EUPHEMISM OF THE DAY…. A variety of adjectives comes to mind to describe some of the bizarre Republican candidates winning statewide primaries this year, but Politico goes with a rather polite one: “offbeat.”
A former professional wrestling executive, a libertarian ophthalmologist and a man who thinks bicycle use could empower the United Nations filed to run in elections. That’s not the start of a joke: that’s a sampling of the deeply unusual pool of candidates running — and actually being nominated — for high office this year.
A phenomenon that began with physician Rand Paul’s victory in the Kentucky Senate primary has effectively gone national: Primary voters are again and again choosing offbeat candidates shunned by national party strategists, and imperiling potential Republican gains this November in the process.
Elections this week in Colorado and Connecticut yielded a new crop of oddball nominees. Ken Buck, a gaffe-prone prosecutor once ordered to take ethics classes for his handling of an illegal guns case, defeated former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton in a Republican Senate primary. In Connecticut, Linda McMahon, who founded World Wrestling Entertainment with her husband Vince, was linked to steroid investigations and appeared in numerous violent and sexually suggestive sketches, bested Rob Simmons, a former congressman and decorated veteran, for the GOP’s Senate nomination.
Perhaps the week’s most out-of-right-field nominee was Colorado Republican Dan Maes, a conservative activist and first-time candidate who capitalized on a plagiarism scandal involving primary opponent Scott McInnis to capture the Republican nomination for governor.
To its credit, Politico added that some of these primary-winning candidates are “downright strange,” which seems more than fair.
But there’s one point I’d disagree with here. The crux of the piece is that the “offbeat” candidates are winning because they bring a non-traditional background to the table. This year, the argument goes, credible, relevant experience in public policy and/or government is a turnoff to voters seeking a wholesale break with the status quo.
That’s not a bad argument, but I don’t see the landscape this way. These bizarre candidates won major primary campaigns because of their far-right, often radical, ideologies. That they’re coming from outside the world of government and politics is just gravy.
Did Linda McMahon win in Connecticut because she ran a wrestling company? No, she won because she spent a lot of money, and convinced Republicans her primary opponent was too moderate. Ken Buck won in Colorado for the same reason — his party-preferred rival was deemed insufficiently right-wing. Dan Maes got a boost from McInnis’ plagiarism scandal, but he capitalized because the party’s base appreciated his extreme ideology.
And in Kentucky, Rand Paul didn’t thrive because primary voters were impressed with his “outsider” ophthalmological background; they liked his radical worldview.
This isn’t, in other words, a year for “offbeat” candidates to thrive; it’s a year for right-wing candidates to win GOP primaries, without much regard for electability.