The Next Jim DeMint

At The Atlantic, Molly Ball has penned a long profile of Arkansas Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, and it confirms pretty much all my negative instincts about the dude. Here’s her summary of the real meaning of his famously dazzling resume:

From the time he was a teenager, Cotton has been nurtured and groomed by conservative institutions—scholars, think tanks, media, and advocacy groups—to be the face of their political crusade. Pure, upright, and ideologically correct, he is their seemingly flawless mascot. (Conservatives would surely argue that a potent network consisting of regular academia and the mainstream media nurtures left-wing candidates.) And now he is finally on the cusp of achieving the platform consummate to his talents, a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Cotton’s special status as the not-so-secret superstar of the GOP’s future isn’t just attributable to the resume or to his intellectual or political talents (the latter, in fact, are suspect when it comes to actual voters). A lot of it is about the way in which he manages to be a True Believer in the most important tenets of all the crucial Republican factions. He’s adored by Neocons, the Republican Establishment, the Tea Folk, the Christian Right, and most of all by the Con-Con cognoscenti that draw from both these last two categories. He will immediately be a national leader if he’s elected to the Senate, perhaps succeeding Jim DeMint as the guy who is in charge of keeping the pressure on the party to move steadily right on every front. (One might think Ted Cruz performs that function, but he’s a bit too clearly self-serving).

Ball puts a lot of emphasis on what we can learn about Cotton from his college thesis, which he gained access to in an exclusive. I’d say it most confirms what we already know: the man believes America has drifted from an inflexibly perfect ideology down the road to serfdom and conquest via the willingness of politicians to follow rather than lead the greedy masses who look to government to compensate for their moral weaknesses.

[The thesis] is in keeping with the rigidly idealistic persona, and the starkly moralistic worldview, he has exhibited since he was an undergraduate. It is a harsh, unyielding, judgmental political philosophy, one that makes little allowance for compassion or human weakness.

It’s especially revealing that this Man of Principle is campaigning in Arkansas as a generic Republican, counting on the partisan leanings of the state and midterm turnout patterns to give him a Senate seat that a more candid presentation of his views might endanger, even in such a conservative state. I don’t know that it would matter to most Arkansans that they have the power to make or break Cotton’s career as a smarter version of Jim DeMint, but they do.

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.