Rep. Robert K. Dornan, a conservative Republican renowned in Congress for his impassioned attacks on President Clinton, abortion rights and homosexuality, formally announced Thursday he will seek the presidency to try to halt “the moral decay that is rotting the heart and soul of our country.”
Dornan, 62, a former fighter pilot who has represented the heart of California’s Orange County in the House for 17 years, acknowledged to a sparse crowd at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial that he is a long shot to win the GOP presidential nomination.
But he vowed to advance his cause by drawing his GOP rivals into a debate on the nation’s social woes.
“America is poisoning itself,” Dornan said. “We are destroying this God-blessed nation, and I’m going to carry that message to as many states as I can.’
A strong supporter of the U.S. military, Dornan also asserted that the United States has “an obligation to extend liberty and freedom where we can, where we are able, even at some loss of life to our young men and women.”
He dedicated his campaign “to all those friends of mine whom I flew with in peacetime in the happy, innocent Eisenhower years and disappeared into the mist of Southeast Asia” during the Vietnam War.
In his largely unscripted and often rambling announcement, Dornan invoked a mass cast of historical figures, from ancient philosophers to the Founding Fathers to modern poets and politicians.
“We have a polluted public marketplace,” he said. “We have a debased culture in Hollywood that ridicules and assaults religion and tears valor and hope and virtue out of our country.”
He angrily criticized “the cultural meltdown” in the United States that prompts “terrorist countries” to “refer to our crime rate, our disease rate, children shooting children, pornography, the filth of our soap operas, the filth on the talk shows, the filth and blasphemous language, the debasement of our language on all the situation comedies and TV movies, on cable television, the filth.”
Dornan was born in Harlem and raised in Hollywood, a nephew of movie actor Jack Haley, the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.” Dornan was a broadcast journalist and talk show host in Southern California before winning a House seat in 1976. He has served every term since then but one, after he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1982.
Surrounded by his wife, Sallie, their five children and nine grandchildren, Dornan said he would try to dispel his image as a political bomb thrower obsessed with his noncombat Air Force service in the 1950s and with the U.S. role in Vietnam.
Dornan said he chose the law enforcement memorial to announce his candidacy out of concern over how the media would interpret the announcement if he had delivered it at his first choice: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. “If I went where my heart tugged me, the press would say, ‘Dornan can’t let go; he can’t forget Vietnam; he’s doing this to hit at Clinton,”’ he said.
The House reprimanded Dornan earlier this year after he accused Clinton of giving “aid and comfort to the enemy” by avoiding the draft and visiting the Soviet Union during the Vietnam War.