On Friday, word started getting around Twitter and various Illinois blogs that Jeanne Ives, Republican challenger to Bruce Rauner, had released a strange, offense ad titled “Benedict Rauner.” In it, she was supposed to discuss how Rauner “sold out” his constituents by pandering to the worst people in Illinois: feminists, immigrants, LGBTQ.
It actually seemed sort of impossible, and indeed, on the venerable Capitol Fax blog, commenters couldn’t quite believe it. It seemed like a joke. I sort of didn’t even pay attention to it, since it seemed ridiculous.
Well, come Saturday, as I was watching my Butler Bulldogs play DePaul (in the manner one watches a cat toy with a mouse), the commercial came on. I honestly goggled gape-jawed while watching. It was the most vile ad I’ve ever seen in the state.
I don’t want to link to it, but the cast is above. In it, these people thank Bruce Rauner for a litany of sins. As least offensive, you have the rich tycoon thanking Rauner for bailing out Exelon, the energy giant. We can all get behind the anti-fatcat message, I suppose.
But you also have the pussy-hatted frump-chic girl thanking Rauner for “making Illinois taxpayers pay for my abortion.” You have the black CTU representative thanking Rauner for giving Chicago teachers everything they wanted. You have the bandanna criminal thanking Rauner for allowing Chicago to be a sanctuary city. That they cast a white guy showed, for once, a modicum of common sense, but the message was clearly there.
And for the cream of the crop, you have the transgendered representative, which in the pinched world of Ives and her supporters, is an ugly man in an ill-fitting dress, stubble and chest hair given places of prominence, thanking Bruce Rauner for letting “people like me use the women’s bathroom.”
The level of outrage here scrapes the sky. Every single one of these was designed to inflame the Breitbart base. Transgendered are tranny pervs, all teachers are black and want handouts, all undocumented immigrants are gangster thugs, all feminists are abortion-loving lesbians (don’t ask for logical or biological consistency).
The Democratic candidates for governor united as one to condemn it, and after a few hesitations, the Illinois GOP did as well. Bruce Rauner took a bit too long to do so; when asked, he immediately pivoted to repeating “Mike Madigan” like an incantation. But everyone is pretty outraged.
Ives? She doesn’t seem to understand the fuss. In a talk yesterday, which Eric Zorn, who does god’s own work in the state, transcribed, she gave some boilerplate dissonance about “respecting everyone in God’s image”, even if she disagrees with them, but is sad that people who disagree with her are all up in arms. It was standard maddening dishonesty. It was the Q&A that got good.
When asked again about the ad, she replied:
“The fact that you saw a visual representation of the policies he put in place is maybe considered offensive. I don’t understand that. That’s exactly the fat-cat Exelon guy, that’s exactly who you bailed out. Hello! The teacher from CPS, that’s whose pension you just bailed out. The transgender man, that’s exactly what, typically, a transgender man looks like (groans in the audience). Sir, with all due respect, I’ve had them show up at my door, so …”
It’s just what they look like. That’s the teacher! That’s the fatcat! (the fatcat is good inoculation against bigotry, in theory.) That’s typically what a transgender man looks like. And she knows! They’ve showed up at her door. I guess, selling cookies?
Look, this is all clearly dishonest. The ad was designed to appeal to the hard right, who feel sold out by Bruce Rauner, because while he is doing everything in his power to destroy unions, crush workers, and turn Illinois into Wisconsin, he isn’t quite there.
For one thing, he isn’t powerful enough to do it to the extent they want (see for example the outrage that teachers are getting the pensions they were promised, which is apparently a capital crime). For another, he sometimes, whether for political or personal reasons, he isn’t the culture warrior they demand. He isn’t, at the end, a total bigot.
This isn’t enough for some people. Ives wouldn’t have a shot if Rauner weren’t such a bumbling clod and a terrible politician, but she saw an opening, and she took it. She’s now being backed by Breitbart, as Natasha Korecki pointed out in her morning playbook, and is being funded by the right-wing Uihlein family, out of Lake Forest. They were last seen backing Roy Moore, propelling him to a primary win over Luther Strange. He was backed not in spite of being a theocratic bigot and hateful know-nothing, but because of it. And he lost the general not because of that, but because he likes them young.
In any other year, Ives would have been a fringe candidate, like when Alan Keyes ran against Obama in 2004. Rauner is hard-right, an absolute plutocrat’s plutocrat. Sure, he’s not great at it, but he is giving these people most of what they want, economically. But it isn’t enough. His cloddish nature gives them an opening, but it isn’t just that.
It’s that there is something wild and unburied here. From the race riots of Cairo to the entrenched bigotry of Chicago, Illinois has never been a truly progressive state. With our Great Lakes to Deep South length, and the tension between farm and city, and the tensions in a huge, racially-mixed industrial city, there have always been elements of ugly in out politics.
In my lifetime at least, these have been progressively buried. The Council Wars of the 80s are now unthinkable, and Alan Keyes was a joke. Culture warriors don’t win.
But Donald Trump has stirred something nasty and cruel, an secret serum, a potion that incantates buried corpses from the ground. They are stirring because they feel strengthen. They feel powerful. They feel that it is their time. Trump may be unpopular, but he is still a hero to the worst.
I’ve been shielded from that in Illinois, and maybe that is why the ad was so breathtaking. Maybe people in other states saw that and shrugged; another day in America. But that it can break into this bubble, is being proudly played during Saturday morning basketball, shows to me the far-reaching damage that Trump’s dark magic is doing to America.
(And yes, the Nazi getting the GOP nomination for Congress is pretty bad, but that’s more a product of the Republicans not putting up a challenger in a heavily-gerrymandered district. But while their offense at gerrymandering is adorable, one also has to ask: why does the Nazi identify as a Republican?)