For Harley Rouda, the Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the race for California’s 48th Congressional District, Christmas came in July when the incumbent got duped in an outrageous TV show prank by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.
Rohrabacher and a handful of other current and former Republican lawmakers were sharply criticized this week for appearing in an ad for a made-up school program that would train children as young as preschoolers how to use firearms.
“Arming children in response to an epidemic of gun violence sounds like a good idea to Dana Rohrabacher, which can only mean one thing: Dana Rohrabacher is completely out of good ideas,” Rouda said in a statement released Tuesday.
Cohen, the host of the new series “Who Is America?” on Showtime, disguised himself as an Israeli anti-terrorism expert to elicit support from a handful of Republicans, including Rohrabacher, Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.), former Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.) and former Rep. Joe Walsh (Ill.).
The fictional program, called Kinder Guardians, would train students from preschool through middle school how to use guns.
“Maybe having many young people trained [to] understand how to defend themselves and their school might actually make us safer here,” Rohrabacher said, appearing to read from a cue card.
He shot back after the footage became public this week, saying he was a victim of fraud.
“At no time did I endorse training toddlers in handling guns. Nor was the idea even presented to me directly. If it had been, I would have rejected it,” said Rohrabacher, a 15-term lawmaker. “I love good satire, but good satire must reveal some basis in truth. This was fraud, a sick fraud at that, and its intention was to deceive the American people for political purposes.”
Other politicians joined Rohrabacher in denouncing Cohen and the Showtime network, including Sarah Palin and Roy Moore.
“[Rohrabacher] can try to walk back his comments or call them fake news, but that’s just a sad, cynical move straight out of the tired, politics-as-usual playbook,” Rouda said in his statement. “I am fighting to protect children from gun violence, not put them in crosshairs.”
Rohrabacher, a pro-Russia voice in the House from Southern California, is considered one of Congress’ most vulnerable Republicans in the 2018 midterms. A Monmouth poll released Tuesday shows him closely trailing Rouda.