Last year, when Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R) appeared likely to lose the gubernatorial race he expected to win, the Republican’s desperation led to an ugly move. With just a couple of weeks remaining, Vitter overhauled his campaign message and presented himself as the anti-Muslim-refugee candidate. In the end, it didn’t work – Louisiana rejected the senator by double digits.
But the outcome of the race hasn’t dissuaded other Republicans from trying a similar strategy. Take Sen. Mark Kirk, for example.
By most measures, the Illinois Republican, who’s seeking a second term, is the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbent, running in a state that’s very likely to go “blue” in November. Kirk and his campaign appear to believe, however, that it’s still possible to scare voters into supporting him.
In recent weeks, Kirk has launched attack ads telling Illinois voters that they should be terrified of ISIS, and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) is a fool for supporting a policy that welcomes Syrian refugees who are fleeing ISIS. Yesterday, the Republican senator directed the public to his latest op-ed in which Kirk argued that we should also be terrified of Guantanamo detainees.
The intelligence community agrees 30 percent of the terrorists released from Guantanamo are known or suspected to have already re-joined the fight against Americans – a statistic that translates to a horrific reality. […]Guantanamo remains the best way to protect Americans at home and abroad from the threat these terrorists pose.
U.S. military leaders have drawn the exact opposite conclusion, but Kirk hopes that voters will ignore them and instead listen to him. (Also note, many of the detainees who’ve “already re-joined the fight” were released from the prison by the Bush/Cheney administration, when Kirk was not inclined to complain about U.S. policy.)
But even putting substance and public policy aside, it’s becoming increasingly clear what kind of message Kirk believes will salvage his career: be afraid of ISIS, be afraid of refugees running away from ISIS, and be afraid of detainees in Guantanamo. How inspiring.
* Postscript: The Huffington Post published a piece several years ago noting that Kirk voted in 2009 for a spending bill that had the effect of endorsing the Obama administration’s policy on Guantanamo transfers. It was a big piece of legislation that incorporated a variety of related provisions, but it’s a detail worth keeping in mind as the debate continues.