Three Republican Candidates: Gaffes, Disqualifications, Or Something Else?

shooting-yourself-in-the-footI felt badly about piling up three posts recently on unethical female Democrats running for office, and was inspired by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent to do some analysis of Republican candidates who, at least according to Sargent, deserve equivalent criticism to what has been leveled at Alison Lundergan Grimes for refusing to say whether she voted for President Obama. [She did it again last night in her debate with Sen. McConnell.]

Sometimes finding Republican candidates who deserve an Ethics Alarms slap is hard, unless they say something bat wacky like, say, Richard Mourdock. If a Democrat is flagged by The Daily Beast or the Post, I can be pretty sure there was something said or done that was objectively troubling, because the mainstream media will bury anything from a Democrat that is vaguely defensible. A Republican, however, might be accused of certified insanity for a statement that offends progressive cant. Fox and many of the right wing websites, meanwhile, will ignore any Republican whose pronouncements don’t rise to “I am the Lizard Queen!” level of derangement, and will find fault with Democratic candidates on dubious grounds. Here are the GOP candidates for today’s ethics audit: Joni Ernst (U.S. Senate in Iowa); Tom Cotton (U.S. Senate in Arkansas); and Greg Abbott  (Texas Governor race):

1. Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst, Republican Challenger for Iowa U.S. Senate: The alleged Ernst gaffes noted in a Mother Jones piece cited by Sargent show the perils of using left-wing sites to track conservative candidate “craziness.” Mother Jones, true its ultra-progressive little heart, finds that Ernst’s statements that abortion providers should be punished and that the minimum wage should be abolished are “out-there,” or as Sargent terms it, “crazy.” Those aren’t “out-there” or crazy except to progressives who refuse to acknowledge that another view of the world may be worth discussing. The views represent hard right conservative thinking, but that is only crazy if you are so far left you can’t comprehend it. If one believes that abortion is murder, especially late-term abortion, the argument that some abortion providers should face punishment isn’t irrational….just impractical. Abolishing the minimum wage is similarly fanciful, but there have always been legitimate arguments to be made for it, prime among them that some jobs and some workers aren’t worth the minimum wage.

Ernst’s statement that Obama is a “dictator” is obvious, if irresponsible, red meat hyperbole of the sort that Mother Jones tolerates from Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the President without blinking. Saying at one stop that the President should be impeached is similarly well within the range of acceptable, if unwise, partisan rhetoric. It certainly isn’t ridiculous: a credible list of Constitutional violations could be compiled to support impeachment,and even some civil libertarians on the left have cited the President’s drone policies as impeachable.

Earnst has also made some hysterical statements about the U.N.’s Agenda 21, a radical non-binding resolution with vague objectives regarding “sustainability” and urging nations to “combat poverty and pollution and conserve natural resources in the 21st century.” The thing is too full of mushy rhetoric  and caveats to be taken seriously, but it does bear asking why the U.S. signs such initiatives that it has no intention of following, and what business the U.N has telling any nation how to run its businesses, communities and development policies. (Mother Jones, of course, would love Agenda 21 to be binding.) Earnst also told the Des Moines Register editorial board in May that the United States really did find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  That is evidence of a Michele Bachmann-like willingness to utter nonsense and see if anyone notices.

Mother Jones is correct that Ernst backs off of her more provocative statements when they are challenged, and this is the sign of a candidate without integrity, one who takes extreme positions that she hasn’t thought about sufficiently.  That is her ethical problem, not necessarily the positions themselves.

2. GOP Congressman Tom Cotton, Candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas. Sargent thinks that Cotton has disqualified himself “by expressing his belief that ISIS is now working with Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate America over our southern border.” Ethics foul on Sargent: that’s not consistent with what Cotton said even as Sargent quoted him. He said, at a town meeting…

“The problem is with [ Sen. Mark Pryor, Cotton’s opponent] and Barack Obama refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and refusing to secure our border. I’ll change that when I’m in the United States Senate. And I would add, it’s not just an immigration problem. We now know that it’s a security problem. Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism”

Sentence #1 is true: the immigration laws are not being enforced. Sentence #2 may be true, but that will be determined later. Sentences #3 and #4 are also true: the porous border is a security problem.

So Sargent’s objection is to the final sentence. The latter half of it…drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism” is not excessive at all. They have shown that they are willing to expand beyond the drug trade. Potentially terrorism? That’s a reasonable supposition, and can’t be shown at this time to be true or false. Thus Sargent must be offended by only this: “Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico…” Yes, Cotton is stating as fact something that has been speculated about but at this point is unproven. He should have said, “Groups like the Islamic State could collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico,’ and he would be completely unassailable.

Since the willingness of the Obama administration to allow flagrant violation of the immigration laws and open violation of our borders does implicate national security, Cotton’s statements are only “out-there” to illegal immigration advocates like Sargent. They could have been and should have been more precise. By no fair standard are they “disqualifying.”

As with Earnst, I don’t know much about Cotton. He may be a corrupt, dishonest politician and as “crazy” as Sargent says he is. His statements about the border security and the risks of terrorists exploiting it don’t prove it, though.

3. Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General and Republican candidate for Governor of Texas. Ugh. Once again, we see the Stupid Partisan Trick of confusing what a lawyer argues on behalf of a client and what the lawyer personally believes. I know I keep harping on this, but honestly: is this really that hard to grasp? Is it so hard to understand that when, say, Hillary Clinton was defending an accused rapist, she was bound to argue that it may not have been rape and that the alleged victim may have misled her client because that’s the only defense he has, and he has a constitutional right to a defense—that doing so does not mean she isn’t a feminist and personally believes that rape victims  “ask  for it”? Lawyers argue what their clients need them to argue, and not what the lawyers themselves believe. What the lawyers believe don’t matter: their job is to be a voice for their clients.

And yet here is Mediaite proclaiming, “Texas AG: Ban Same-Sex Marriage to Ensure ‘Survival of Human Race.’” Here is a Texas website claiming, “Greg Abbott: Texas gay marriage ban reduces out-of-wedlock births.” In both cases, this is deceit. Their source is the brief Abbott filed on behalf of his client, the State of Texas, and that argument is not a personal statement of belief. (Whether or not Abbott does believe it, I don’t know.) In his brief defending the Texas ban on gay marriage-–which, as the Texas Attorney General, Abbott is duty bound as an attorney to defend regardless of his personal beliefs–Abbott indeed makes the arguments noted by his critics, and they are indeed terrible arguments. But all the arguments on non-religious grounds that a ban on gay marriage is constitutional are terrible, every one of them. Abbott didn’t author or pass the laws banning same-sex marriage in Texas, but his job is to defend them until they are repealed or struck down by the courts. What he argues in his brief doing his duty to zealously represent his client should not and must not be used to confuse the public into believing that these are his personal beliefs.

Republicans and the conservative media also foster this confusion when they attack Democrats based on the positions of their clients, as the Hillary Clinton example shows and as I wrote about here. I don’t care who does it: it’s either ignorant or intentionally misleading.


Sources: Washington Post 1, 2; Mother Jones, Daily Beast, Mediaite


7 thoughts on “Three Republican Candidates: Gaffes, Disqualifications, Or Something Else?

    • Actually Abbott was citing several other cases that used the “special relationship between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation” as one minor element in why the participants in a valid marriage should be afforded deferential treatment. He was providing the rationale for why Texas law was constitutional. The main point was that the state had a fundamental interest in promoting marriage between one man and one woman because it promoted responsible human reproduction. He went on to say that it was not designed to disparage the rights of gays.

      This was a case in which the two homosexuals sought to become divorced from their out of state marriage. Abbott argued that they were not entitled to relief under Texas law and the protections afforded to divorcing couples because the their marriage was void anyway under Texas law so they were not entitled to those special protections afforded to validly married couples.

      In short, what Abbott was arguing was simply that divorce is not an available option to persons who are not married; specifically he pointed to the Texas law that prohibited such divorces. He argued that a decree that the marriage was void would be sufficient to provide the parties the ability to separate in a legally enforceable manner that would permit them to be regarded as single and able to marry again in another state that permitted such marriages. What they would not be entitled to would be the special protections afforded to validly married petitioners for divorce.

      If a lawyer does not cite the precedents set by courts in like circumstances because some think that such precedents are flawed the lawyer is not acting in the interest of his client. The goal of the Attorney General of the state is to argue the merits of the case based on existing law for the people of the state. He or she is not entitled to determine the validity of the law or exclude potentially winning arguments in the brief simply because he does not agree with the other judicial opinions.

        • And thus what Mediaite and the others were doing is misrepresenting the Abbott’s words by omitting the context. I didn’t dig that far, because the misrepresentation of the lawyer’s advocacy for his personal beliefs was my focus, but as you point out, in that context even the assertions themselves were misrepresented.

          Whereas a Democrat refusing to say that she voted for the President because of “the sanctity of the ballot box” is stupid, dishonest, insulting and cowardly from any perspective, in any context.

  1. The brief mentioned in the Mediaite article was described as an “amicus brief.” I thought, by definition, an amicus brief comes from a party not directly involved in the case at hand. Are you saying he was duty-bound to file a friend-of-the-court brief?

  2. I concur on the Abbott statements. As for the allegations about Joni Ernst- consider the source. Mother Jones?! The truth is that both she and Cotton are engaged in a senatorial race which might decide the future of this nation for the next half century. Expect misreporting from the usual sources.

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