A “true unapologetic liberal” is how Joe Heck campaign strategist Ryan Erwin described Heck’s Democratic challenger, Erin Bilbray, in a profile of Heck published last month in National Journal.
Hmm, a Republican calling a Democrat a liberal. Heck’s campaign is evidently going to deploy the strategy Poppy Bush’s team perfected against Michael Dukakis.
Hey, it worked in 1988.
Admittedly, it’s worked since. Invoking “the L word” as if it were a curse that magically neutralizes the political threat posed by any and all Democrats has been standard Republican procedure for decades, often as not accompanied by incantations of “no new taxes” for a powerful double-whammy spell.
But then, for decades Republicans also won elections by freaking out over adult consensual sex, insisting that men should be in charge of America’s lady parts and of course, demonizing “illegals.”
Heck is executing each of those pages from the old Republican playbook, too.
Heck opposes same-sex marriage. But he knows that position is oldy-timey, and if asked he’ll change the subject, as he did during last year’s campaign by referring to the civil rights issue as a “distraction.”
Passing a draconian Tea Party-driven anti-abortion bill in the House is also arguably a distraction, in that the bill has no chance of passing the Senate and is patently unconstitutional in any event. But that’s a distraction Joe Heck can get behind. He voted for it earlier last month. Hey ladies, why bother making your own decisions about what’s best for you and your body? Relax and let Joe Heck tell you what to do.
Heck last month also voted for a bill sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Xenophobia, to defund the program that defers deportation for Dreamers. In other words, Heck effectively voted to deport undocumented people who were brought to the U.S. as children. Heck explained his vote in a video release, objecting to “piecemeal administrative actions and executive orders” because immigration must be addressed “through the legislative process.”
As it happens, the legislative process produced an immigration bill that easily passed the Senate with bipartisan support just the other day. Heck says he won’t support it. That effectively leaves Heck waiting for the Tea Partiers to decide what, if any, type of immigration reform the House will even be allowed to consider. Heck’s Tea Party buddies, by the way, are expected to adopt a “piecemeal” approach, the piece in question being border security, probably making any other immigration reforms contingent on recreating the wall from Game of Thrones.
In claiming he voted to deport Dreamers because he’s so darned offended by Obama acting through executive order instead of the legislative process, Heck is asking Nevadans to believe that Joe Heck is the only person in America who hasn’t noticed that the Tea Party has smashed the legislative process to smithereens. Thanks to Tea Party opposition — Joe Heck obediently in tow — the Republicans in the House couldn’t even pass a farm bill, traditionally about one procedural step more difficult than naming a post office in Texas after Ronald Reagan. Anyone with eyes to see knows that the House is a policy and procedural wasteland. Yet, while the House spins dogmatic circles in its ideological cul-de-sac, Heck is going to begrudge the president for taking whatever practical measures possible to protect Dreamers? Heck can’t be serious. He isn’t that obtuse. He just thinks voters are.
Republican Sen. Dean Heller voted for the immigration bill. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has indicated support for immigration reform. The Nevada Legislature made driver’s licenses available to undocumented immigrants. Nevada’s Legislature also began the process of ridding the state of its dumb gay marriage ban. And unlike their counterparts in statehouses nationwide — and unlike Joe Heck in the U.S. House — Nevada’s legislative Republicans pushed no wild-eyed anti-abortion bill.
Heck may be in step with beltway Republicans, but he’s out of step with Nevada.
To Heck’s credit, if you can call it credit-worthy, he’s probably not out of step with Nevada because of a sincerely held underlying philosophy. Assigning sincerity to any politician is a faith-based exercise that often as not ends in disappointment. Whatever little faith I may have once had in Heck’s sincerity pretty much disintegrated after he personally told me he didn’t believe in the no-new-tax pledge and then signed it a few weeks later. Heck doubtless feels some vague affinity with general, all-purpose wingnuttery. But that’s not driving his congressional performance, and won’t be driving his reelection effort, either.
So why is Joe Heck so deliberately at odds with his fellow Nevadans? What’s the calculation?
Without a presidential race to boost turnout next year, Heck’s campaign is gambling that one more victory can be eked out by going back to the well; that one more election, in one Nevada congressional district, can be won in 2014 the same way the vast majority of U.S. elections were won up until recently: winning the old white man vote.
Who knows, in that spirit of 1988, Heck might even trot out something comparable to Bush the Elder’s famous Willy Horton ads.
That’d give Heck’s kid something to tweet about.
HUGH JACKSON is co-host of The Agenda on KSNV Channel 3.