Last night's Senate debate in Georgia, featuring appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) and the Rev. Raphael Warnock (D) was generally exasperating. The Republican incumbent had clearly been scripted to answer questions with a series of tired talking points.
Any references to Democrats, for example, led her to reference "socialism." Any reference to her vast wealth and controversial investments led Loeffler to talk about "the American dream." Questions about Donald Trump's election defeat prompted talk about the president's "right" to file lawsuits.
And every reference to her opponent led the senator to use the words "radical liberal" ad nauseum. I don't know exactly how many times Loeffler used the phrase, but let's just say that any viewer who took a drink every time she uttered the phrase wound up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.
But while I understand the rationale behind the incessant rhetoric, what's harder to understand is why Loeffler, of all people, wants to talk about ideological extremism. Remember this report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in September?
In the ad, released Monday, a couple lounging on a couch compare notes about Loeffler's conservative record backing President Donald Trump before a khaki-wearing actor remarks: "Yep, she's more conservative than Attila the Hun." The screen darts to a re-imagining of the ruthless leader, who was ruler of the Hunnic Empire during a reign of terror that pushed back Roman expansion and conquered vast parts of Asia and eastern Europe.
In case this was too subtle, the ad's narrator proceeded to tell viewers, "More conservative than Attila the Hun. Kelly Loeffler, 100% Trump voting record."
It was part of a related push in which Loeffler repeatedly boasted, "I'm ranked the most conservative United States Senator."
There are plenty of right-wing ideologues in the Senate -- Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn, Arkansas' Tom Cotton, Texas' Ted Cruz -- but Kelly Loeffler wanted Georgians to know they're all to her left. On the far-right fringe in the Senate, she stands alone as the most conservative of them all.
To be sure, there was no great mystery behind the message. Loeffler was facing a challenge from far-right Rep. Doug Collins (R), forcing the incumbent to move as far to the right as she could in order to advance to the January runoff.
When Gov. Brian Kemp (R) chose Loeffler for the seat earlier this year, the idea was that she'd help the Republican Party expand its reach, especially to moderate and suburban voters. By the time she'd embraced the "more conservative than Attila the Hun" line, it was clear that Loeffler had adopted a new game plan.
All of which makes it bizarre to see the Republican position herself as a judge of ideological radicalism.
Lawrence Glickman, a historian at Cornell, asked the other day, "Does anybody else find it odd that Loeffler, who self-identifies as 'more conservative than Attila the Hun,' is trying to label her opponent an extremist?"
That need not be a rhetorical question.