Last week U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro accused President Donald Trump of "fueling a campaign of hate" and "white nationalism" with his rhetoric about immigration — which, as the Texas Democrat sees it, led to the massacre in El Paso.
Castro maintains that Trump's backers are guilty by extension. He thought he could shame them into rethinking support for the president by releasing the names of 44 people in his San Antonio district — a collection of business owners, retirees and self-identified homemakers — who had donated to Trump's re-election campaign.
Instead Castro, who doubles as campaign manager for his twin brother Julián, a 2020 presidential candidate, produced a moment worthy of a Homer Simpsonesque "Doh!" — and in the worst case, may have opened the door to shutting off access to public information.
As noted by the Washington Examiner, a conservative news website, six people on the list had also contributed to the campaigns of both Castros. Three had donated to Joaquin Castro's re-election bid. Another three said they financially backed Julián Castro when he ran for mayor of San Antonio. The second trio included a manufacturing company owner who had once hosted a Castro fundraiser in his home, raising $300,000. Publicizing the list demonstrated an absence of gratitude or self-awareness, and made Castro seem petty, at the expense of his own supporters.
Meanwhile, the move further backfired because a lawyer among the "Texas 44," as those on the list refer to themselves, told the Examiner that some of them and their friends had raised $1 million for Trump's campaign immediately after Castro circulated the names.
Those results are problems for the Castros specifically. Another potential adverse reaction could affect the political system at large.
Many of Castro's defenders point out that the information about the donors is publicly available. That's true. But Castro surely understood the potential reaction in this hostile political climate.
Angry liberal mobs have protested at the homes of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell and presidential adviser Stephen Miller. They've confronted Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and former Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in restaurants. And, in the worst case scenarios, radicals leftists have shot up a baseball field filled with GOP lawmakers, nearly assassinating one congressman, and have attacked an ICE facility in Tacoma.
In other words, they've not been shy about getting in the face of those they despise.
So, it would not be surprising if, under the assertion of enhancing public safety, Republican lawmakers begin calling for restricting the release of, or access to, information about campaign contributors. And here's an example of what could bolster their case.
After Castro's nonsense blew up, Rick Wilson, a GOP political consultant from Florida and devout Trump hater, noted on Twitter, "when I came out against Trump, his political allies and his pet media organs when (sic) after me, my family, and my company and clients. We've lived with three years of death threats and harassment." Wilson added, "Donor records are symmetrical information. No one has an advantage or disadvantage in accessing them. ... If that has market consequences for you, oh well."
Lawmakers could cite Castro and Wilson in proposing blocking disclosure of donor information to protect innocent people from hateful cretins on both sides — or from vengeful politicians seeking to score points with their base while also fanning flames of hate. The seeds for this are being sown.
Writing Monday about Castro on the website of the conservative magazine National Review, political consultant Jeremy Carl noted, "Our current disclosure laws threaten public safety, allow political shakedowns, and punish those who are not in sync with the priorities of the political establishment. The sooner that laws are passed to protect donor privacy at both the state and the federal level, the stronger our political system will be."
The Washington Post declares "democracy dies in darkness." Democrats may not mind what Castro did; some may even applaud it. Still, they could soon face a quandary: help lower the shroud over government information, or explain to their donors why contempt for Trump outweighs exposing them to perpetually escalating political tension.