go away, which it won’t.  Meanwhile, Neel Kashkari was spotted at the convention and we may hear more from Radanovich.

The CAGOP will survive Donnelly’s radical insurgency for governor, but may be badly damaged by it.  CA Democrats will attempt to deliver a death blow, pointing gleefully to Donnelly.  The well may be poisoned for generations of CA Latinos, gays and independent moderates.  A One Party Liberal State could emerge from 2014 an invincible hegemon in part because of Donnelly’s run.

This should be of concern to all Republicans.