Most Folio Weekly Magazine readers probably aren’t Republicans, and because they aren’t Republicans, the candidacies of certain candidates for public defender and state’s attorney are more theoretical than anything else.
That said, the tactics those candidates use — stoking fear over an Islamic threat that isn’t germane to their offices, by way of distracting from problems with their own campaigns — are noteworthy.
Exhibit A: Public Defender Matt Shirk. Shirk, Folio Weekly readers may recall, has been “embattled” in his second term. An interoffice scandal, of sorts, resulted in a grand jury recommending that Shirk be removed from office.
Shirk wasn’t down with that.
“Am I going to resign?” Shirk asked The Florida Times-Union. “No. If the voters decide that they don’t want me as public defender any longer, then they’ll speak to that and that will be it.”
And lo and behold, here we are.
Shirk has run a campaign that has been two parts peripatetic and one part pathetic. The peripatetic parts have been campaign postures that, instead of attacking opponent Charlie Cofer, have taken issue with State Attorney Angela Corey.
The pathetic part is Shirk’s attempts to roil the base — especially those elements that haven’t followed the scandals of yesteryear — by taking issue with President Obama.
“Obama has deep ties to Islam,” Shirk tweeted on July 7. “Is this why he refuses to call Radical Islam what it actually is?”
Describing Obama as “having a deep emotional attachment to the Muslim world [that] has hurt the USA,” Shirk told me that President Obama is “comfortable with a certain level of Americans dying at the hands of Islamic terrorists.”
I asked Shirk if his feelings on Muslims affected his ability to defend them. He told me that he had “no idea” if the PD’s office had Muslim clients.
So, to clarify: Shirk is all fired up to stop Jihad. But he doesn’t know if anyone he represents is Muslim. Which leads an observer to believe that he is either obtuse or feigning obtuseness. Sort of like how it’s obtuse to say the president wants Americans to die in terror attacks.
But that’s what you do when you’ve been in office eight years and no one will write you checks. Work the rubes.
Exhibit B: Wes White, a Republican candidate for State Attorney. Wes White is kind of like a See-n-Say. Pull a string and one of about six canned messages will come out.
But at least he tailors his shtick to the crowd.
At Bill Hay’s State Attorney debate, the conversation somehow turned to Sharia law. (He didn’t bemoan having “white privilege” in that forum.)
A question like the paraphrased, “What would you do if Sharia law came to our shores?” was manna from Heaven for Hay, White, and the shut-ins listening to his show.
“Four words: Over. My. Dead. Body,” White responded. “It won’t happen in this country because good men and women will stand at the walls [Side note: Which walls?] and make sure it doesn’t happen.”
“And I don’t care how many people the president imports from Syria or from Muslim-speaking countries,” White added.
Like Shirk’s remark, the non-sequitur jab at Obama was intended for the cheap seats. Which is all that campaign can afford.
Without personal loans, White’s campaign would be in the red. And that’s why he’s serving up red meat.
Maybe that will work; it’s a red meat kind of year.
As I type this, it is hours after the Republican Party — which once upon a time gave lip service to limited government — nominated the most authoritarian candidate in American history.
The world has changed. Conservatives of the William F. Buckley Jr. mold had their faults, but a guiding principle behind most of their thought was that, except when absolutely necessary to avoid imminent public danger, government should stay out of people’s lives. Government was there to keep the peace. Not keep tabs on you, cradle to grave.
Things have changed. Trump’s production went on for four straight days. If there was one genuine small government moment in the whole deal, I missed it. There was plenty of red meat, though.
A problem with serving red meat rests in what the “two-minute hate” style rhetoric brings out in people. It brings out their basest, coarsest side, sacrificing the need for individual autonomy on the funeral pyre of a so-called common enemy.
And it adds up, almost invariably, to nothing.
Real talk: White and Shirk would rather talk about the threat of undue Islamic influence than attempt to make their affirmative cases for election. White works the tough talk gimmick. Shirk cleaves to a redemption narrative that, even though it may be completely true, is cloying when presented in the press. Neither can talk records. So they bank on histrionics.
The donor class hasn’t opened the checkbooks for either one of these guys. So the move is to work the rubes. Give them a good scare about the president or Sharia law. Make the suckers feel like you really get them. That’s populism, Trump-style.