Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I say that not just because she's leading in a Rasmussen poll (what Republican isn't?). I say it because -- despite Politico's assertion that she's come east to "to reassure worried Republican leaders" in New York and D.C. about herself, it's clear that the right-wing noise machine has decided to make her a reclamation project, and it looks as if she's quite trainable.

Righty slicksters are clearly coaching her in how to reframe her past and present positions and statements. Rachel Maddow had fun last night with aspects of this reframing, but look -- if, to us, she now seems to be straining, for instance, to distance herself from her past expressions of support of the fringey, vaguely treasonous Oath Keepers ("I'm not a member of the Oath Keepers. However I do keep my oath of office to protect, defend and support the Constitution"), that may make us smirk, but it means absolutely nothing to the vast majority of Nevada voters, who never heard of the Oath Keepers before now and thus have no opinion of them (and might think they sound like a perfectly reasonable bunch once they learn about them).

There's a lot in Angle's past that she may bury or try to explain away (the best compilation of her views I've found is here) -- but not all of it is going to seem as fringey to average voters as it does to us. Abolish the IRS? A hell of a lot of Americans hate the IRS. Abolish the Departments of Energy and Education? These were mainstream right-wing positions in the 1980s; they can sound anti-bureaucracy, not anti-stewardship. And Angle isn't backing down on that Education Department proposal; go check out this post at National Review Online, in which Angle (or an NRO scribe putting words in her mouth) articulately defends this and much else in her record:

"I was an educator," she says. "I did public [school teaching], I've done private, home school, tutoring for juvenile justice. I've taught adults at community college. So I have a broad base. I also sat on a school board and served for four terms on the education committee in my state, so when I speak, I feel that I have a broad background to speak from. The Department of Education is a policy machine in Washington that sends down one-size-fits-all that fits no one, like No Child Left Behind, and generally it's unfunded mandates to the states. Education is always best when you get all of the stakeholders involved and working toward that same commitment. That happens best at the local level. Education that happens the closest to the classroom, with the children, with the teacher -- that’s where you're going to get the best education, right there...."

If you call her a fruitcake and then she comes back with something like that, you lose. It doesn't matter whether voters agree with her -- she sounds reasonable. As a challenger in an anti-incumbent year, that may be all she needs.

She's combining that with an I'm-rubber-you're-glue strategy. Pro-Reid forces say she's nuts? She turns around and makes the case that he's the real nut:

"You've been called a 'niche candidate.' A quote, 'whack job,'" KXNT host Alan Stock asked her during a half-hour interview Wednesday. "What are they talking about?"

Angle began rattling off a list of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) more infamous statements.

"I feel like I'm more mainstream than the fellow that said tourists stink. This war is lost. Light skinned, no Negro dialect. Can I go on and on about what I think a whack job, marginal candidate sounds like, and that's Harry Reid. And that's why we need to fire him. He is so out of touch with mainstream America," she said.

You say she's ducking mainstream media? She turns around and claims Reid wouldn't dare debate her on Fox & Friends. Then she says the same thing about Sean Hannity's show. A media consultant working for her says Reid's the coward regarding the media:

Larry Hart, a media consultant for Angle, ... said that Reid has also avoided sit-down interviews with media outlets to talk about his 24-year record in Washington.

"It's Harry Reid that’s hiding from the press," Hart said.

Again, given the low esteem in which Reid and other incumbents are held right now, that could stick.

But doesn't that still leave plenty to attack? Well, sure -- but I fear the Democrats won't be able to distinguish what's likely to work from what isn't, and will seem like sneering sophisticates slamming a plucky outsider.

I'd drop the whackjob line of attack -- for now. (If, during the campaign, she says something truly wacky in front of an open mike, pounce.) I'd go for a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger campaign portraying her as, say, "dangerously out of touch with the values of the people of Nevada." Yes, quote "We need to phase Medicare and Social Security out in favor of something privatized" as often as possible. Yes, hammer her for saying that extending unemployment benefits was "a terrible thing" and for saying that people collect unemployment because it beats working. You can even go after that irresistible story about the prison massage program along these lines, by noting that Angle apparently fell under the sway of a well-heeled Arizona businessman with Scientology ties who financed the project.

But don't call her extreme because she's pro-tea party (a lot of people, alas, have respect for the teabaggers), or because she opposes the health care law (a lot of people hate it, or hate what they think is in it), or because she says, "The economy is being waterboarded" (ask someone who's been out of work for two years whether that sounds extreme). I look at this Democratic Party video and I fear the party's going to get it all wrong...

... and she's going to win.

The silver lining to a GOP wave election that includes wins by Angle and Rand Paul would be that Republicans will get even more extreme after that. They'll think their craziest positions, rather than generalized disgust with the status quo, were what won it for them in 2010. They're going to overshoot very, very badly.

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