Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who’s up for re-election this year, has an incentive to appear as moderate and level-headed as possible. He is, after all, a Republican running in a pretty blue state, sharing a ballot with Donald Trump in a presidential election year. The circumstances have made Kirk arguably the Senate’s most endangered incumbent.
And yet, the GOP senator just keeps making bizarre comments. Politico reports today:
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk hasn’t let up on his insistence that President Obama is using his power as president to lash out at a political enemy.At a fundraising event last month in Chicago, the Illinois Republican can be heard on audio defending indicted New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat, while accusing Obama of targeting Menendez because of his stance on Iran.
According to a recording Politico obtained, Kirk told his audience, “And let me say something about Bob Menendez. I believe that Bob Menendez was indicted solely on the crime of opposing the president on Iran.”
It wasn’t an off-hand comment: the Illinois Republican has pushed the same conspiracy theory over and over again.
To the extent that reality matters, we know that Kirk is completely wrong. The corruption investigation into Menendez’s work initiated long before the Iran deal negotiations even began, and the indictment was issued before the Iran deal was finalized. Besides, Menendez’s opposition to the international agreement was inconsequential, so the White House has no incentive to punish him.
But even if we put that aside, what Kirk is arguing is that the White House orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy, involving multiple federal prosecutors and investigators over the course of several years, to seek retribution against a senator from the president’s own party, who generally agrees with the administration’s position on most issues.
As proof, Kirk points to … nothing. The Illinois Republican believes the White House is guilty of an impeachable offense: manipulating federal law enforcement to execute a partisan retribution scheme. This is a conspiracy theory that doesn’t make any sense. The senator is comfortable throwing around this accusation, repeatedly and in public, despite having presented literally no evidence whatsoever.
Senators generally aren’t supposed to behave this way. Senators worried about their re-election bids never behave this way.
And circling back to a report from last summer, there’s also the larger pattern of Mark Kirk’s bizarre rhetoric as the election draws closer. When congressional Republicans threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security last year, it was the Illinois senator who got a little hysterical, urging the GOP to “build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office.”
A few months prior, during an ugly fight over Loretta Lynch’s attorney general nomination, Kirk suggested Democrats were defending slavery. A month later, he said people drive faster through black neighborhoods.
In isolation, these bizarre incidents might be easier to dismiss as regrettable slip-ups, but taken together, a pattern emerges of a senator who once claimed moderation, but not anymore.
If there’s an electoral strategy that explains such behavior, I can’t think of it. Kirk should be going out of his way to appear sensible, but for reasons no one seems able to explain, the GOP senator is doing the opposite.