One of the ultimate ironies of Hillary Clinton's defeat at the hands of Donald Trump may come with the ascendance of Nathan Fletcher to a county supervisor’s seat in San Diego.
Far from Washington’s beltway, the ex-Republican, turned independent, and current Democrat Fletcher has long enjoyed munificent financial backing from Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs and his son Paul, executive chairman of the chip-making giant, also two of Clinton's most well-heeled mainstays.
The wealthy senior La Jollan built his high-tech fortune during the reign of president Bill Clinton, employing big-money lobbying on behalf of international trade and immigration agreements, along with radical growth of visa numbers for foreign engineers now possibly jeopardized by the rise of Trump and related blowback from the heartland.
But though Clinton's fall may for now be a net negative for the Democratic billionaire, the new Republican president has emerged as a ripe target of opportunity for Fletcher, whose previous two tries at becoming mayor of San Diego failed to catch on with voters here, despite hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in his campaigns by Jacobs and company.
Though he has previously dismissed reports he covets the San Diego supervisorial position being vacated by Republican Ron Roberts next year, Fletcher's rising profile on Twitter and the national media, along with his widely publicized New Year’s Day wedding to Democratic assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, have convinced political insiders of all stripes that he and Jacobs have set their sights firmly on the Fourth District.
Fletcher's proto-campaign has recently blossomed in the form of opinion pieces appearing under his byline in both the Union-Tribune and Voice of San Diego, the local online and opinion operation bankrolled by Jacobs.
A January piece by Fletcher in the Voice, describing him as "a Marine Corps combat veteran and former member of the California Assembly who currently serves as a professor of practice in political science at the University of California, San Diego,” failed to mention his controversial history as a $220,000-a-year executive at Qualcomm.
On Friday, February 24, the Union-Tribune posted another op-ed by Fletcher, blasting Trump for jeopardizing national security and the well-being of servicemembers.
The piece identified Fletcher as "a U.S. Marines [sic] combat veteran, a professor of practice in political science at UC San Diego and a former member of the California Assembly representing the 75th District." Like the Voice, the paper omitted any reference to his Qualcomm career.
Jake Tapper tweet
Within hours, a link to the U-T item was circulated on twitter by Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent, with the headline, "Trump order drops protection for families of deployed military, by @nathanfletcher.”
Tweeted Fletcher: "Appreciate @jaketapper sharing story of those who serve our country. He has done this for years. Check out his book: Outpost-story of valor."
It isn't the first time Fletcher has somehow managed to catch the attention of the well-moneyed East Coast establishment, which seldom deigns to cast an eye on local San Diego politics.
When he ran for mayor the first time in 2012, Fletcher enjoyed fulsome praise from New York Times columnist David Brooks.
"On Wednesday, in a move reflecting long-term disillusionment and in an effort to shake up the campaign, Fletcher said he is leaving the Republican Party. He is becoming an independent," wrote Brooks. (The Fletcher video link provided by the columnist is now marked private on YouTube.)
Later that spring, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a newly minted refugee from Republicanism, announced in a May 31, 2012, statement that he favored Fletcher.
Though it wasn't mentioned, Bloomberg is a longtime associate of Irwin Jacobs, with whom he concocted an intrigue-filled, billion-dollar-plus deal to develop Roosevelt Island off Manhattan for what ultimately became the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, part of the Cornell Tech complex, in partnership with Israel's Technion institute of technology.
Jacobs and wife Joan, both Cornell alumni, came up with a $133 million "naming gift" for the project in April 2013.
Following his third-place finish for mayor in June 2012, Fletcher was hired by Qualcomm that November as its senior director of corporate development.
In keeping with the politics of Jacobs and family, Fletcher transferred his loyalties to the Democratic party six months later, in May 2013.
Nathan Fletcher, with Karl Rove, in the Republican days
Since then, the former North City Republican and onetime member of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council and Karl Rove endorsee, has hewed closely to the Jacobs party line.
His criticism of Trump regarding immigration enforcement and military policy surfaced earlier this year in an open letter to the president, signed by Fletcher and other veterans, and posted online by the Center for American Progress.
The Washington think tank has been financially backed, to the tune of at least $200,000 from Joan and Irwin Jacobs, according to Politico.
Despite his carpetbagger status — county records show he sold the University City residence once shared with ex-spouse and former George W. Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker last November and is recently reported to be living in City Heights with his present wife — Fletcher could benefit from a campaign by Jacobs and friends that critics say would shower district charitable and neighborhood groups with cash.
That would be similar to the way in which San Diego GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer has used his One San Diego nonprofit to polish his reputation in the city's poorer neighborhoods by handing out free Thanksgiving turkeys, among other good deeds.
That troubles those who have been counting on the departure of Roberts to finally open the Fourth District seat — once held by the county's first and only black supervisor, Leon Williams — to minority candidates.