‘JACK BAUER REPUBLICANS’…. I’ve been fascinated lately by the kind of folks running for office this year as Republicans. I’m specifically thinking of people who’ve failed and/or embarrassed themselves in various areas of public life, and seek to capitalize on their ignominy, counterintuitive though this may be.
Rob Portman, for example, is running for the Senate in Ohio, despite his work as the head of the Bush/Cheney budget office. Dan Coats is running for the Senate in Indiana, despite having been a corporate bank lobbyist in D.C. for the last several years. Rick Scott is running for governor in Florida, despite his role in the Columbia/HCA scandal in the 1990s, and his loathsome work as head of the right-wing Conservatives For Patients during the health care debate.
But the list keeps growing. Benjy Sarlin wrote a fascinating item about “Jack Bauer Republicans,” highlighting two U.S. veterans of the war in Iraq who “left the military after surviving charges of crimes against detainees,” but who hope to parlay their scandals into electoral success.
Ilario Pantano, the Republican nominee in North Carolina’s 7th, is of particular interest.
In April 2004, Pantano killed two unarmed Iraqi detainees, twice unloading his gun into their bodies and firing between 50 and 60 shots in total. Afterward, he placed a sign over the corpses featuring the Marines’ slogan “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” as a message to the local population.
Pantano said that he acted in self-defense and that the two suspects were charging at him, but the military accused him of premeditated murder. The case became an international news story and Pantano’s defense a popular cause for conservatives. In 2005, military prosecutors dropped the charges, in part because a key witness’s testimony could not be corroborated.
Pantano’s former primary opponent, Will Breazeale, also an Army veteran of both wars in Iraq, said it would be “dangerous” to elect Pantano to Congress. “To shoot two unarmed prisoners 60 times and put a sign over their dead bodies is inexcusable,” Breazeale told Sarlin.
And then there’s retired Lt. Col. Allen West (R), running in Florida’s 22nd.
West was forced to retire from the Army and fined $5,000 after he admitted to apprehending an Iraqi policeman he suspected of planning an ambush, watching as his troops beat him, and then firing a gunshot by the Iraqi’s head in order to scare him into divulging information. West said the decision saved lives by preventing an ambush. But no plot was ever discovered and the policeman in question later told The New York Times that he had no knowledge of any attacks.
Such an incident might be a source of shame for some officers. But not for West, who has developed a superstar following among Republicans by portraying himself as a real-life Jack Bauer.
Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge and current law professor at Georgetown University, told Sarlin both of these GOP candidates have no business seeking public office given their “disgraceful” misconduct.
It’s just such an odd dynamic in Republican politics right now — the party goes out of its way to reward, encourage, and promote those who fail spectacularly. Some of these guys seem like they should be running for the hills, not running for powerful offices.