Joni Ernst is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate in 2020. She just isn’t necessarily running to be your senator.
In her announcement speech last weekend, as well as in subsequent tweets this past week, Ernst laid out her central rationale for another six years in the Senate: fighting and defeating Democrats and the left.
“Make no mistake: the forces of the radical, socialist left are on the march across our state and our nation,” Ernst said at her campaign kick-off. “We must – we must – do our part to defeat them! I’m asking all of you, can I count on your help to stop them?”
The crowd of Republican loyalists in Boone roared their approval, and Ernst got her made-for-TV-ad shot.
Such red-meat rhetoric obviously isn’t uncommon in today’s polarized politics, and certainly not in Donald Trump’s Republican Party, but it was still striking that Ernst went in so heavy on it.
Remember, she introduced herself to Iowans in 2014 as a tough farm girl and soldier who wanted to go to Washington to castrate some government budgets. She labeled herself a conservative, as pretty much any Republican does, but kept her image based largely around “small-town Iowa values.” It was an attractive profile and pitch to voters outside the Republican base.
This was how her speech led into her official reelection announcement:
“Our freedoms are quite literally under attack because the radical left will stop at nothing until socialism has spread from coast to coast! We all know there is a better way,” Ernst said. “And that is why I am so proud to announce to all of you today my campaign to return to the United States Senate!”
There was plenty else in her 30-minute speech that one would expect in a Republican’s campaign stump speech: tax cuts, abortion, veterans’ health care, farm assistance, border security, her family. And there were plenty of other opportunities to base her next campaign around any of those topics.
Instead, we got a Fox-News fever dream, a tale of paranoia and animus against the imagined evil policies of Ernst’s political enemies.
“This fight isn’t over and there’s more work to be done to push back on the coastal liberal insanity, to stand up for Iowans, to stand up for our farms, to stand up for our very way of life in the face of socialism,” Ernst said. “To defend our country by strengthening our military and supporting our fighting men and women around the world. And lastly, to make them squeal!”
It also wasn’t just a one-time tirade to whip up supporters for the cameras.
Our freedoms are under attack because the radical left will stop at nothing until socialism has spread from coast to coast. Let me be clear: socialism has no place in the Hawkeye State or America, and I will stop at nothing to protect our Iowa values.https://t.co/LLuvTqansV
— Joni Ernst (@joniernst) June 20, 2019
We’ve seen this steady transformation to a partisan warrior in Joni Ernst ever since she got out to D.C. An ambitious politician who’s been mentioned as a future presidential contender, Ernst quickly climbed the ladder of Senate leadership, a task that often requires lock-step loyalty with the party. So far this year, she has voted with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell 97% of the time.
And in this era of Trump, wild-eyed, divisive bombast is the way to motivate the Republican base.
Still, many politicians do at least try to pretend that they’re interested in representing all their constituents. This is more the case for chief executives like governors who are in charge of running an entire state, but even legislators put up appearances that they’re listening to everyone, even those who disagree with them.
Ernst did reference her 99-county tour and how she gets inputs from Iowans of all stripes during those.
“I take the examples I hear from Iowans – your stories – about the needs for rural Iowa, and I advocate for you,” she said.
Of course, she often only spoke of rural Iowa, not Iowa as a whole, and even then, lines about working together or listening don’t have the same impact when you just torched a whole ideology as the enemy several minutes earlier.
One has to wonder if there really was no other topic or theme for Ernst to justify her reelection bid around.
At the outset of her speech, she started to tell a touching story about the grit and determination of her mother, and how Ernst hoped to pass on those values to her own daughter. But all it ended up as was a setup for how “liberal Democrats” (or, as Ernst pronounced it, “libbbberal Democratttttssss”) were attacking what makes up “the heart and the soul of our state.”
Ernst also spoke about working with senators of the other party. And cutting back perks for former presidents and Congress. And auditing the Defense Department. And working on sexual assault issues in the military. And fighting for agriculture.
All of which seems like it could have made a good kick-off slogan.
“I’m running because I know my service to the country I love is never done.”
“I’m running to make the world a better, safer place for my daughter, one based on the values that my mother taught me.”
“I’m running to continue Iowa’s tradition of strong, conservative women getting things done.”
“I’m running to finish the job I started, to take on the big government that doesn’t listen to you.”
No, it was an “I’m running to destroy the Democrats” theme, spiced up with a couple blatant and insulting lies about Democrats supporting “infanticide” and wanting to ban cars.
And that laid clear her real motivations for seeking reelection.
Joni Ernst doesn’t want to represent all Iowans, she wants to fight a war against half of them.
That seems like a much riskier platform to run on, but then, political advisers do tell candidates to stay true to their own self. And this is what Joni Ernst is now.
by Pat Rynard
Photo by Julie Fleming