Political Animal


November 12, 2012 12:32 PM “Manchurian Candidates”

By Ed Kilgore

U.S. Representative Steve LaTourette of Ohio, long hostile to the Tea Folk, has penned the classic Politico op-ed blaming said Folk for the failure of Republicans to win back the Senate. After the ritualistic denunciation of Angle and Buck and O’Donnell from the last cycle, and Akin and Mourdock from the one just completed, he uses the word most beloved of Politico readers—“serious.”

If Republicans are going to build the coalitions necessary to win all across this country, if we are to restore the American people’s faith in our party and in our ability to govern, then it is time we start nominating serious people. It is time our party stops nominating Manchurian candidates, and start nominating people who are committed to coming to Washington to make this city work for the people of this country

I’m sorry, but this is just wrong on multiple levels. For one thing, there is an obvious artithmetical problem: Had all five of the “Manchurian candidates” found something else to do in 2010 and 2012, and you assume the “serious” people who might have been nominated in their place would all have won (perhaps true with Delaware in 2010 and Indiana in 2012, but debatable in the other cases), Republicans would still find themselves in the minority in the Senate. I’ve heard some people argue that the Akin/Mourdock rape-o-ganza tipped North Dakota to Democrat Heidi Heitkamp last Tuesday, but absent exit polling to that effect, it’s pure speculation based on the dubious practice of assigning any old cause one wishes to the outcome of very close elections.

The two things that stands out just a prominently as Akin and Mourdock in the GOP Senate fiasco of 2012 are (1) how many “serious” Republican candidates turned out to be duds: Tommy Thompson and Heather Wilson and Linda Lingle, for example; and (2) how many Republican Senate candidates ran behind Mitt Romney (23, by my quick count; WaPo’s Aaron Blake estimates that happened in 11 of 15 “winnable” races).

Beyond that, the use of the term “serious” to connote candidates smart enough to disguise the GOP’s extremism on various issues is curious to say the least. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were dead serious about defending the position on abortion that has been reiterated in every Republican National Platform since 1980. Is evasion, obfuscation or mendacity the definition of what it means to be a “serious” Republican these days? If so, it explains a lot, but the idea that it’s childish to take seriously the views of a very powerful element of the GOP’s conservative base reveals a bigger problem than any created by Akin and Mourdock.

An alternative theory that’s being cited more convincingly both by progressives empasizing the non-accidental nature of the election results, and by conservatives unwilling to take the blame, is that GOP candidates were fatally handicapped by the “Republican brand.”

Now the Left and Right will obviously disagree about why the “Republican brand” is damaging, with the former blaming extremism and obstructionism and the latter blaming years of betrayal of “conservative principles.” But that’s a more productive discussion to have than one over why conservative activists prefer conservative activists as candidates. Seriously.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • AndrewBW on November 12, 2012 12:53 PM:

  • Christiaan Hofman on November 12, 2012 1:12 PM:

    I am not sure whether he meant "serious" or "Serious"?

  • c u n d gulag on November 12, 2012 1:25 PM:

    What WASN'T serious, was the cast of clowns that ran for the Presidency in the past year.

    Mitt was the best of a beyond-bad lot, and he had his own fatal flaws.

    If I take one positive thing from this election, it's that while the right dogwhistled at every opportunity, coming up just short of "N-CLANG!", the Democrats never made a big deal out of Mitt's religion, which is possibly even more insane than the rest of the insane religions observed on this planet.

    And believe me, having lived in the South, I know how much Evangelicals dispise Mormons.
    So, the Obama team could have used that to their advantage - but chose not to, because they knew they didn't need to, to win.

    We won, fair and square!
    And THAT really pisses off the crowd that did everything it could to suppress the vote of the people they don't consider "Real Americans."

    But for at least a while yet, they'll fall short of realizing that "The Real Americans" DID win!

  • biggerbox on November 12, 2012 1:31 PM:

    Um, wasn't the point of the Manchurian Candidate that he didn't reveal his true ideology, and appeared as a 'serious' candidate until he worked his way into power? The thing about Akin, Mourdock te al. is that they WEREN'T Manchurian - their nutjob ideology was hangin' out all over plain to see.

    The real problem with Republicans nominating candidates who are 'serious' in the sense of 'committed to make Washington work for the people of the country' is that the very idea that Washington CAN work for the people is opposite to what the GOP stands for.

  • hornblower on November 12, 2012 1:35 PM:

    Name the last "serious" Republican.

  • Gandalf on November 12, 2012 1:36 PM:

    Well Ed I think your starting to live in a different kind of bubble. not the repub/conservative on ebut a new liberal bubble. LaTourette starts talkinf sense and all you can do is blather on about the republican brand. Don't get me wrong here I'll probably grow a third arm befor I'd vote for any republican but let's not get caught up on the same kind of dogmatic bubble as they've been in for quite a number of years.

  • RollaMO on November 12, 2012 1:42 PM:

    "Democrats never made a big deal out of Mitt's religion" -- which may be part of why he did worse than McCain among Mormons (80% v. 78%).

  • TCinLA on November 12, 2012 1:42 PM:

    With any luck, the national Republican Party is starting to really follow their California cousins on the road to Official Irrelevance.

    Start with a war on Hispanics (Prop 187 - 1994) that energizes Latinos to get their citizenship and get registered and get voting against all Republicans.

    Help destroy fiscal sanity with zany stupidity.

    In 2020, get redistricted and LOSE.

    The best way is the way we did it: take the redistricting power away from the Legislature. Result? A 2/3 Democratic majority in State Senate and State Assembly, allowing us to set the state's fiscal house back in order while ignoring all the stupid Republicans, holding their breath and stamping their feet. Further result? The majority of Republican losses in Congress happened here.

    "Serious Republicans" is a logical contradiction, an oxymoron, as they say.

  • Lucia on November 12, 2012 1:45 PM:

    I think the Obama campaign didn't play the Mormon card because they were afraid it might hurt as much as help, and they didn't want to talk about Jeremiah Wright again. They were going to lose the South (except Florida and possibly North Carolina, neither essential to the electoral math) in any case; why take the risk?

    Mourdock's fate is an interesting case. Akin doomed himself by getting reproductive science appallingly wrong. Mourdock merely repeated the standard GOP position, but highlighted the one piece of it that most people disagree with and that even conservatives don't want to look at too closely. A lot of GOPers used to favor the rape exception, until progressives pointed out the inherent inconsistency: if every life is sacred and life begins at conception, it shouldn't matter how it began. OK, conservatives replied in essence, only for the life of the mother, then, and sometimes not even that. It'll be interesting to see how this one plays out down the road.

  • AndyB on November 12, 2012 2:03 PM:

    Pretty sure that's not even an accurate use of the phrase Manchurian Candidate.

  • Peter C on November 12, 2012 2:23 PM:

    I, like @biggerbox, am having trouble understanding what makes Akin or Mourdock 'Manchurian Candidates'.

    A manchurian candidate would spend the campaign yelling, "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!" and then spend all their time when elected on abortion, or tax cuts for the rich.

    A manchurian candidate would pretend to espouse 'bi-partisanship' and then filibuster EVERYTHING.

  • T2 on November 12, 2012 2:36 PM:

    "A manchurian candidate would spend the campaign yelling, "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!" and then spend all their time when elected on abortion, or tax cuts for the rich." sounds just like Mitt Romney.

    Lucia is right, Mourdock simply repeated actual parts of the Republican Platform adopted at their Convention. But he wasn't supposed to, and that illustrates the problem the Conservatives have:
    People DONT LIKE their policies once they hear them. That's why they spend all their time doing "both sides" crap trying to blur, obsfucate and generally confuse the voters.
    But the voters were not confused this time and I don't think they are going to be confused any more. Nobody likes being lied to, and in this past election, lies were all the GOP offered and people didn't by that B.S. this time.

  • rrk1 on November 12, 2012 3:52 PM:

    There was nothing hidden in either Akin or Mourdock's campaign. They obviously didn't think they needed to hide anything. To be true Manchurian candidates they would have had to have a sub rosa agenda. What could that have been? Universal health care? Higher taxes on the rich? A citizenship path for the undocumented? That would have been a hoot.

    Certainly they were 'serious' about what they believed personally, and their party platform included. They failed as candidates because they were honest. Same is true for Mitt's overheard 47% remarks.

    The Democrats have to do what the Rethugs did after 2008: take control of the state legislatures and the redistricting power. There needs to be a single set of rules nationwide for redistricting, and it should be done state-by-state by bipartisan commissions with judicial oversight. Then we might actually get a representative government. It would also become obvious that we are not a 'center-right' country, as the punditocracy is so inclined to describe us.

  • jefft452 on November 12, 2012 7:20 PM:

    Sharon Angle defeated a very serious moderate Republican,
    who had the very serious moderate position of
    paying for your cancer treatments by giving your doctor a chicken

  • dianaw on November 12, 2012 7:22 PM:

    This is a great post. I've been arguing since last Tuesday that pinning Mourdock and Akin as poster children for the Republican Senate debacle completely misses the point. It ignores the victories of Heitkamp and Tester, although it REALLY REALLY needs to be noted that neither of these candidates is noticeably liberal. That isn't a bad thing, it shows they totally understand what the voters in their respective districts expect from a candidate. What's really significant about Akin/Mourdoch is that the Republican Party continued to support them, both financially and politically. Finally,
    the Akin/Mourdoch/Heitkamp/, etc. phenomenon is really important for 1 reason only: The Repugs ran on one thing, and one thing only. They were against EVERYTHING, and never said what they were for. Just keep on singing that song, and Dems will keep winning