“Manchurian Candidates”

U.S. Representative Steve LaTourette of Ohio, long hostile to the Tea Folk, has penned the classic Politico op-ed blaming said Folk for the failure of Republicans to win back the Senate. After the ritualistic denunciation of Angle and Buck and O’Donnell from the last cycle, and Akin and Mourdock from the one just completed, he uses the word most beloved of Politico readers–“serious.”

If Republicans are going to build the coalitions necessary to win all across this country, if we are to restore the American people’s faith in our party and in our ability to govern, then it is time we start nominating serious people. It is time our party stops nominating Manchurian candidates, and start nominating people who are committed to coming to Washington to make this city work for the people of this country

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I’m sorry, but this is just wrong on multiple levels. For one thing, there is an obvious artithmetical problem: Had all five of the “Manchurian candidates” found something else to do in 2010 and 2012, and you assume the “serious” people who might have been nominated in their place would all have won (perhaps true with Delaware in 2010 and Indiana in 2012, but debatable in the other cases), Republicans would still find themselves in the minority in the Senate. I’ve heard some people argue that the Akin/Mourdock rape-o-ganza tipped North Dakota to Democrat Heidi Heitkamp last Tuesday, but absent exit polling to that effect, it’s pure speculation based on the dubious practice of assigning any old cause one wishes to the outcome of very close elections.

The two things that stands out just a prominently as Akin and Mourdock in the GOP Senate fiasco of 2012 are (1) how many “serious” Republican candidates turned out to be duds: Tommy Thompson and Heather Wilson and Linda Lingle, for example; and (2) how many Republican Senate candidates ran behind Mitt Romney (23, by my quick count; WaPo’s Aaron Blake estimates that happened in 11 of 15 “winnable” races).

Beyond that, the use of the term “serious” to connote candidates smart enough to disguise the GOP’s extremism on various issues is curious to say the least. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were dead serious about defending the position on abortion that has been reiterated in every Republican National Platform since 1980. Is evasion, obfuscation or mendacity the definition of what it means to be a “serious” Republican these days? If so, it explains a lot, but the idea that it’s childish to take seriously the views of a very powerful element of the GOP’s conservative base reveals a bigger problem than any created by Akin and Mourdock.

An alternative theory that’s being cited more convincingly both by progressives empasizing the non-accidental nature of the election results, and by conservatives unwilling to take the blame, is that GOP candidates were fatally handicapped by the “Republican brand.”

Now the Left and Right will obviously disagree about why the “Republican brand” is damaging, with the former blaming extremism and obstructionism and the latter blaming years of betrayal of “conservative principles.” But that’s a more productive discussion to have than one over why conservative activists prefer conservative activists as candidates. Seriously.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.