Donald "Don" Blankenship, former chief executive officer of Massey Energy Co., center, and his attorney, left, exit the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, W. Va., on Dec. 3, 2015.
Photo by Calvin Mattheis/Bloomberg/Getty

GOP Senate candidate targets Mitch McConnell’s family

Early on in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, he briefly went after Jeb Bush’s wife, suggesting her Mexican heritage influenced the former governor’s position on immigration.

That 2015 incident came to mind this morning reading about Don Blankenship, the coal baron and ex-con, who’s running for the Republicans’ U.S. Senate nomination in West Virginia, and who offered a similar criticism of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the New York Times.

In a highly unusual move, a super PAC linked to Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky senator and Republican leader, began saturating the West Virginia airwaves last week with an ad attacking Mr. Blankenship for poisoning local drinking water from his former coal mines. The nearly $745,000 campaign of TV and digital ads is meant to boost the chances of two conventional Republicans in the race, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Representative Evan Jenkins. […]

On Monday, responding to the attack ads, Mr. Blankenship brought up Mr. McConnell’s marriage to Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation, and questioned whether the majority leader faced a conflict of interest in foreign relations. Ms. Chao’s father is “a wealthy Chinaperson,” Mr. Blankenship said, speaking on a West Virginia radio show, adding, “And there’s a lot of connections to some of the brass, if you will, in China.”

That’s obviously offensive, though I won’t pretend to know if it will help or hurt Blankenship’s chances of electoral success. Trump relied heavily on racially charged appeals and attacks on GOP leaders, and he won 68% of the vote in West Virginia – his single strongest state in 2016.

The same Times article on Blankenship highlighted a series of contradictions surrounding the GOP candidate.

Don Blankenship is running for the United States Senate as a proud West Virginian with Appalachian roots, but his primary residence is a $2.4 million villa with palm trees and an infinity pool near Las Vegas.

Mr. Blankenship, a Republican loyalist of President Trump, is running an America First-style campaign and calls himself an “American competitionist,” but he admires China’s state-controlled economy and has expressed interest in gaining Chinese citizenship.

The former coal mining executive is widely known for spending a year in prison for his role in a mining explosion that claimed 29 lives. Yet he is running as a champion of miners and has bought TV ads that challenge settled facts about his role in the disaster.

The piece went on to note that Blankenship is ignoring legal requirements about candidates’ financial disclosures because, as he put it, there isn’t “much of a penalty” for flouting the law.

When making a list of the most Trumpian candidates of 2018, Don Blankenship almost certainly belongs near the top of the list.