Editorial: Darrell Issa’s shameful gay-baiting attack ads are the worst kind of time warp

Former Rep. Darrell Issa stepped down from his seat in 2018. He is running now to replace Rep. Duncan Hunter, who resigned after pleading guilty to diverting campaign funds for personal use.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

It’s possible, we suppose, that former Rep. Darrell Issa didn’t realize his TV ad attacking a GOP rival, Carl DeMaio, in the 50th Congressional District primary race could be seen as gay-baiting. The ad, ostensibly about DeMaio’s stance on immigration and President Trump, includes two gratuitous references to the fact that DeMaio is gay.

But others did make the connection, including the chair of the San Diego County Republican Party, who called the ad “highly inappropriate.” For any honorable candidate, this would have been the moment to apologize for any unintentional (assuming it was unintentional) messaging and agree to stop running the ad. Instead, Issa continues to stand by it.

The ad, which started running last week, depicts headlines from two newspaper stories, among other images. The first was pulled from a 2018 article in the Los Angeles Blade: “Carl DeMaio: California’s gay GOP kingmaker.” The other one, “Gay GOP Candidate: Party Must Change,” comes from a story in the Hill in 2013, when DeMaio was running in another congressional race. These headlines have no apparent bearing on the point of the ad, which criticized DeMaio’s lack of fealty to Trumpism, or on the policy differences between the two candidates.


DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman and radio talk show host, is gay and doesn’t hide that fact. But he also doesn’t campaign on it, and it’s entirely possible that some voters in the northeastern San Diego County district are unaware of his sexual orientation. We hope that it won’t affect their votes if they learn about it from the ad, but the sad truth is that homophobia is still an obstacle for gay politicians. And it’s very depressing to think that a candidate would try to capitalize on such discrimination in order to win an election.

This district just emerged a few weeks ago from the disgraceful era of Duncan Hunter, who stepped down from Congress this month after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds. Hunter also exploited inflammatory tropes in attack ads against his Democratic challenger in 2018. It was bad enough that voters in this district rewarded him with another term. They should demand better from whoever replaces him.