There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. On Friday night, Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky, released a 30-second spot questioning the Christian faith of his Republican opponent Rand Paul. Conway’s ad focused on two episodes from Paul’s days as a college student in the early 1980s.
I've seen a couple liberals dissenting from my condemnation of Jack Conway's religious-based attack on Rand Paul. First, here's Matthew Yglesias: This ad has the virtue—not that common in politics—of being accurate. It also has the virtue of raising actual policy issues about the consequences of Paul’s position on tax reform. It’s true that the implication that unorthodox religious belief should disqualify one from office is ugly, but it’s an implication that I think is extremely common in American politics.
There's a certain noir quality to the Kentucky Senate race. Republican nominee Rand Paul is a longtime devotee of devote atheist Ayn Rand, and has a history of youthful irreligious hijinks. Democrat Jack Conway has attacked Rand with a grotoesque ad that seems to suggest that failure to accept Christianity is a disqualification for office. Rand replies that he does too love Jesus: This is so depressing. The data points cited by Conway are true; what's gross is the insinuation that if you're not Christian there's something wrong with you.
The ugliest, most illiberal political ad of the year may be this one, from Kentucky Democrat Jack Conway: I actually don't doubt the implication of the ad, namely that Rand Paul harbors a private contempt for Christianity. He's a devotee of Ayn Rand, who is a fundamentally anti-Christian thinker.
[Guest post by Noam Scheiber:] There's an interesting new development on the Elizabeth Warren front today. But, before I get to that, some backstory. I've written before about why Warren is likely to be confirmed as head of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection if the president nominates her. Basically, some key Republicans, like Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe (and even Jim Bunning), seem to like her.
Rand Paul has had a rough time adapting to life as a Senate candidate. Since he's become a national figure, the Kentucky ophthalmologist has had to compromise his strictly libertarian ideological attitudes—for instance reversing his stance on the necessity of the Civil Rights Act and shying away from previous comments about a secret plan to build a NAFTA superhighway.
Suppose you're the Libertarian Party of Kentucky. Rand Paul has snatched the Republican Senate nomination away from the party establishment, providing the chance to elect the most libertarian-friendly national politician in the country -- a man so wedded to libertarian principle that he endured two days of disastrous national publicity rather than admit that the government has a right to ban private segregation. What would you do in that circumstance?
True partisans don’t like to hear this—Texas Democrat Jim Hightower used to say, “There is nothing in the middle of the road, but yellow stripes and dead armadillos”—but American elections are most often battles for the political center. Whoever can marginalize their opponent by identifying them with the far left or right is likely to win. By that measure, the Democrats can be pleased with the results of the May 18 elections.
Here are the important developments of the night, in ascending order of importance: 1. Joe Sestak beat Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. I think this makes the Democrats marginally more likely to hold the Senate seat. Toomey is a radical candidate, and Sestak's win strips him of the anti-incumbent sentiment that's his best shot. That's worth more to the democrats than Specter's superior political polish. 2. Democrats will run Jack Conway against Rand Paul. This puts the Kentucky Senate seat in play -- Rand is the favorite but Conway has a shot.
All across the country, Republicans are fantasizing about a gigantic electoral tide that will sweep out deeply entrenched Democratic incumbents this November. In their telling, this deep-red surge will be so forceful as to dislodge even legislators who don’t look vulnerable now, securing GOP control of both houses of Congress. But could this scenario really come to pass? That will depend, in part, on what type of Republican Party the Democrats are running against in the fall. Hence the importance of this year's Republican civil war.