The real crux of the issue.
Joni Ernst is outraged—OUTRAGED—over Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the Democrat she’s seeking to replace as he retires, alluding to her looks in recent comments. But Ernst wants voters to focus on what Harkin said about physical appearance and ignore the fact that he was really making a political point:
“In this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads,” Harkin said at the Story County Democrats’ annual fall barbecue last week honoring the retiring senator. “And there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive, and she sounds nice.’”
“Well I gotta to thinking about that. I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”
Ernst is, of course, focusing on the “really attractive”-Taylor Swift part and ignoring the Mr. Rogers part and, most of all, the Michele Bachmann part. Partly this is because if you look at the whole quote in context, you get that Harkin is saying that Ernst is trying to market herself as an appealing person while avoiding political issues. That her ads, or Republican ads on her behalf, market her as attractive and nice but don’t talk about her positions on, say, Social Security or reproductive health. Because that is exactly the campaign Ernst is running, and avoiding the issues is paramount.
Which, duh. Yet Ernst is outraged, because there’s political capital to be gained:
“I was very offended that Sen. Harkin would say that,” Ernst said in an appearance on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.” “I think it’s unfortunate that he and many of their party believe that you can’t be a real woman if you’re conservative and you’re female.”
Democrats believe you can’t be a real woman if you’re conservative? Wha? Seriously, this makes no sense as a reading of “I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.” He did not say this. At most, Harkin should have known not to mention a female candidate’s looks even in a context in which he might well have referred to a male candidate’s looks, were a male candidate running the campaign Ernst has been.
Ernst is relying entirely on people not having heard what Harkin actually said. It’s basically the Republican play of 2008, when Barack Obama said, of John McCain and Sarah Palin’s policies, “you can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig” and “you can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It’s still going to stink,” and Republicans set up a fuss about Obama calling Palin a pig but had nothing to say about either McCain-as-old-fish or the actual political point being made. Because the outrage isn’t real.
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Republicans don’t want voters knowing what this is about any more than they want voters knowing where Ernst stands on the issues. They just want voters having heard a rumor that Harkin personally attacked Ernst and Ernst is hurt and offended. But this isn’t about Ernst’s similarities to Taylor Swift. It’s about her similarities to Michele Bachmann. (Poor Mr. Rogers—nobody’s thinking about him here.)