Dana Rohrabacher: Chairman of the Trolling Caucus

Obama is a fascist—and other interesting opinions shared by the California Republican through 6,000 tweets.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., right, gives thumbs-up as his U.S. congressional delegation arrive at the prime minister's official residence to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo Monday, Sept. 2, 2013. 
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Sept. 24, 2013, 5:13 p.m.

After mid­night, long after his wife and kids have gone to bed, Rep. Dana Rohra­bach­er can of­ten be found hunched over his iPad, tap­ping out a mes­sage on Twit­ter. 

Some­times he’s call­ing Pres­id­ent Obama a fas­cist or ac­cus­ing “lib­er­al ra­cists” of mud­dy­ing pub­lic policy with con­sid­er­a­tion of skin col­or. Oth­er times he’s squab­bling with glob­al warm­ing “alarm­ists” or de­bat­ing the finer points of Amer­ica’s policies abroad.

More than per­haps any oth­er mem­ber of Con­gress, Rohra­bach­er has dived, key­board first, in­to the back-and-forth fray of de­bat­ing an­onym­ous Twit­ter users. His habits make the con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an from Or­ange County, Cal­if., either the coun­try’s most re­spons­ive so­cial-me­dia con­gress­man or an ar­gu­ment-junkie in need of a quick, on­line fix — or both.

He’s the chair­man of the Trolling Caucus, a man whose Twit­ter page re­sembles many of the more quar­rel­some corners of the In­ter­net — ex­cept that it’s cur­ated by a con­gress­man. Rohra­bach­er loves it. His life’s motto, carved in­to a wooden plaque in his con­gres­sion­al of­fice and prin­ted on his Twit­ter back­ground, reads “Fight­ing for Free­dom and hav­ing fun.”

“If I’m up and about or whatever and I find my­self awake, I’ll just sit down to re­lax and go through my twit­ters,” Rohra­bach­er tells Na­tion­al Journ­al.

He has penned more than 6,000 tweets, but un­like most in Con­gress who seek a wide audi­ence for their thoughts, Rohra­bach­er aims the vast ma­jor­ity of his mi­cro-missives at par­tic­u­lar fol­low­ers, en­ga­ging in days-long, me­an­der­ing de­bates that are a mix of name-call­ing and policy dis­putes.

For Rohra­bach­er, Twit­ter harkens back to his days as a youth at Long Beach State in the 1960s, when he leaf­leted con­ser­vat­ive lit­er­at­ure and, out­numbered, spent his time shout­ing down left­ist and Marx­ist stu­dents in the cam­pus quad. “I nev­er had a bet­ter time in my whole life,” he says.

The 66-year-old Re­pub­lic­an, who served as a speech­writer for Pres­id­ent Re­agan and has been in Con­gress since 1989, says Twit­ter has been the closest thing he’s come to that ‘60s ex­per­i­ence ever since. He com­pares the 140-char­ac­ter com­bat to the thrill of a chess play­er jug­gling 10 matches in the park at once.

“In­tel­lec­tu­al com­pet­i­tion,” as he calls it, in the pub­lic square, though many of the threads are far from that.

“U R look­ing in a mir­ror,” Rohra­bach­er tweeted at a user named @or­ganik­beaver, after the per­son called the con­gress­man a “#Fartknock­er” this Janu­ary.

@or­ganik­beaver U R look­ing in a mir­ror. I have mean­ing­ful & re­ward­ing dis­cus­sions with people with whom I dis­agree all the time

— Dana Rohra­bach­er (@DanaRohra­bach­er) Janu­ary 8, 2013

Rohra­bach­er says he prefers “Twit­ter de­bates by far” to those in the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives be­cause the mi­crob­log­ging site en­sures the kind of brev­ity his con­gres­sion­al col­leagues are loath to em­brace. Twit­ter, he says, “forces the dis­cip­line of people to fo­cus on the cent­ral is­sue, and in de­bates in Con­gress, they’re dan­cing around on peri­phery is­sues all the time, wast­ing time.”

Rohra­bach­er is at it at all hours—dur­ing the work­day, in the middle of the night, and the week­end. “You’re there do­ing it sit­ting the middle of your house, wait­ing for every­body, get­ting ready for the clock to strike 12 in or­der to start the New Year’s cel­eb­ra­tion,” he says.

That is not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. He was tweet­ing throughout the night last New Year’s Eve.

The odd hours have spurred ac­cus­a­tions that he’s been drunk. Not so, he says. “I may be a little groggy from wak­ing up in the middle of the night and be­ing awake for a half an hour and do­ing a tweet or two, but it’s noth­ing to do with al­co­hol,” he in­sists.

His wife, and staff, would just as soon prefer he cut him­self off.

“She has to grab me by the arm and say, ‘Come on now, get out the door and get the kids to church,’ ” says Rohra­bach­er, who is the fath­er of 9-year-old triplets.

He spars on­line over just about everything, but tends to grav­it­ate to­ward abor­tion, glob­al warm­ing (he’s on the sci­ence com­mit­tee), and Pakistan (he’s on the for­eign af­fairs pan­el too). This Janu­ary, he got in­to a five-day bout about the defin­i­tions of so­cial­ism, and of fas­cism—which he in­sists is close to the policies pur­sued by Obama. (It was this thread that in­cluded the “#Fartknock­er” re­join­der.)

“Obama & cronies= clas­sic Fas­cism minus pat­ri­ot­ic jin­go­ism,” wrote Rohra­bach­er dur­ing the de­bate.

@The_Tommy_Hough @KatHeine­mann @hal­do­nahue @livecut @dav­idm­haley not so­cial­ist. Obama & cronies= clas­sic Fas­cism minus pat­ri­ot­ic jin­go­ism

— Dana Rohra­bach­er (@DanaRohra­bach­er) Janu­ary 4, 2013

He went on to liken the cur­rent Amer­ic­an Left to Hitler’s Nazi Ger­many. “Try­ing to ig­nore Hitler’s eco­nom­ic stat­ism won’t make it’s sim­il­ar­it­ies to today’s lib/left big gov agenda dis­ap­pear,” he wrote. The tweet was time-stamped 11:48 p.m. on a Fri­day, Cali­for­nia time.

“First fas­cism in­ter­twines gov & na­tion, then ex­pands & cent­ral­izes power of gov. Obama’s $ tril­lion bail­outs good ex­ample,” he ad­ded three days later.

Rohra­bach­er stands by his tweets. “Fas­cism is when you have the gov­ern­ment con­trol of everything and then you have cronyism at the top. I stand by that—that is ex­actly the right ana­lys­is of what cur­rently we see in the Demo­crat­ic Party,” he says.

Most of his con­tro­ver­sial tweets fly past un­noticed. Un­less someone goes spin­ning through his archives, his tweets are only seen by the par­tic­u­lar people he’s mes­saging and those who already fol­low both the con­gress­man and the re­cip­i­ent of his tweets.

Last month, for in­stance, Rohra­bach­er tweeted, “I don’t think about race when for­mu­lat­ing policy. I will leave that to lib­er­al ra­cists.”

He did get some un­wel­come at­ten­tion this sum­mer for writ­ing that he would “de­fund white trash” in a dis­cus­sion about im­mig­ra­tion. He says he was simply us­ing the same lan­guage of the per­son who mes­saged him. He took to Twit­ter, of course, to de­fend him­self, writ­ing in one mes­sage, “‘trash’ not word I use 2 de­scribe people. used lib ques­tion­er’s words in my an­swer. typ­ic­al left­ist mis­rep­res­ent­a­tion.”

@ga_bree_ella would de­fund white trash, but not our vets , seni­ors & oth­er de­serving Amer­ic­ans 2 provide be­ne­fits 2 those here il­leg­ally

— Dana Rohra­bach­er (@DanaRohra­bach­er) Au­gust 6, 2013

Among those de­bat­ing with Rohra­bach­er, name-call­ing of­ten en­sues, as it did dur­ing the fas­cism de­bate. “You sir are a [ex­plet­ive] idi­ot,” wrote @or­ganik­beaver, at one point.

Rohra­bach­er doesn’t with­draw at such lan­guage but re­sponds with lec­tures. “Ur vul­gar lan­guage & per­son­al at­tacks take away from any point U wish to make and does not speak well of your in­tel­li­gence,” he wrote back.

He ap­pears to rel­ish the ho­lier-than-thou card.

“Frankly, about half my job on the Twit­ter is to point out to people that they are not mak­ing their case and that by call­ing names they ac­tu­ally call in­to ques­tion their own in­tel­lec­tu­al cap­ab­il­it­ies and not mine,” Rohra­bach­er says. “I would say I’ve reached quite a few people that way.”

Lately, cli­mate change has been the hot top­ic. “Glob­al warm­ing has been one of my fa­vor­ites be­cause I’m up against people who have re­li­gious fer­vor about something they haven’t really stud­ied about and have just taken clichés and run with them,” Rohra­bach­er says.

Earli­er this month, for in­stance, he sep­ar­ately sent 28 people a link to a blog post on cli­mate change en­titled, “Lef­tarded Alarm­ists Con­tin­ue To Demon­strate Their Ut­ter Stu­pid­ity In Link­ing Everything To Glob­al Warm­ing! And They Owe An Apo­logy To Rohra­bach­er!!!”

“What do you think about this?” he wrote to each of his Twit­ter com­batants.

“I don’t think I was egging them on,” he says of his mes­sage. “That art­icle had an enorm­ous amount of doc­u­mented in­form­a­tion about the fre­quency of fires, the rain­fall, and tem­per­at­ures of Cali­for­nia.”

Rohra­bach­er, who hasn’t amassed much in­flu­ence in his 25 years in Con­gress, says he’s en­er­gized by the con­stant chance to en­gage “not just a bunch of politicos but or­din­ary people.”

“If you let the mean­ness and the name-call­ing get to you, well, then you wouldn’t stay around long,” he says.

He was back tweet­ing about his vot­ing re­cord and health be­ne­fits a few hours later.

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