It’s difficult to dispute anything John Guardiano said in his recent post encouraging the GOP to welcome vigorous primary challenges since it is all so obviously correct. Of course its important that Republicans recruit independent, innovative thinkers and encourage coherent and substantive debate on “the issues.” In fact, I would imagine that Mark Kirk would welcome any showdown on issues like Iran, failed states, trade policy. In that sort of showdown, Kirk might finally be able to mention the fact that in October, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1327, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2009, which was sponsored by Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) The bill would authorize state and local governments to divest from firms with investments of $20 million or more in Iran’s oil and gas sectors. He might also mention that Kirk’s focus on Iran is not a new development. Kirk also has pushed for H.R. 2194, which was modeled after Kirk’s Iran Sanctions Enhancement Act of 2007 and Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act of 2009. The bill would extend current sanctions to companies that supply gasoline to Iran. During such a debate, Kirk might disseminate a few op-ed articles that he has penned on the topic of Iranian nuclear proliferation like this one from the Jerusalem Post or this one from back in 2007 from the Washington Post.
In a substantive debate on the issues that Guardiano highlights, Kirk would welcome a primary “battle” to focus on which candidate has the best ideas and which candidate is the most qualified to serve in the United States Senate. In five terms in Congress, Kirk has more than displayed his bonafides and his leadership skill on the most important issues of the day… like opposing Iranian nuclear proliferation. I don’t oppose a primary fight because it would focus on substantive issues but, on the contrary, because opposition to Kirk has nothing to do with the issues. The Tea Partiers opposing him don’t care that Kirk is the most qualified based on experience, the most intelligent, the most fit to win a general election, the best on Iran, the best on defense…..they care that he had the audacity to disagree with them on the bailout and on gun control — all issues which only primary voters disagree with him on. Guardiano calls for innovative and independent policy thinkers, yet it is Kirk’s refusal to toe the far right’s version of the “party line” that so upsets some conservatives.
If the debate were about issues, Andy Martin would not be running radio advertisements which mention a so called “solid rumor” that Kirk is gay. If this race were about issues, Lake County Republican leader Ray True would not publicly observe that Mark Kirk has “surrounded himself with homosexuals.” If this race were about issues, the rightwing blogosphere wouldn’t be buzzing about how “gay” Mark Kirk is. But this debate isn’t about issues. This debate is about how a small group of conservatives are upset that Kirk appeals to a more moderate group of voters. The opposition to Kirk doesn’t have a thing to do with issues.
Guardiano is right that we should encourage intelligent and substantive debate but he is wrong if he thinks there is even the slightest possibility that the GOP is capable of civil debate within the party. Mark Kirk would handily win in a substantive discussion on the issues. John is certainly right about the importance of what he refers to as “issues” but he is wrong to believe that a primary race in the modern GOP is going to focus on them. This primary battle is about a small group on the right attempting to derail an intelligent, popular candidate who will appeal to a broader base during the general election and potentially emerge as a Republican leader capable of pushing the party to adopt a big tent approach. It is not, unfortunately, about issues.