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
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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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