The Strange Line Between What’s Politically Acceptable And Unacceptable–Bevin And Wolf Edition

The “tea party” vs. “establishment” civil war being waged in campaigns across the country raises a very interesting question…what’s disqualifying behavior for a want-to-be office holder who hasn’t spent their whole life in “public service”?

In the last week we’ve had two interesting case studies in insurgent vs. establishment primaries.

In Kentucky Matt Bevin, who is challenging Mitch McConnell, has had to deal with the fallout of a newsletter he put out praising the passage of TARP during the financial crisis. At the time Bevin was running an investment firm and noted that the program would be good news for his client. Unfortunately for Bevin, he’s made McConnell’s support for TARP a centerpiece of his challenge.

More annoyingly he made the seemingly obligatory stupid remark about gay marriage.

Meanwhile the challenger to longtime Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts has had to deal with some since deleted facebook posts that will strike many as…odd.

U.S. Senate candidate Milton Wolf posted a collection of gruesome X-ray images of gunshot fatalities and medical injuries to his Facebook page and participated in online commentary layered with macabre jokes and descriptions of carnage.

However, Wolf and others viewing these Facebook postings relentlessly poked fun at the dead or wounded. The gunshot victim, Wolf joked online, wasn’t going to complain about the awkward positioning of his head for an X-ray. In a separate Facebook comment, Wolf wrote that an X-ray of a man decapitated by gunfire resembled a wounded alien in a “Terminator” film and that the image offered evidence people “find beauty in different things.”

Naturally, Team GOP pronounced both of these events as more evidence that insurgents are simply incapable of producing serious challengers.

On Bevin the always reliable GOP transcriptionist Jennifer Rubin writes.

It should at least be obvious to incumbents that they have little to fear from the likes of Jim DeMint and FreedomWorks. Their idea of primarying a mainstream Republican seems to be to find any nutty radical and pour millions into his coffers, hoping to make up for the candidates’ lack of in-state support (and coherence). The elected Republicans can stop paying attention to them, as should the media who treat these challengers like serious foes to incumbents. It is a shame for the GOP that these groups don’t spend all that money and firepower attacking, say, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Kay Hagan (R-N.C.). If center-right Republicans can raise money and turn out a solid coalition of voters, then they can — and should — tell the kooks to take a hike.

The group that backed the likes of Charlie Crist, Arlen Specter and Lisa Murkowski, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign attacked Wolf.

“Once again, it is clear that there are a few select groups and organizations like the Senate Conservatives’ Fund that fail to properly research candidates or do the necessary work prior to endorsing them, which maximizes risk and hurts the conservative cause,” Dayspring said. “Time and again, it has been proven that the failure to research and vet candidates results in handing winnable seats to Democrats.”

I’ve said many times that the “tea party” has had a challenge in finding acceptable candidates in races above the House level. Once you move beyond relatively homogeneous local races like that, it’s hard to find someone who can mobilize true believers while being acceptable to a larger and politically diverse group of voters at the statewide levels.

But what Team GOP is trying to do is paint every incumbent as a Christine O’Donnell whack job or a Todd Akin/Richard Mourdoch moron (reminder, the latter two had been in office long before the creation of the “tea party”).

So are what Bevin and Wolf accused of more evidence that politics must be left to the professionals and that the “tea party” is simply incapable of producing reasonable challengers at the statewide level?

Looking at each of these situations (with the caveat there might be more to come) I’d say contrary to the GOP establishment’s best efforts, Bevin and Wolf do not fall within the realm of nutty candidates on par with the O’Donnells and Sharon Angles of the world.

Bevin’s TARP statement has the benefit of being accurate. It was good for his clients and as a fund manager he had a legal and moral obligation to say so. Whether or not he would have voted for that policy as a Senator, which would have entailed an entirely different set of calculations and obligations, is wholly unrelated to the situation he found himself in in 2009.

Is it understandable that McConnell’s team is spinning this seeming contradiction? Sure, that’s politics.

As for the gay marriage remarks, it’s a brave new world we suddenly find ourselves in. I understand why the left wants to rewrite history and insist that gender has always been irrelevant to marriage but they are lying. “Conservatives” can go along with this and act as if any departure from lefty talking points is heresy but I’m willing, to a point, cut candidates some slack in talking about this stuff. Conservative candidates want to reflect the values of conservative voters on issues like marriage. Their challenge is finding a way to that without running afoul of liberal enforced speech codes. If you’re a conservative this is a very fine line to walk and doubly so if you’re not a professional politician well versed in the ways of obfuscation. As long as a candidate stays away from the gay marriage = bestiality frame, I’m willing to give them a mulligan or two.

As for Wolf, gallows humor is nothing new to people who deal with gruesome injuries and death on a regular basis. It’s often a coping mechanism they employ. As a radiologist Wolf was working with material he sees every day. It’s not like he’s a lawyer who just happens to have a fetish for gruesome X-rays.

To me the most important things Wolf and Bevin share aren’t “gaffes” but successful careers prior to entering politics. Contrast that with what Mitch McConnell and Pat Roberts share in common…both men have has essentially worked their entire adult lives in politics and on the public payroll.

While Wolf was working to save lives and Bevin was helping people earn money and create jobs both McConnell and Roberts have been busy taxing and spending the fruits of their labors away. Two of these men have spent their lives in the private sector and two have spent decades learning how not to put a foot wrong while advancing up the political ladder.

As if to prove what a creature of the public behemoth Roberts is, he doesn’t even live in the state he purports to represent.

In the real world, what’s more duplicitous…Bevin’s different view of TARP as a fund manager than as a Senate candidate or McConnell’s ridiculous claim to have put the country first by voting for cloture on the debt ceiling to ensure it would pass while claiming it’s a terrible thing he opposes with his final vote?

It’s interesting that Team GOP claims to represent people like Bevin and Wolf, people who work hard, have success and make a positive difference in the lives of others but they are very quick to throw their human foibles back at them. Again, that’s politics. But politics should be about more than careerists who spend their days saying the right things but voting for an ever larger, more intrusive and more expensive federal government.

Yes, there are candidates that are too extreme and too nutty to be elected (especially in blue/purple states) but not every run of the mill “gaffe” marks a candidate as “extreme” and “unelectable”. You can’t claim to want “citizen legislators” if you insist that everyone running for office act the same as people who have never known a day in the private sector.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m on the record as being unenthusiastic about primarying McConnell and Roberts. My objection is to the effort by the “establishment” to paint all primary challenges to incumbents as loose cannons that are basically by definition kooks who hurt the conservative cause.

It’s understandable that the professional GOP class wants to prize the faux perfection of a career politician over the occasional rough edge of a citizen legislator. The real question is, will the people who claim to want to change the culture in DC and the country at large be willing to accept a few rough edges from their candidates or will they continue to insist on the conformity of the professional political class? You can’t have both, so be careful how you answer.


About Drew

I blog about politics and hockey because I sort of understand those things. I'd blog about women but I'll never understand them.

Posted on February 24, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. When the national organizations are willing to support candidates like Dede Scozzafava but not willing to tolerate candidates like Milton Wolf, they are sending a message about their true desires.
    When establishment candidates lose the primary and decide to run as independents, and get support from the national organizations while throwing the election to the Democrats, they send the same message.
    But they expect the conservatives to support the organizations, and they expect conservative candidates to toe the line. I won’t stay on that plantation, you have to earn my vote.

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