Fringe Candidate

Birther Queen Orly Taitz’s Big Comeback on California Senate Ballot

Orly Taitz could finish in the top two in California’s Senate primary. John Avlon on this insane prospect.

Nick Ut / AP Photo

She’s baaack.

Orly Taitz, queen of the birthers, is on the ballot Tuesday in California. She is running as a Republican to challenge Sen. Dianne Feinstein for reelection. And polls show that Taitz just might make the top-two cut and be an official challenger in the fall.


It’s hard to overstate just how bad that would be for the Golden State GOP.

An avowed birther activist and litigant, dentist, attorney, mother of three, and Moldovan immigrant who radiates instability could be the standard-bearer of the party of Reagan in the largest state in the nation. Is this a great country or what?

I’ve met Taitz, debating her on-air once and spending an hour at her law office/dental practice in the hills of Rancho Santa Margarita while I was researching Wingnuts. She is not unintelligent and is almost charmingly insane, proudly showing off prominent alleged Facebook friends and then comparing Obama to Stalin, all while passing over hundreds of pages of Xeroxed documents she has sent to governors of all 50 states and the entire U.S. Senate. The packet details accusations including impersonation of a military officer, libel, defamation of character, harassment, breaking into the computer system of the Supreme Court, voter fraud, and forgery, concluding: “Verify the above facts brought forward by me and demand Obama/Soetoro’s immediate resignation or removal from office due to fraud and constitutional inability. National security and national survival depends on your expedient actions …”

In other words, nut-balls. Orly Taitz as a candidate for U.S. Senate would make Christine O’Donnell look like Henry Clay. She would make Sharron Angle look like Daniel Webster. Donald Trump seems a model of restraint by comparison.

This is funny, but it’s also sad. This is what happens when you burn down the big tent. The sideshow takes over.

The California Republican Party has a long and distinguished tradition, from Hiram Johnson to Earl Warren to Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to Pete Wilson. It was once the quintessential big tent, though it contained plenty of ideological disagreements. Most important, it won elections, appealing right and center.

But a recent spate of RINO-hunting, combined with the national drift of the GOP away from the center, has helped make California functionally a one-party state.

True, in 2010, both Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina were on the ballot, raising boatloads of cash and generating some buzz. But their twin losses in that Tea Party year seem to have constituted a Do Not Enter sign for candidates considering a run in a presidential-election cycle that Obama is expected to win in a California landslide.

So despite all the talent, imagination, ambition, and money that gravitates to the Golden State, the world’s eighth-largest economy, the Republicans can’t recruit a serious top-tier candidate to run for United States Senate. This is pathetic.

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To the California GOP’s credit, it is hoping and praying that Taitz doesn’t win. The state party endorsed autism-activist Elizabeth Emken, a first-time candidate who nonetheless boasts essentially sensible center-right policies. She wouldn’t beat Feinstein, but at least she wouldn’t be a national embarrassment.

In the crowded top-two open primary, Emken and Taitz will be competing with 14 other Republicans to run against the popular three-term senator, who is 78 years old. But in such a crowded no-name field, a fringe candidate with relatively high name ID and an intense if extremely narrow base of support could make a dent. The new top-two process isn’t the problem; other states have used it effectively for years. The problem is the lack of serious candidates. I wish that someone like retiring Republican Rep. David Drier had thrown his hat in the ring, if only to preserve the integrity of the general election.

The possibility that Taitz could end up being the Republican challenger to Feinstein is raising a slapstick sense of despair from California conservatives, especially on the libertarian wing of things.

“In California it’s possible to find thousands of people willing to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning, dress up in chicken suits, and wait in line all day just to watch a taping of Let’s Make a Deal, but the California GOP can’t find one termed-out state legislator, redistricted congressman, or dot-com weenie willing to run against Dianne Feinstein,” says John Phillips, a host at talk radio 790 KABC in Los Angeles.

“The same party that brought the world Dick Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Pete Wilson could now nominate a woman for statewide office who is bat-shit crazy. It’s beyond embarrassing; it’s suicidal,” Phillips adds. “The California Republican Party is officially in the Terri Schiavo stage of its life.”

So it’s not just me.

Because of the lack of serious California Senate candidates, attention is elsewhere on this Election Day. There are congressional primaries courtesy of the first-ever independent redistricting effort in California. Nationally, all eyes are on Wisconsin’s high-stakes recall election. But Orly Taitz could sneak in under the radar and be a radioactive distraction throughout 2012. And I sincerely hope this doesn’t come true. Because contrary to what some critics think, I don’t like writing about crazy. The freak beat only matters when the extremes start to intrude on mainstream debates, when the fringe starts to blur with the base. And that’s been happening too much lately.

A few weeks ago, I was happy to see the Arizona secretary of state finally call off the inquisition on the birth certificate and acknowledge that the president was born in Hawaii. I hoped that would settle the matter once and for all. Then Trump started bloviating his birther theories on every station he could call into while the Romney campaign escorted him around like a prom date, and the issue was again ignited.

It’s time to stop the insanity. So I’m hoping that the primary voters of California do not elevate a conspiracy theorist to a general election for U.S. Senate. Those of you who think it would be funny to put forward a clownishly unelectable candidate—and those of you who think that Taitz is somehow strangely speaking truth to power—think of your state. Think of your country.

Not having a credible candidate bother to run for the U.S. Senate is bad. Having a demonstrably unhinged person gain a nomination is worse. It degrades our democracy. It’s pathetic that we even need to entertain this possibility. We can do better—and we need to do better. Seriously.