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Why one GOP senator wants to block Ben & Jerry's in his state

Sen. James Lankford's (R-Okla.) efforts to ban Ben & Jerry's from his state serve as a reminder: Republican primaries can do funny things to incumbents.
Image: Ben & Jerry's
Ben and Jerry's ice cream is stored in a cooler at an event where founders Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen gave away ice cream to bring attention to police reform at the Supreme Court on May 20, 2021 in Washington.Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images file

Earlier this week, Ben & Jerry's announced that it would stop selling ice cream in disputed parts of the Middle East, explaining in a statement, "We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry's ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)." The company added that it intended to find a way to stay in Israel "through a different arrangement."

The news, not surprisingly, was controversial in some circles, though one Republican senator went much further than most. The Hill noted:

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) called on his state to block the sale of Ben and Jerry's ice cream following an announcement earlier this week that the company would stop selling ice cream in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory.

The Oklahoma Republican specifically argued via Twitter that his home state "should immediately block the sale" of all Ben & Jerry's ice cream in the Sooner State.

Lankford appeared to be quite serious.

As The Hill's report added, Oklahoma did approve a measure two years ago that declared that "the state, and those companies that do business by and through the state, in the interest of the state's economic policy, should not boycott trade with Israel."

One of the primary Republican authors of the bill, however, said the law applies to the state and state vendors, not private entities. Or put another way, Lankford's declaration notwithstanding, Oklahoma's state law does not open the door to banning Ben & Jerry's ice cream on state soil.

But the senator's statement nevertheless seems notable for reasons unrelated to its merits.

For one thing, for all the hysterical far-right complaints about "cancel culture," it's conservative Republicans who seem awfully eager to "cancel" companies that make decisions they disagree with.

Similarly, it's striking to see GOP officials celebrate "free markets" as a core tenet of Republican thought, only to have a sitting U.S. senator use his position to demand a statewide boycott of an ice cream company after it made a licensing decision the senator didn't like in a foreign country.

But let's also not forget the electoral context: James Lankford is facing a 2022 primary challenge because the senator accepted the results of the 2020 presidential election. The chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party recently took the extraordinary step of endorsing the incumbent senator's GOP rival because Lankford failed to go along with Donald Trump's Big Lie.

And Republican primary fights tend to do unfortunate things to nervous incumbents. In January, Lankford appeared eager to seem reasonable, not only voting to certify President Biden's victory, but even apologizing to Black voters in his state for initially going along with his party's far-right campaign to discredit election results it didn't like.

Six months later, Lankford has shifted gears -- and wants to ban Ben & Jerry's from his state.