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The Great Communicator?

Rutherford fracas points to two-speed political messaging

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Last week, I wrote a guest editorial criticizing the failure of my representative in Congress, John Rutherford, to vote for a House resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria. The withdrawal was clearly conceived to allow Turkish forces to invade Kurdish-occupied northern Syria. The move was widely seen as a betrayal of our wartime allies, the Kurds.

After publication, Rutherford’s press secretary contacted Folio Weekly to complain because I had stated—incorrectly, in his opinion—that Rutherford did not explain his vote to constituents. Apparently, his office had issued a tweet and an email newsletter in the wake of the resolution vote. The question: Are tweets and opt-in newsletters—which are really data-gathering tools for political operations—any substitute for press releases, town halls and transparent, “open-source” information? I mean, Rutherford’s position on the Syria resolution is not even discernable on his website, unless you scour the embedded Twitter widget. Assuming you use Twitter.

This points to one of the problems of today’s politics. There’s a two-speed messaging system: one for insiders and supporters, and another for the rest of us. Rutherford might have explained his position to his Twitter followers and newsletter subscribers, but not to his constituents.

Then there’s the substance of his Syria position. Rutherford’s defense of his vote is confusing and unconvincing, as many Twitter users commented. He begins by tweeting that members of Congress were being asked to vote on the resolution criticizing Trump for abandoning the Kurds before they had received a classified briefing from any military and intelligence leaders. Does Rutherford really need to have a comprehensive briefing before he can decide whether or not he is going to support an ally who has lost 11,000 fighters helping U.S. forces defeat ISIS? Does he really need a briefing before he can decide whether to condemn a move that has allowed the Turks to drive 130,000 Kurds from their homes and kill 60 Kurdish civilians and 121 Kurdish fighters?

Rutherford states that he has been an “unwavering supporter” of the Kurds and that he has co-sponsored legislation to impose sanctions on Turkey for attacking them. Such sanctions would be completely useless now because Turkey has already driven the Kurds out. This is why the resolution condemns Trump’s erroneous decision to allow this to happen. If our troops had remained in Syria, there is no way that Turkey would have invaded. Simply put, the imposition of sanctions would be too little, too late. In any case, the president wouldn’t sign on to any sanctions.

Finally, Rutherford suggests that the resolution was just a partisan attempt to impugn the Commander-in-Chief. If that is the case, then why did two-thirds of all GOP House members vote for the resolution? Why was it supported by our Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, Trump’s waterboy, supported the resolution condemning Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds.

Once again, Rutherford has shown his contempt for his own constituents. Regarding those who support Trump, Rutherford simply does not believe that any would support even the smallest criticism of “our Commander-in-Chief.” Frankly, that is an insult to the intelligence of the voters in his district. Those who are Trump supporters understand that you can still criticize him for a mistake in judgment.

Now the voters in Florida’s Fourth Congressional District have a choice. Former news anchor Donna Deegan has decided to challenge Rutherford for his seat. Deegan is a popular figure in Jacksonville, well known for three courageous battles against breast cancer and a series of fundraiser marathons to benefit cancer research. As a result of her personal experiences, Deegan says that she is going to make healthcare a signature feature of her campaign.

Rutherford has cause to be concerned. In the 2018 gubernatorial contest, Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum won Duval County. The other parts of Rutherford’s district, in Nassau and St. Johns counties, include the type of suburban communities that commonsense Democratic politicians have been winning lately. The Democratic Party might be able to give the GOP a run for its money this time.

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Bork is a Jacksonville-based attorney with more than 20 years’ experience.

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