On April 9, I ventured into the lion’s den as a commentator for the GOP Roundtable Discussion with all five Republican candidates for U.S. Senate –Don Bates, Jr., Richard Behney, Dan Coats, John Hostettler, and Marlin Stutzman – hosted by Indiana Barrister blogger and WXNT-1430 AM talk show host Abdul Hakim-Shabazz.
All of the commentators at the debate – myself, Josh Gillespie from Hoosier Access, Thomas Cook from Blue Indiana, and Mike O’Brien of WRTV’s Capitol Watch Blog – believed that to gain ground on presumptive favorite, Dan Coats, the other four would have to attack. None did.
This might be, in part, because Coats started the debate complimenting everyone for being so conservative and wanting what’s best for America. This is a mandatory and ingenious ploy for any candidate who leads the field, and it is often followed with, “America doesn’t want us engaging in negative attacks against each other because that doesn’t solve problems.” Attacking somebody after they’ve sucked up to you? That’s your grandmother telling you she likes your Sunday suit, and you respond with, “Your hat looks stupid.”
Consequently, the “debate” was more like a boring Fox reality show called “The Amazing Chase,” with the winner being determined by who could cram the most anti-Obama comments in one sixty-second spiel.
Anybody who doesn't believe in "the visual" aspect of politics should note how Coats' frontrunner status was amplified by the fact he was at the center of the table because the candidates were alphabetized, and he was the only guy who took his jacket off, as if to say, "I can go casual and still own these guys."
For my money, Don Bates, Jr. did the best job of stoking the populist fire. He called for a 5% congressional pay cut and came the closest to “going negative” by saying that he had none of the decades worth of government service at the table. Had I been a GOP voter without a lot of knowledge about the candidates, he would have been my guy.
Self-professed tea party activist, Richard Behney, who earned a rebuke from Indiana GOP Party Chair, Murray Clark, after Behney said he'd be "cleaning his guns" if the election in November didn't go well, did little to improve his image.
Behney repeatedly responded to whether he would support proposal x, y, or z by saying “over my dead body,” and he packed his remarks with gun-toting metaphors. On immigration, for example, he said that if somebody comes in the front door of his home and can speak English, the two might have a good conversation. But a person who sneaks in the back door "might get shot."
To his credit, Behney was the only candidate who stated that he supported repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Behney noted that he served in the military with gays and said he even knew some gay people from his time in the “music business.” Unfortunately, that one courageous position couldn’t alter my belief that Behney’s campaign slogan should be “The Fringe Unhinged.” He’s the embodiment of what makes people scared about Tea Partiers, and the fact Coats wouldn’t say anything against his violent rhetoric tells you all you need to know about the influence the GOP believes Tea Partiers wield.
Coats offered no chastisement, even though Behney also waved his hand right in front of Coats’ face while talking so often, I expected a melee to break out. (Behney might want to learn to stop “taking over” other people’s personal space before he starts in on federal government takeovers).
For his part, State Senator Marlin Stutzman wanted us to know he grew up on a farm. He said it so much, I had a post-traumatic stress flashback to the Jill Long-Thompson's campaign. (Did any of you know she has a PhD?)
To steal a question Abdul has been asking, why do we still mythologize a profession that is almost exclusively agribusiness now? My parents live in Hendricks County, and the farmers around them all have tractors with air conditioning, CD players, and DVD players. This isn’t Thomas Jefferson with a team of oxen, okay? Sure, they might get up at 5:00 a.m., but so does a guy working the early shift at a factory. And if anyone thinks being raised on a farm automatically means you're wholesome, check teenage pregnancy rates in rural communities or watch the Dukes of Hazzard.
I expected John Hostettler to at least “backdoor insult” Coats, but he said nothing. He didn’t say anything in the follow-up appearances either, which is curious given that Hostettler had already put up a Youtube ad attacking Coats for voting for Ruth Bader-Ginsburg’s confirmation, the Brady Bill, and the assault weapons ban.
Undoubtedly because of Hostettler’s ad, Coats is now running an ad that will earn him the “2010 Cojones Grandes” award for political advertising because he claims he’s “Pro-2nd Amendment. “
As a quick aside, the ad also said Coats would "Repeal Healthcare," but we're going to follow The Weekly Standard's view that the ad was just clunky, and Coats meant he would repeal the "Obama healthcare reform package," not turn into a Kevorkian death panel of one ensuring nobody has any type of healthcare. Of course, if Coats were into precision, he'd have filed his financial disclosure statement on time. Coats will not give a date certain for filing this report, and you should suspect it will NOT be released before the primary because it will disclose the insane amount of cash Coats got as a lobbyist, and it's not healthy having that kind of information floating around before the primary election. (Isn't it cool that Senators can go, "Yeah, I know there's a law I'm violating, but, oh, well. What's that toothless tiger FEC going to do? Fine me $250?)
Anyway, I’m more pro-gun than some of my Democratic colleagues, and I was okay with Coats’ votes for the Brady Bill and assault weapons ban. What’s wrong with checking somebody’s background for, say, insanity, before you let them buy a gun? But in conservative, NRA circles?!? That’s not just anathema; that’s voters in apoplectic convulsions. To vote for the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban while claiming you’re pro-2nd amendment in this crowd would be like an abortion doctor claiming he’s pro-life.
This is why, according to Hostettler, RedState reported that if Coats wins, the NRA will endorse Democrat Brad Ellsworth. That would be major.
With such a shaky record on some core conservative issues, will Coats win the primary? Absolutely. Because when his opponents could have attacked him for free, they didn’t, and none of them have enough money to effectively attack him when there's an actual cost. Even though he's seriously below fundraising expectations, Coats has raised over $378,000, and his next closest competitor, Marlin Stutzman, raised around $125,000 in the last reporting period.
Herein lies the tragedy in American politics. Dan Coats can whitewash his 2nd Amendment record while wearing a shirt that looks like he borrowed it from Lamar Alexander's Presidential election, and nobody can pay enough to tell you it’s a myth.