Dan Morain

Scott Jones on Trump: Facing the fundamental question of 2016

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones announced his congressional candidacy in November 2015.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones announced his congressional candidacy in November 2015. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones lists many reasons why he is running for Congress, and virtually all come back to President Barack Obama’s failures, as he sees them.

The Republican candidate in what will be one of the year’s most costly congressional races says Obama is lax on terrorist threats, the vetting of immigrants, and illegal immigration.

Jones says lenient immigration policies allowed Mexican national Luis Enriquez Monroy Bracamontes to repeatedly slip across the border and kill two sheriffs deputies, Danny Oliver and Michael Davis Jr., in a Motel 6 parking lot in 2014.

“I don’t think this president either understands or is willing to acknowledge the threats that exists,” Jones says.

Jones’ critique of Obama is at the heart of his campaign against Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, for California’s 7th Congressional District, which includes Galt, Elk Grove, Fair Oaks and Folsom. But at this time next year, Obama won’t be president, and Donald J. Trump could be sitting in the Oval Office.

Jones faces a question that every Republican congressional candidate running in any swing district in the country, and every Republican Senate candidate in any purple state must answer. Tell us, what do you think about Trump?

“I’m as much a spectator in this presidential race as anyone else,” Jones said when he visited our editorial board last week.

Hardly. Jones is no spectator. He is a civic and political leader, a second-term sheriff and the GOP’s standard-bearer for one of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s top target races for 2016.

Jones, dancing, offers his political analysis: “He says things in a way, where people are like, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly the way I feel,’ without really deciding the appropriateness of how he is saying things for a person who is going to be president. But I think he kind of connects with people.”

Not particularly insightful or relevant. California’s June primary could determine the outcome of the 2016 GOP nomination, and Jones’ endorsement matters, because Republicans allocate delegates in California based who wins congressional districts. Who will he vote for in June?

“I have honestly not decided who I’m going to vote for in the primary,” he answers.

Can he imagine voting for Trump?

“Well, I have to imagine it. Several months ago, I would have had to say ‘no.’ I really did not believe he would get the nomination. I thought Cruz and or Rubio would continue to ascend. … But fast-forward a few months, I don’t know.”

To figure out what kind of Republican Jones is, I asked if he’s a Ted Cruz Republican, a Marco Rubio Republican, a John Kasich Republican or a Donald Trump Republican, whatever that might be.

“I’m not sure what any of those are. But I can tell you what I am. I am a fiscal conservative. I believe in smaller government, less government, lower taxes. I’m more moderate on the social issues.”

Again, what about Trump?

“I cannot conceive of voting for Hillary Clinton. So, yeah, I would definitely support Trump if he were the nominee,” Jones said.

There are 362,000 registered voters in the Bera-Jones congressional district. At last count, 139,000 are Democrats, 128,000 are Republicans, and 76,000 decline to state a party preference. The race will turn on 10,000 to 12,000 votes in the middle.

In this weird election year, no one can say for certain how Jones’ stand on Trump might affect the outcome. To get a sense, I turned to Republican consultants Rob Stutzman and Doug Elmets.

Stutzman advised Rep. Dan Lungren, the Republican defeated by Bera in 2012. Elmets advised Republican Doug Ose, defeated by Bera in 2014. Ose, a former member of Congress, last week endorsed Trump.

Stutzman believes Jones’ statement will hurt him, though won’t necessarily cost him the election.

“If you support Trump as a nominee, his worst sin will be brought to bear against you,” Stutzman said. “If you say you support him, the other side will wrap that around your neck.”

Elmets believes Ose’s decision to endorse Trump gives Trump some legitimacy with some voters in the district. That, in turn, could help Jones. A Trump candidacy would draw new voters to the polls in 2016, who likely would vote for Jones.

Their analyses aside, Stutzman and Elmets say Trump appalls them.

“I will never, ever vote for Donald Trump under any circumstance,” Elmets said. “He doesn’t represent what is best about America. Nor is he representative of the philosophical foundation of the Republican Party.”

Early in the campaign, Trump ridiculed Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, who had been a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years in North Vietnam. Trump, the rich man’s son who avoided the Vietnam-era draft, had said he has far greater respect for people who didn’t get caught.

Last week, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, accused Trump of being a phony and fraud.

“There is a dark irony in his boasts of his sexual exploits during the Vietnam War. While at the same time, John McCain, whom he has mocked, was imprisoned and tortured,” Romney said.

During a debate last week, Trump continued to boast, proclaiming that he is well-endowed, and displayed what little regard he has for the military, saying military leaders would do what he tells them to do, even if his commands to kill the families of terrorists and torture captives amounted to war crimes.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, candidate for U.S. Congress, says he would never vote for Hillary Clinton. That’s understandable. Many Republican stalwarts would never vote for her. But he would vote for Donald J. Trump. It might even help him win the election. But at what cost?