Trump and the Mosquito Wars

Posted May 9, 2018 6:37 p.m. EDT

Our question for today is: What do Tuesday night’s primary results mean to you?

A) Really going to miss that exploding-mine guy in West Virginia.

B) Should be exciting matchups this fall!

C) Primary what?

Hey, I know you’re concerned citizens who are worried about who controls the House and Senate next year. Even so, it’s possible you did not feel compelled to follow every single race. Except maybe the one in West Virginia featuring Don Blankenship, the guy who served a year in jail for conspiring to break mine safety rules after an explosion killed 29 people.

The Republican Party was terrified voters would race out to support this guy. Why do you think they were so worried? The polling was pretty hazy. Yet political professionals seemed to feel there was a danger of a stampede toward Mr. Mine Disaster. Who was also actually a resident of Nevada. Mitch McConnell was a nervous wreck, and even Donald Trump got in the stop-Blankenship movement.

Maybe the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Joe Manchin, could run on a “Republicans think West Virginians are imbeciles” campaign.

Manchin is high on the list of endangered red-state Democrats, and many of his supporters were rooting for Blankenship, figuring it would be easy to beat a crazy guy with terrible business ethics and a gift for pandering to the lowest possible denominator. However strategic this kind of thinking is, I want you to remember how it worked out with Trump.

West Virginians came through, however low the bar might have been. Blankenship lost. The race cost him an estimated $100 a vote, one of the most pathetic showings since Rudy Giuliani ran for president and spent $110 per vote in the process of winning nothing whatsoever.

The new Republican Senate nominee, meanwhile, is Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a former pharmaceutical lobbyist married to a current pharmaceutical lobbyist. Who is promising to take on the status quo and “blow it up.”

This seems to be a theme around the country: former lobbyists running for office and promising to drain the swamp. It’s a little like a mosquito campaigning on a vow to combat malaria.

In Ohio, Republicans picked congressman and former lobbyist Jim Renacci to run against Sen. Sherrod Brown. “Washington is broken. I’ve seen it firsthand,” he twittered with a #DrainTheSwamp hashtag. Only that mosquito, you see, knows where the malaria comes from.

The primary was billed as Renacci versus a Wealthy Businessmen, but the congressman himself has assets worth at least $34 million. (Hard to know what counts as rich these days. We used to refer to a well-heeled politician as a “millionaire,” but now, being a millionaire member of Congress is average. We need a new marker. Ten million? A hundred? A billion? Discuss among yourselves and send me your vote.)

Meanwhile in Indiana, Wealthy Businessman Mike Braun won the right to run against endangered Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. Braun was running against two members of the House, both graduates of Wabash College with problematic driving records and an attachment to the president so intense, one was campaigning to get him a Nobel Prize. Braun campaigned on the fact that nobody could tell the two congressmen apart. He came to debates in shirt sleeves while his opponents wore what appeared to be the exact same suit. There are two possible lessons here. One is that if the shirt-sleeve idea catches on, sooner or later there’s going to be a candidate desperate enough to show up in pajamas.

The other is that if you are a congressman running against another congressman, do something to set yourself apart. Shave your head or walk across the state barefoot with your pet beagle, Hoosier.

And one more thing about Indiana: Mike Pence’s older brother Greg won a congressional nomination! For the extremely safe seat that used to be Mike’s until he became governor. Even though he was stupendously well known without any serious opposition, Greg Pence spent about $1 million on the effort while avoiding debates and interviews.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another Wealthy Businessman story. Pence actually seems to have been a terrible businessman, having bankrupted the family convenience store empire earlier in his career, before he rebounded as the owner of two “antique malls.”

Nevertheless, his victory had some people wondering if the Pences are going to build up a dynasty. Like Indiana’s only former presidential family, the Harrisons. (Greg could be Benjamin!) Or like the Kennedys except without the sex scandals and charisma.

Maybe someday there’ll be a movie or TV series recounting the story of their rise to world fame, in which Mike and the Mrs. are sharing their traditional Friday evening of thin-crust pizza and nonalcoholic beer when Greg rushes in to report there’s trouble at the antique mall.

Or maybe in the swamp.

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