The Populist MYTH

Mercifully, it’s August. This means that the overheated ads for Republican candidates for offices like Congressional District 4 will be off the air soon.

Those who might have believed the GOP was the limited government party may want to update their almanacs. The GOP has become the party of the tinfoil hat, and this sorry debacle of a primary scrum to replace outgoing Rep. Ander Crenshaw illustrates it.

Speaking of Crenshaw, his political trajectory illustrates quite well what’s happened to the Republican Party. 9/11 set up a paradigmatic shift in rhetoric for the GOP — from business-friendly inclusiveness to the kind of apocalyptic rhetoric needed to sell a pan-Asian war that transcended geographical boundaries and logic.

“We are fighting them over there so that we don’t have to fight them here,” we were told and, to that end, we sunk a trillion dollars and a generation into doomed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bombing missions in more than a dozen countries during the Bush/Obama era, and ultimately no material gains.

The early part of that war was funded by a phantom economic boom that was unsustainable. The inevitable deflation of false promises led us, inexorably, into the crash of 2008 and the Troubled Assets Relief Program that Bush launched and Obama followed through on. TARP helped the corporations. As to the actual people: Instead of trickle-down, they got trickled-on, as the old joke goes.

Then 2009 saw the Tea Party emergence, the crazy aunts and uncles from the Republican Party’s attic. You can keep, it turns out, one, or maybe even two, crazy relatives in the attic. But in the GOP, increasingly older and whiter with each election cycle, the ceiling collapsed in the 2016 primaries. All those discordant voices with the tinfoil hats achieved critical mass in the room, eclipsing the business candidates, and giving us the party of Trump as the sole electable alternative to the tender mercies of the Clinton Foundation’s candidate.

As I have despaired occasionally in this space in the last several months, the GOP finally saw its Id component overcome the Superego of the business class. Ander Crenshaw likely saw that coming two years ago, when he faced a surprisingly credible primary challenge from a candidate to his right, one who didn’t even live in the Congressional district.

Now, Crenshaw is gone. The attempted establishment coronation of former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford — the most reasoned voice in the whole field — got some spirited challenges from a motley crew of mountebanks who believe that the way to the nomination is to make the yokels, rubes, hicks and poltroons think you’re one of them.

A common thread among these candidates is the jingoistic pitch, reminiscent of the old Mac Papers ads of the 1980s.

Two candidates working that angle in various ways are Bill McClure and Ed Malin.

McClure, a St. Johns County Commissioner still under an open state investigation for his ownership stake in an alleged pill mill, lent his campaign $100K, the sole output of which thus far has been the “Washington Insider Party” ad you might have seen on TV. It has Rutherford, Hans Tanzler III and Lake Ray hobnobbing with such notables as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell.

The premise is that the “insiders” want one of these three credible candidates, instead of McClure, who lurks outside the window in a way that looks more like aggravated stalking than anything else.

No one with any sense is giving McClure money. Hence, he’s not an “insider.”

Malin, a nice guy in the conventional sense, is working a “no fundraising” gimmick. In his TV ad, Malin can’t be bothered to tuck in his shirt or even button it — such a proletarian touch — as he says he won’t accept donations because they’re “bribes.”

Left unsaid is that there wasn’t exactly a line out the door of Angie’s Subs ready to give Malin hundreds of thousands of dollars.

These guys aren’t registering in polls; they’re “nuisance candidates” who can’t win, but muddy the waters of figuring out who might.

Of course, there is a candidate who’s fundraising but is still working the populist shtick: the aforementioned multimillionaire lawyer Hans “Rawhide” Tanzler, the son of Jacksonville’s first post-consolidation mayor, who introduced himself to voters with preposterous ads showing him on horseback, brandishing a rifle, and saying crap like “Mr. Obama … I’ve got one message from We the People: Get out of our town” and “on the ranch, we learn important lessons, like ‘we don’t eat our seed corn’ and ‘we don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.’” (OK — he doesn’t actually say the second quote. But you get the picture.)

It’s so much BS, it might just work. Hans Tanzler’s done nothing but go up in the polls with his ads. He could beat John Rutherford by working the faux-populist shtick at the same time he’s fundraising like the establishment guy that he is.

We get the candidates we deserve. If this sloppy anti-intellectual crap didn’t work, candidates wouldn’t use it. And as the GOP gets older, grayer and more incontinent, it’s going to get worse from here.