Republicans Run Political Races on Nonpolitical Issues

Inside the bizarre strategy and its failings.

Photo by Arnaud STECKLE on Unsplash

Anyone catch the most recent Sarah Huckabee Sanders campaign ad? The former White House press secretary turned Arkansas gubernatorial hopeful released a new campaign hit, and it’s a doozy.

I’ll save you a few minutes. Here are some of the highlights:

— She says, “the radical left’s solution is to impose government control and censorship from the top down.”

— Casts herself as the “last line of defense” against…Joe Biden? I think.

— A Hannity chyron of DEMOCRATS EMBRACE VENEZUELAN-STYLE SOCIALISM in all caps floods the screen.

— She promises to not be “politically correct,” while then declaring that she “took on the media and their cancel culture,” as the camera pans to CNN’s Jim Acosta asking her a question at a press briefing.

Yes, Arkansas. Jim Acosta asking questions at a question-asking meeting, this is the scourge from which you need protection.

The ad left me a bit curious. Arkansas must be doing pretty well, if the main message of the gubernatorial frontrunner concerns “media bias,” “cancel culture,” and “political correctness,” no?

Well, no. Here are some facts about Arkansas:

— Arkansas ranks either 48th or 49th in average income per capita per state, depending on the survey and year. But hey, better than West Virginia!

— Arkansas has a violent crime rate of 5.44 per 100,000 people, which is 47% above the national average.

— Ranked 48th in education as measured by percentage of population with a college degree (only 23%). But hey, better than West Virginia again!

— Stagnant population growth, 44th in life expectancy, blah blah blah.

I could go on, but why pile on? We all know what Arkansas is. I guess, more accurately, we also know what it isn’t — a place I would want to live.

Poor, dangerous, and uneducated, Arkansas needs help. They need sound policy in the form of actual legislation.

Luckily, your gubernatorial candidate is discussing job programs, access to healthcare, and education initiatives.

Wait, no she isn’t. She’s talking about political correctness, cancel culture, and media bias. (Quick aside — I would argue the primary media bias isn’t pro-liberal as much as it’s pro-click, but that’s an article for another time).

This isn’t a Sarah Huckabee Sanders phenomenon, or even an Arkansas-exclusive thing. It’s a GOP thing. Trump is headlining this year’s CPAC, and the official theme for this year’s festivities is “America Uncanceled.” Tucker’s monologues seem to focus exclusively on these issues as well, or related topics like conservative censorship in technology, which doesn’t actually exist, as I point out here.

This is the problem with modern conservatism. Frothing at the mouth, right-wing leaders relentlessly obsess over these cultural issues. But political correctness is not a legislative issue. A governor can’t stop media from having various biases.

What Arkansas state bill can stop left-wing Twitter from boycotting a brand?

These are cultural issues that rage in the background. Cancel culture isn’t why Arkansas lags behind almost every state in health indicators or wage growth. Political correctness doesn’t explain why less than a quarter of Arkansas’ population earned a college degree. “The media” isn’t why Arkansas is one of the most dangerous states in the country.

The antidote is policy, not ring-wing battle cries. More bills, fewer slogans. Arkansas has fallen behind, and the culprits aren’t coastal elites or shadows on the wall, but rather failed policies of a state government that can’t seem to attract human capital or investment for generations now.

Republicans insist on running political races on nonpolitical issues. The results are not good.

I have nothing against Arkansas or its people. You just deserve a governor who can identify the problems you face.

In other words, you deserve someone else.

political science researcher. former valedictorian. reader/writer. host of “Politics Mostly” podcast.

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