Temper, Temper: Kashkari’s Odd Attack on Calbuzz


300-xerxes Neel Kashkari lashed out at two, slightly tipsy Calbuzzers extending handshakes Saturday night, a rookie display of pique and rancor that hints at a strain of distemper in his executive disposition.

“You’re the two geniuses who wrote that I wasn’t doing anything to help the Republican Party. Nice call,” snapped the wannabe GOP governor, before stalking off as we stood gape-mouthed. We waited for the sound of his bedroom door slamming but it was too loud in the hotel lobby to hear it.

Secret Memo to Neel: Might be time to drop the Red Bull and tweak diet.

At first glance, the goofy episode was just one more oddment in the endless firmament of state political conventions (and less strange, surely, than the Saturday night invocation featuring a plea to God to kill the bullet train). As a practical matter, however, Kashkari’s amped-up snarl at geezer journos offers a glimpse of an overwrought personal style in dealing with disagreement, at a time he wants to be hired to preside over some of the world’s most complex and contentious political issues.

kashkari closeupGape mouthed jammies: If borne of frustration, Neel’s mini-tantrum in a crowded hallway of the L.A. Airport Marriott was somewhat understandable, coming at the end of a long couple of days during which Mr. Cranky Pants was shunned and dissed in some key quarters of the convention, feeding a narrative of GOP disunity ably documented by Michael Finnegan, Seema Mehta, David Siders and Carla Marinucci, here, here and here.

As Staff Psychiatrist Dr. P.J. Hackenflack asked, while mopping our brows as we lay upon our fainting couches after the set-to: “Was Neel perhaps feeling a bit sad and unappreciated at the time?”

Still, Crybaby Kashkari’s outburst baffled your plucky and steadfast Calbuzzards for several reasons:

1)    We’ve, um, never written that Kashkari “wasn’t doing anything to help the Republican Party.” Quite the opposite: we’ve noted on several occasions that his libertarian stances on cultural issues are nudging the GOP in the direction of Calbuzz Republicanism.

2)    Even if we had written what he falsely claimed, throwing a little hissy fit in front of delegates and reporters is not exactly textbook technique for handling disagreements with the political press,  which tend to be more successful when conducted privately and in a civil tone.

3)   Plus: WTF is your problem, dude?

 tryionkashkaricroppedA clue to the mystery: Aaron McLear, Kashkari’s top professional handler, had let him off the leash returned to Sacramento from L.A. earlier, and had no explanation for Neel’s behavior when we contacted him Saturday night, other than saying his guy had had some difficult days and urging us to cut him some slack.

By early Sunday, however, McLear and some of Neel’s fans in the press box had pulled their story together, and now pointed to 20-words at the bottom of a 1,125-word piece that we posted nearly two months ago. It seems we had offended Prince Tyrion and conjured his furious anger by writing the following. From McLear:

“Assume he was referring to this: ‘The widely known political imp Tyrion of Kashkari has not for one minute shown interest in re-branding his party.’”

Uh, okay. More confounding riddles!

1) If this so disturbed the Great Man, why nurse his resentment like a sore tooth with his tongue for two months instead of calling, emailing, texting or tweeting to say we’re all wet and explain why?  Or: stand there and talk to us about it on Saturday night?  Like, you know, an adult.

2) When the piece published, there was scant evidence that Neel’s mission was to re-brand the Republican party, or do anything other than promote his career; his previous rhetoric about poverty and unemployment was laudable enough, but what ideas or strategies had he set forth that in any way approached a redefinition of the state GOP (other than pretending to be homeless in Fresno – a grandstand stunt that didn’t sit well with Mayor Ashley Swearengin, the Republican candidate for Controller, who now refuses to endorse Kashkari, surprise, surprise). And there was scarce talk of “re-branding” when he spoke at last spring’s convention to shill for pre-primary support.

3-Wait, does this guy really read Calbuzz that closely? Jeez, some days we don’t even get that far into our stories. Maybe he should have his head examined.

goldwaterComes the epiphany: And then it dawned on us. The piece to which Kashkari had taken objection was only tangentially about him anyway. Instead it was cast as a vicious personal attack on the wretched George Will, who had composed a cringe worthy paean to Neel, during a West Coast junket, comparing him to friggin’ Barry Goldwater.

Maybe George had too many martinis wherever he was staying in Menlo Park when he wrote about Goldwater’s nomination at the “unfortunately named Cow Palace” “fifty Julys ago, up the road near San Francisco.” Or maybe he just had to come up with something to write off his trip out to the hustings…

Kashkari isn’t fighting for a cause or a movement or much of anything except to be governor. He’s a lot healthier face for the California GOP than Tim Donnelly would have been. And if his presence on the ticket signals a nudge toward reason among California Republicans, that’ll be a good thing for his party. But the suggestion that he’s the leader of some ideological shift is little more than the musings of a Washington Beltway scribe in search of a metaphor. And, no doubt, a fine dinner.

Here’s the thing: For Neel, as a Wharton/Goldman/Beltway conservative elite careerist, having George Freakin’ Will punch his ticket as the Next Big Thing was no doubt a true peak moment, a rapture of validation from a creaky oracle of worn-out Beltway wisdom. Then Calbuzz, which unlike Neel understands that the only people who read George Will are those paid to do so, wanders in to piss all over his big prize.

neel_kashkari-620x412Final piece of the puzzle: And then came Neel’s hangover slot speech to the convention Sunday morning, a thoughtful address delivered Phil Donahue-style (if Donohue had 12 double espressos before going on), in which he actually did argue for the re-branding of the Republican Party. A no-notes speech which he surely was mulling at the time of our encounter Saturday night (“Nice call!”).

I want to help lead the fight to reintroduce us to the people of California and of America…Our legacy, we are the party fighting for civil rights, we are the party fighting for the poor, we are the party fighting for working families… We should be damn proud of who we are.

Pretty good stuff (except that, as always, he banged too heavy on the keys and just had to  congratulate himself for being “transformational”). He deserves an attaboy for it.

His claim that the Republicans are the true party of civil rights, of course, is full of historical holes and hooey (see: Nixon, Southern Strategy) but it’s an unqualified good thing for all GOP stalwarts to hear that kind of uplifting stuff, if only to stop thinking about guns and gay marriage for a moment, and to be asked to stretch their political views to include compassion for the less blessed. Kashkari’s embrace of the Vergara case is a substantive and important issue that draws a clear line between D’s and R’s. And it can’t hurt to have two parties at least vaguely concerned about working families, instead of just one.

After he loses to the aged Gov. Gandalf in November, we’ll watch to see if Xerxes of Kashkari, pictured above, continues to work inside the California GOP to push it toward reason. If he does, we’ll agree that we were premature in our judgment about his mission. If not, well: Toldja!

Bottom line. Dear Mr. Kashkari: We’re really, really sorry we hurt your feelings. We promise never to do it again.

PS: Kashkari wasn’t the only Republican to snap at Calbuzz over the weekend. On Friday, at the welcome reception, we noticed a little old man that few other reporters recognized — the Rev. Lou Sheldon — had just endorsed Neel, who is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, issues on which Sheldon had led virulent Christian crusades against within the California GOP for years. The Rev had even endorsed right-wing nutball Tim Donnelly in the primary. So we asked him if he was giving Kash a pass on social issues. “When you’re starving, crumbs taste darn good,” he said (suggesting Neel is pretty much table scraps.) David Siders of the Sacratomato Bee caught part of the interchange and posted it. Here’s the link.

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There are 9 comments for this post

  1. avatar RobertJMolnar says:

    I especially enjoyed his video where he calls Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner racists….

  2. avatar Silent Sleuth says:

    You fellas have once again left me breathless with spewed coffee all over my laptop. I can only say I wish I’d been there to see this throwdown.

  3. avatar Chris Reed says:

    The Vergara ruling builds off the incendiary premise that teacher unions are bad for California’s minority students. I would love to hear you guys weigh in on this — doing something meaty instead of just mocking easy targets. You’re really good at mocking folks. But Vergara is a big issue worth your time.

  4. avatar sqrjn says:

    Hilarious. Maybe you guys ought to invest in a couple body cameras or at least practice the quick draw on your smart phones.

  5. avatar California_2014 says:

    Check out the speech Ashley Swearengin made to encourage fellow women of the Republican Party http://youtu.be/DY8ZvmQxpSY

  6. avatar Mark Paul says:

    “We are the party fighting for civil rights, we are the party fighting for the poor, we are the party fighting for working families.” Which explains why they are pushing voter ID laws to disenfranchise African Americans, blocking a minimum wage increase, and opposing Medicaid expansion in many states? It takes more than words to rebrand a party. Neel should read Michael Wolraich’s Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics to see how it’s done. Lord knows he doesn’t have anything else useful to do in the next six weeks.

  7. avatar meneush says:

    Thanks for the entertaining article, which also demonstrates the internet equivalent of ‘picking a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel’. Neel K, hopefully, represents evolution of the Repub message, so long distracted with guns/reproduction/classism, and we’re all fortunate that he’s making the vast effort in spite of overwhelming odds. His reaction, amid pervasive political cynicism, suggests he actually seems to care…

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      And Calbuzz doesn’t even buy ink!

    • avatar RobertJMolnar says:

      that sure sounds nice and fluffy and stuff, but voter registration numbers out today show the “transformational” effort by Kashkari has so far driven 70k voters from the republican party since May.

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