When I first met John Eastman, he was what was considered a respectable Republican voice in Orange County.
When I was training with him on a public affairs program on local television about a decade ago, I noticed his wide, almost mischievous smile.
Contrary to his reputation as a conservative fire breather, he seemed more jeering than snappy. It offered nothing intellectual, nothing sharp – just the usual mishmash of Tea Party Republicans of the time.
A former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Eastman was the Dean of Law School at my alma mater, Chapman University, and ran unsuccessfully for California Attorney General in 2010.
His legal citations appeared in local newspapers, including this one. He and noted legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky had a weekly feature entitled “The Smart Guys” on the nationally syndicated radio show of fellow OC conservative Hugh Hewitt.
But eventually Eastman changed for the worse. The man I remember advising Orange County regulators on pension reform became a real culture warrior.
For the past decade, the professor has campaigned against same-sex marriage and abortion rights for non-profit organizations and gained a following in national-conservative circles. He slid ever deeper to the fringes of the right, to the point that in 2020 he wrote a much-ridiculed Newsweek op-ed piece arguing that Kamala Harris was out of the running for vice president because both of her parents were immigrants.
His name kept popping up on my social media feeds, but as of January 6, 2021, I hadn’t given him any further thought.
That’s when he took the stage at the Stop the Steal rally near the US Capitol looking like a Batman villain: tan trench coat, brown slouch hat that failed to hide his wiry white hair, paisley scarf that complemented his ruddy face, and the same big smile I remembered from a long time ago that suddenly looked sinister.
Even more nefarious was the Machiavellian plan he devised to subvert a presidential election.
Eastman presented his case after Rudy Giuliani introduced him as one of “the pre-eminent constitutional scholars in the United States.”
Using angry words and finger-pokes, he claimed that widespread voter fraud forced Vice President Mike Pence to reject that day’s Electoral College count.
We all know what came next. A year and a half later, we are still suffering the legal and spiritual fallout from that attempted coup — a constitutional crisis a House Special Committee is examining in hearings this month.
Among the people you called to testify? Ostman.
In a videotaped statement released last week, the smiling schemer of the past is no more. A dejected, slovenly Eastman invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination 100 times, according to committee member Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands).
Emails have surfaced detailing how Eastman unsuccessfully asked Giuliani if Trump could pardon him from a possible criminal investigation. A federal judge in April said Eastman’s plans were “a coup in search of a legal theory” and that their “illegality … was evident.”
Eastman’s comeuppance has drawn national coverage and ridicule. His fall is also significant on the ground. It’s one of the last gasps for one of the most insidious and influential freak shows in American politics: the Orange County conservatives.
For decades, this Southern California archetype — conspiratorial, bigoted, and greedy — helped transform the Lincoln party into today’s dumpster fire.
OC donations and manpower helped get local boy Richard Nixon and adopted son Ronald Reagan into the White House, ensuring the John Birch Society became QAnon’s grandfather.
The OC Republicans turned immigrant bashing into a winning electoral strategy. True believers went through graduate school from local offices before they made it into the heyday of Sacramento and Washington, and spouted so much nonsense from their prominent seats that Fortune Magazine—hardly a progressive publication—once called my home district “Crazy Country.” .
OC conservatism won – until it didn’t anymore. It ruined the Republican Party in California so badly that the GOP in Sacramento has been an afterthought for almost a generation. And through Eastman, the remnants of that movement nearly destroyed our democracy.
Like a parasite taking over a host, it transformed the man from an ordinary law professor into a cautionary tale.
Eastman was never a prominent figure in the Orange County Republican Party. But his culture wars became his. Addressing the crowd on Jan. 6, he embodied the OC GOP’s religion of whining and grudges.
In an earlier era, Eastman’s newfound fame would have made him an OC folk hero.
Instead, Chapman University effectively forced Eastman to retire a week after his Jan. 6 speech, following an outcry from students and professors.
Few prominent local conservatives have spoken out in his defence. Eastman is reduced to lamenting his fate before anyone hears him. At one of his last public appearances, in March at Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel, he was in front of just over 100 people.
Crazy conservatives still exist in Orange County. Trustees at the local Department of Education have squandered millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars on unsuccessful lawsuits against Gov. Gavin Newsom over his COVID-19 policies. Pandejos City councils and school boards have stormed over mask and vaccination requirements and demanded that classrooms ban critical race theory and ethnic studies. Dozens of OK residents poured into and around the US Capitol on January 6; Some have already pleaded guilty to various crimes.
Congresswoman Michelle Steel, who missed electoral college certification Jan. 6 because she had COVID-19, has repeatedly declined to answer questions about how she would have voted that day.
But as each election cycle passes and Orange County becomes more diverse, the old-school OC Conservative becomes more and more a relic of a bygone era.
This is, after all, a place that voted against Trump in 2016 and 2020, whose congressional delegation is majority Democratic, and whose Republican representatives are Korean-American women.
John: We hardly knew you.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-20/john-eastman-orange-county-conservative-january-6 Column: John Eastman’s journey from respectable O.C. Republican to Batman villain