Joni Ernst Chooses To Close Out Campaign Ugly

If there’s one surefire way to tell if an Iowa Republican is worried they’re about to lose an election, it’s this: they start running race-baiting ads.

That’s exactly where Sen. Joni Ernst finds herself as we close in on the final week of the campaign. After making an absurd series of lies about Theresa Greenfield at Republican events and then in debates, Ernst has taken her “systemic racism” attack to the airwaves.

“Being a cop these days is hard enough, so it doesn’t help when liberals like Theresa Greenfield call us ‘racist,'” says an Iowa law enforcement officer named Justin in Ernst’s latest ad.

This is a continuation of Ernst’s insistence that because Greenfield said we need to fight against “systemic racism” in Iowa, that meant that Greenfield was personally calling all police officers racist. It’s a willful and ridiculous false statement, one that Ernst and her team know is wrong, but continue to spread it because they have little else to run on.

“Greenfield says there’s systemic racism in Iowa law enforcement. That’s offensive,” former far-right state representative Clel Baudler chimes in with.

“She attacked police and called us racists,” Justin adds.

Let’s be absolutely clear what this is: a play for the type of white voters who get more upset at someone being called a racist than they do at actual racism. Rather than attempt to fix racial disparities in Iowa, Ernst would rather gin up fake outrage for political gain, all in a manner that ensures the state doesn’t actually confront tough truths about racial issues.

In a video on her YouTube page, Ernst claims Greenfield “triples down on calling police racist” for a line where Greenfield says, “We have to address the kind of systemic racism throughout all of our systems — health care, housing, education, policing…”

Notice that Ernst is not also feigning outrage and trying to suggest that Greenfield attacked health care workers by mentioning that. But then we already know what Ernst thinks of them.

And oddly enough, it was Ernst herself who literally called at least some police officers racist in the last Senate debate. Though largely overshadowed by the soybean gaffe, there was a long section on racial justice in that debate, and Ernst was pressed on whether systemic racism existed in relation to policing. She argued it didn’t exist at all in Iowa, but stated there were certainly individuals who are racist.

“I believe that you will find racist individuals in those systems, but I don’t believe that entire systems of people, of people, are racists,” Ernst said. “There are racists out there, yes, there are.”

Given they were talking about policing, that’s Ernst saying there are some racist police officers. Greenfield has just talked about “systemic racism” as a whole.

The point about “systemic racism” or “institutional racism” or “structural racism” is that a system is designed in a way that creates and maintains disparities along racial lines. You can have plenty of good people working in health care or housing or education or law enforcement, all of whom are doing their best, but the system they’re in still creates unequal outcomes.

In reality, it’s both — the system is designed in a way that creates disparities, and there’s certainly at least some within who are racists themselves.

It’s not entirely clear that Ernst is really that blind or foolish to think that there are no racial disparities or inequities in any governmental or societal system in Iowa. But by going so hard against Greenfield on the “systemic racism” line, Ernst backed herself into a corner where she had to say that it simply didn’t exist at all in Iowa, thus becoming a very major part of the problem.

In a different new ad, Ernst has brought back out the tragic death of Sarah Root, a Council Bluffs resident killed by a drunk driver who happened to be an undocumented immigrant. Republicans in Iowa have repeatedly used this death to cast immigrants as scary and dangerous. The mother agrees with doing these things, but that doesn’t mean you have to put her on TV or present her at press conferences.

“Joni Ernst is fighting to keep violent illegal aliens behind bars,” Michelle Root says in the ad.

Republicans like to run these ads and pretend like they’re a perfectly legitimate thing to do, not out of the mainstream of American politics. But they’re still incredibly wrong. They just are. We all know what they’re aimed at — demonizing immigrants for their own political benefit. And these TV ads, seen by hundreds of thousands of Iowans every day, have an impact beyond the campaign — reinforcing racist stereotypes and making Iowa a worse and more dangerous place to live, especially for people of color.

Were none of that enough, Ernst has taken to personally lying about Greenfield in media interviews in the hope she doesn’t get called out for it.

“I think it is absolutely horrible what Theresa Greenfield, my opponent, and her liberal allies are doing — they are pushing a misinformation campaign,” Ernst falsely said on Fox News last week of Greenfield and a fake email going around on Twitter last weekend.

The Fox News host noted that Greenfield’s campaign had denounced it didn’t share it. Ernst immediately retreated, caught in the lie.

“While she may not have shared it personally, we know that her supporters are sharing it,” Ernst replied.

None of these desperation plays are new for Iowa Republicans, but it is interesting to watch Ernst engage in it so heavily given few thought last year she’d be in this place, on the cusp of a possible reelection loss.

And just as Ernst has failed to distinguish herself from Trump or the Republican Party, she too now is going to the standard well of GOP racial animus politics (the exact things that helped Trump take over the party in the first place, by the way). It’s telling of the senator’s character, what she’s really willing to stoop to when her political future is on the line.

There’s a lot of unsaid things in these types of race-baiting ads that Ernst is closing with, all the little inferences and dog-whistles she hopes a certain kind of voter picks up on. But there’s something else it says about her, something Iowans should consider as Election Day nears: Ernst sees racism as something that can politically benefit her and not something she should use her position as a senator to fight.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 10/25/20

Iowa Starting Line is an independently owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.

8 Comments on "Joni Ernst Chooses To Close Out Campaign Ugly"

  • As a lifelong Democrat I have been very disappointed with how my party has vilified law enforcement.
    The brave men and women of law enforcement are typically part of the Democrat coalition – but not this year as police union after police union endorse Trump.

  • Senator Ernst is not foolish she is calculating in her approach to misinformation and deliberate lies. It is a tragedy about Ms. Root; yet I have not heard one word from the Senator about 545 children being separated from their parents perhaps permanently. The Democrats have not been vilifying the police community only asking that the ones who break the law be held accountable. It is absurd to act like every single profession in this country does not have rules and consequences for actions that uphold the parameters of human decency.

  • The probably didn’t keep this kind of data back then – but I’d be real curious about ole Clel’s record of how often he pulled people over on I-80 between Des Moines and Omaha and what race they were.

  • Typical dirty republican tactics. And I’m not sure who the wild eyed whiny woman is on Ernst’s youtube ads these days but she’s absolutely repellant. Her own ads make me want to vote against her. Who wants a candidate who chooses whiny fear mongering teary eyed actresses to try to manipulate voters. Gross. Left wing all the day.

  • Nebraska, is very dear to me because my family settled there , after escaping Nazi Germany. They were soybean farmers in Pender. Reading the experience of the rally attendees reminds me of the stories grandma told about Hitler. Always waiting in lines, forced by one bully after another to heed to the rules, when there were none. Think smart and vote for caring about the people.

  • Ernst not only smears Greenfield and Democrats with obvious lies and misinformation, she insults her own supporters with her unbelievably stupid campaign ad saying that Greenfield’s policies would raise gas prices to $15 a gallon. It’s sad if she really thinks her supporters are so dense and naive that they would believe such a ridiculous thing about the middle-of-the-road policies of a centrist Democrat like Greenfield. Let’s hope they’re not that dumb, but I’m not holding my breath. Ernst going this far out of whack is an act of desperation. She needs to be replaced.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *