The parties and their fringe candidates

Updated
Susanne Atanus is interviewed in Arlington Heights, Ill. Jan. 20. 2014.
Susanne Atanus is interviewed in Arlington Heights, Ill. Jan. 20. 2014.
Photo by Bob Chwedyk/AP
In Illinois this week, Republican Susanne Atanus won a congressional primary, despite her stated beliefs that God “has put tornadoes and diseases such as autism and dementia on earth as punishment for gay rights and legalized abortions.” While this may seem rather alarming, it’s also likely to be inconsequential – she’ll face incumbent Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) in a heavily Democratic district.
 
In other words, chances are the closest Atanus will get to walking the halls of Congress is as a tourist.
 
But the fact that the Republican candidate generated some media attention this week caught Dave Weigel’s eye, and not in a good way.
Both parties are going to be cursed with a few idiot candidates this year. It’s the nature of things when most congressional districts are unwinnable—if you can’t entice a real candidate to do a party-building exercise, you may end up with a fringe candidate. In 2012 the declining Tennessee Democratic Party accidentally nominated a conspiracy-minded flooring installer for U.S. Senate. The media did not hustle down to Nashville and Memphis to cover him. No Democrat in another state was asked whether they agreed with this candidate about the NAFTA superhighway or the “Godless new world order.” 
 
When voters are so ignorant and disinterested that they nominate kooks, it’s not an opportunity. It’s a disgrace.
It’s hardly an unreasonable point. Both parties have fringe elements and both occasionally wind up with candidates the party establishment finds embarrassing. There may be a clown-show temptation to marvel at the truly eccentric, but the underlying phenomenon is not unique to one party over the other.
 
But there are some relevant caveats to this.
 
It’s only fair to note, for example, that Republicans – far more so than Democrats – have struggled in recent election cycles by nominating fringe, off-the-wall candidates for a variety of offices at multiple levels of government. This has annoyed GOP leaders who believe some of the nuttiest candidates have cost them winnable elections, but I think neutral observers can agree the larger pattern is one that’s hurt Republicans more over the last few years.
 
And with this in mind, political observers are naturally on the lookout for the next Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, and so on. Susanne Atanus fits the bill, which caught reporters’ attention, but it’s this recent historical context that likely made her noteworthy in the first place.
 
Second, as Kevin Drum noted, when fringe Democrats accidentally win primaries, party officials are quick to announce the party wants nothing to do with them. With the GOP, this seems less common.
In the case of [Tennessee’ Mark Clayton], nobody thought he represented the secret id of the Democratic Party. And the local party went out of its way to make sure Clayton was well and truly shunned as a crackpot they wanted nothing to do with.
 
Has anything similar happened in Illinois? Has the Republican Party denounced Atanus and urged voters to cast their ballots for someone else? No they haven’t. Do reporters believe that Atanus does indeed represent a significant segment of the modern Republican base? Yes they do. Is this fair? Well … yes. It kind of is fair, isn’t it?
I’d note that in January, local GOP officials in Illinois did urge Atanus to drop out, deeming her simply too radical, but as best as I can tell, neither the state nor national party has denounced her candidacy since.
 
Update: Melissa Silverberg reminds me that “state and local” GOP leaders have again asked Atanus to withdraw.

The parties and their fringe candidates

Updated