Charlie Pierce is upset, with good reason, because the extremism of Joni Ernst has not prevented her from being a slight favorite to win the Iowa Senate race, as the mainstream press looks on without alarm. Pierce is also upset because Cory Gardner, an equally extreme Senate candidate in Colorado, is a favorite to win as well (and is the choice of the Denver Post editorial board). Pierce thinks media insiders decided a long time ago that the GOP was going to take the Senate, and now, in the face of strong Democratic campaigns in battleground states, the press is trying to make that prediction come true:
I don't think it's entirely out of line to believe that a lot of people in my business need the Senate to change hands in November to vindicate how smart they were in February.Kevin Drum thinks there's a simpler explanation:
Maybe. Or it might just be the usual preoccupation that political reporters have with process over substance. For example, Steve Benen notes today that Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes recently dodged "a straightforward question about whom she voted for in the 2012 presidential election" and got hammered for it. But in Iowa, when Ernst refused to say if she wants to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency or what she'd do for those who'd lose health care coverage if Obamacare is repealed, the reaction was mostly crickets.Here's my theory: What Grimes said is very easy to grasp -- did she vote for a president most people in her state despise, or didn't she? Occasionally, Republicans get in trouble for saying and doing things that are easily graspable. Christine O'Donnell flirted with witchcraft. Todd Akin said that only certain rapes are "legitimate rape," and those don't lead to pregnancy. These are things you don't need to understand politics to get.
The difference is that Grimes was clumsy over her handling of a process issue: her support for a president of her own party. Reporters feel free to go after that. Ernst, by contrast, was crafty over her handling of policy issues: in this case, environmental policy and health care policy. Likewise, Gardner is being crafty about his handling of abortion and contraceptive policy. That sort of craftiness generally invites little censure because political reporters don't want to be seen taking sides on an issue of policy -- or even rendering judgment about whether a candidate's policy positions have changed. In fact, being crafty on policy is often viewed as actively praiseworthy because it shows how politically savvy a candidate is.
But this other stuff is complicated. The EPA? What would it mean to ordinary, mostly apolitical citizens if it were shut down? What exactly is Agenda 21 and why is it crazy that Ernst has railed against it? How many ordinary citizens can answer that? Why is fetal personhood such a big deal anyway? Why would ordinary apolitical citizens get upset at Gardner's support for something like that, when the word "personhood" sounds benign, not extreme?
The problem is that non-conservative voters simply aren't political to the marrow of their bones the way conservatives now are, thanks to Fox and talk radio. Your Fox-obsessed uncle is as capable of giving you a two-hour lecture on Benghazi or Fast & Furious or the case of that Marine vet who got caught in Mexico with a gun and has been in prison for months. Fox watchers know this stuff off the tops of their heads the way Deadheads can recite 1971 set lists from memory. That's because the right-wing media has found a way to make conservatives care about politics at a detailed (if factually distorted) level.
Left and center voters aren't like that. If the subjects are complex, of course candidates can fudge them, because the public isn't primed to be suspicious. The public brings very little knowledge of these subjects to the discussion.
The mainstream press is failing voters, though I'm not sure it's because (or at least not just because) the MSM wants the GOP to win -- I think it's because the MSM is in no way a force for advocacy the way Fox News is. A small audience turns to lefty online sites and MSNBC prime time and gets the dirt on subjects like this, but the MSM never, ever talks about personhood, or the Agenda 21 conspiracy, or the likely nature of an America if right-wing government cutters really got out the meat cleaver, or a hundred other subjects on which the right is extreme.
And so extreme GOP candidates fudge, and then they skate. The public would have needed a lot more background information a lot earlier for this not to be the case.