There are some wild candidates out on the trail this election season. I can’t remember a time when so many unusual candidates for political office made headlines through what they say and do.
Maybe it’s the length of the campaign season, underway since the beginning of the year, meaning at least 10 months of constant campaigning for a midterm election. Campaigning for the 2016 presidential election was already in progress when Ted Cruz in March 2015 and Hillary Clinton in April became the first announced candidates for each party. By the time we vote this November, we will have been bombarded with political campaigns for about 30 of 42 months.
Our legislators are able to do less, because they campaign more. Most of their actual work, that we pay them well for, does not involve serious discussions about the problems the rest of us face. The work that many politicians for high office do most of the time is exaggerate their own accomplishments, make promises they can’t keep, and tell lies about their opponents. Campaigning brings out the least reasonable, least forthright, least truthful side of even the most honest politicians.
So it’s no wonder that national politics brings out some wacky people. People who think that having lots of money or shouting on talk radio or running some corporation means they are ready to run our country. People who think they already know it all and don’t mind telling you. But some candidates these days are so ideologically vicious, so impervious to reality, and so incompetent that they are dangerous to themselves and us.
It’s unusual to have an avowed Nazi from a major party running for Congress, but this year we have two. Patrick Little, who calls the Holocaust a “propaganda hoax” and wants to limit the number of Jews in government, ran in California’s June primary and came in 12th. Arthur Jones, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier, ran unopposed in the Republican primary in a Chicago congressional district. He got 20,681 votes, even though he raised no money and his long history of Nazi sympathies was known a month before the vote. His district is mainly Democratic.
More likely to end up in Congress, Paul Nehlen, who is running for the seat that Paul Ryan is vacating in Wisconsin, describes himself as a “pro-White Christian American candidate”. He regularly tweets antisemitic comments about “the Jewish media” and says that “Jews will burn in hell.” He has been supported by all the luminaries of the Republican right: Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity.
More competitive and somewhat less distasteful, Corey Stewart is a Republican Senate candidate from Virginia. Last year he called Nehlen “one of my personal heroes” and has appeared together with Jason Kessler, the white nationalist who organized the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Last year he revived the idea that President Obama’s birth certificate was “forged” by Democrats.
Brian Kemp won the Republican primary for governor in Georgia. He made a name for himself as Georgia’s Secretary of State by trying to keep African Americans from voting. After years of heavy-handed investigations of non-existent “voter fraud”, Kemp achieved no charges, no indictments, and no convictions, but successfully kept thousands of newly registered citizens from voting. His TV ads show him with various guns, threatening to use his “big truck” to “round up” undocumented immigrants.
Kris Kobach exemplifies what continual campaigning rather than practical politics brings to a democracy. He has said for years that voter fraud is so rampant in America that we need unprecedented new restrictions on voting. That earned him a new office in Trump’s administration with the power to find out exactly where that fraud is. He found nothing. Don’t hold your breath waiting for him to admit that he has been wrong all this time. He earned big bucks “consulting” with towns which passed new anti-immigration laws. The towns lost big in court. He wrote the Kansas law requiring people who wanted to register to vote to prove their citizenship. A federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional and rebuked Kobach personally for violating rules of the courtroom: Kobach was held in contempt and required to go back to class for 6 hours of legal education.
How incompetent can you get? But Kobach is very good at riling up Kansas Republicans and he just squeaked by in the Republican primary for governor.
These men are not representative of all Republicans running for election this November. But such far-right ideologues are becoming more numerous, because of the example of Donald Trump. Corey Stewart claimed in 2016, “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” Trump endorsed Kobach and Kemp in their primaries.
Making wild charges about rigged elections seems to win Republican votes. Failing to prove them doesn’t matter. Playing with racism and hanging around with racists doesn’t matter either. Paying no attention to the real problems in America, like persistent poverty and crumbling infrastructure, doesn’t matter. Maybe the only thing that will matter is if the rest of us vote against them.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 14, 2018