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When Nathan Fletcher left the Republican Party a year ago, he pushed to get the news into statewide and national media where, divorced from the day-to-day news in a tense mayor’s race, it fed a narrative of disgust with a party many saw as intolerant of diversity and compromise.

Fletcher’s media move succeeded. He flew to New York and got David Brooks to write a piece in The New York Times. Brooks, a well-read pundit who fancies himself a pragmatic conservative, called Fletcher a “center-right moderate.”

Fletcher was working hard to prove to the media and voters that he hadn’t changed. His principles, his policies, his approach were all the same, he insisted. It was the Grand Old Party that had changed, and he wasn’t going to try to conform to it any longer.

He went with a “plague on both parties” message. It was an attempt to align himself with the many voters who refused to identify with either the Democratic or Republican Party.

In a video announcing the move, he said he had gotten into politics to solve problems, not play a game.

That’s why today I’m leaving partisan politics. I’m leaving an environment that thrives on playing the game. I’m leaving behind a system that is completely dysfunctional. I’m embracing an independence to focus solely on solutions on working with people if their ideas are good and focus solely on advancing the interest of our city, not a political party.

 Then, Saturday, a year after that move toward independence, he sent a note to his donors and supporters announcing he will join the Democratic Party.

And forget all that —he had, in fact, changed.

“It is hard to dispute the Republican Party has changed over the last decade — in many ways the party has left me. But it is also true that during the same time I have changed as well,” he wrote in the note to donors that he also posted on Facebook. He declined an interview request.

He said he’d made the decision based on a conversation with a friend, a Marine, and another, a lawmaker in Myanmar, who had bluntly told him that it was weak and unprincipled to not be a part of any party.

Fletcher framed it as decision to reveal something that he was too worried to share. When the Marine friend asked why he had been a Republican, he said this:

It was because I thought their policies provided the best access to the American Dream. I no longer believe that is true. In my opinion, the GOP today is more focused on protecting those who have already achieved the American Dream than allowing others access to it.

 So what’s so great about Democrats?

Fletcher wrote that he watched Bill Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and couldn’t figure out anything he disagreed with. He would never say, as he ran for mayor, in fact, that he would vote for Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate and La Jolla resident who had given him the maximum donation possible.

It’s hard to say whether Fletcher would still consider himself a “moderate conservative” as Brooks had couched him.

The only hint he gave to his new principles was in this passage about creating opportunity:

That means ensuring all children can access a quality education, afford college, and ensuring a strong middle class that the poor can not only aspire to reach but have a realistic shot at joining. … Access to American Dream means real solutions on issues like immigration and healthcare. It means that all people regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation enjoy equal rights and equal treatment.

Obviously, there’s a political calculation going on as well. After he left, Fletcher was not welcome back in the Republican Party and did not want to go back anyway. A longtime consultant characterized to me that parties are like gangs: They treat betrayal personally. 

Fletcher’s obviously an ambitious politician and he will run for office again.

So he had two choices: He could embrace the daunting challenge of building an independent network of political support. As attractive as this was to many, it was a remarkable challenge. He’d have had to create a movement from scratch with a high probability of failure.

Or he could forgo all that hassle and join the Democrats, who had managed to elect a Democratic mayor and were beaming.

As he noted himself, Fletcher’s news was welcomed by both parties. Democrats are thrilled to have a new star in their lineup; Republicans are thrilled to know definitively they made the right decision to ostracize him and endorse his rival, Carl DeMaio, in the mayor’s race.

Local Republicans had weathered immense criticism for not working harder to keep people like Fletcher under the big tent. Now they can say that, by his own admission, he wasn’t one of them.

Pollster John Nienstedt (who has worked for DeMaio) put it like this:

“Fletcher making SDGOP Cent Comm members look very very smart last year. They knew him better than he knew himself.”

Both Fletcher and DeMaio have worked hard to stay in people’s minds since losing the mayor’s race. Every few weeks, there’s a hint that DeMaio will run for Congress against Fletcher’s new friend, Democratic Rep. Scott Peters.

It’s not clear what Fletcher’s trying to do.

If he is, as he said in his Facebook post, as happy as he’s ever been working as a leader at Qualcomm and teaching at UCSD, it’s unclear why he’d want to make a big deal about switching parties.

If he were as happy as ever, that might be a clue to stay out of politics.

But Fletcher’s a baseball player. He’s a Marine. These aren’t independent efforts. He can’t stand being out of the game.

It’ll be interesting to see how he plays on this team.

Here’s some of the many reactions on Twitter to the news:

Proud of Nathan Fletcher and his decision to join the Democratic Party. I know he will continue his commitment towards working families.

— Mickey Kasparian (@MickeyKasparian) May 4, 2013

So proud of @nathanfletcher…today a Democrat, but always a caring, giving person who is truly making a difference facebook.com/nathan.fletche…

— Mel Katz (@melkatzsd) May 4, 2013

No principles RT @jenkuhney: In a move that surprises no one, @nathanfletcher officially becomes a Democrat. ow.ly/1VRx66

— Francis Barraza (@FrancisBarraza) May 4, 2013

Nathan Fletcher needs to get over himself.#nobodycares

— Matt Rexroad (@MattRexroad) May 4, 2013

@mattrexroad You can say that, but we didn’t do a presentation in 2012 that didn’t include discussion of @nathanfletcher

— Paul Mitchell (@paulmitche11) May 4, 2013

When you’re a politician who takes & spends other people’s money based on your “heart” & not principles of governance utsandiego.com/news/2013/may/…

— Kevin Dayton (@DaytonPubPolicy) May 4, 2013

Wow! So proud of my good friend @nathanfletcher #WelcomeToTheParty facebook.com/nathan.fletche…

— Lorena Gonzalez (@LorenaSGonzalez) May 4, 2013

Welcome to the Party, Nate!Nathan Fletcher becomes a Democrat utsandiego.com/news/2013/may/… via @utsandiego

— Asm. Luis Alejo (@AsmLuisAlejo) May 4, 2013

Ex-GOP Asm. Nathan Fletcher, who turned indy 4 failed S’Diego mayor bid, today goes Dem. Now private citizen, public pronouncement curious..

— John Myers (@johnmyers) May 4, 2013

@johnmyers his email to supporters said he wanted them to hear “directly from me.” Plus, it’s doubtful he’s on the sidelines for long.

— Christopher Cadelago (@ccadelago) May 4, 2013

Yet another failed aspiring career politician. RT @mattrexroad: Nathan Fletcher needs to get over himself. #nobodycares #CATCOT

— Lionel Largaespada (@llargaespada) May 4, 2013

I respect @nathanfletcher‘s move to DEM, but his Myanmar/DTS example supports the false narrative of a binary world. bit.ly/13ULKJJ

— Ken Barnes (@kenjbarnes1) May 4, 2013

Fletcher making SDGOP Cent Comm members look very very smart last year.They knew him better than he knew himself. tinyurl.com/c7b5eom

— John Nienstedt (@CompetitivEdge) May 4, 2013

Excited to welcome my friend Nathan Fletcher to the Democratic Party… fb.me/I7YPmJC6

— Chris Kelly (@thatchriskelly) May 4, 2013

Hey @nathanfletcher best of luck in your new home. I hope it provides you all the opportunities the GOP didn’t offer.

— Reed Galen (@reedgalen) May 4, 2013

@nathanfletcher now becomes a small fish in a very big pond.

— Jon Cross (@joncross4) May 4, 2013

I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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