Jason Zengerle of The New York Times Magazine has written a story about evil billionaire Peter Thiel's two 2022 Senate candidates, J.D. Vance of Ohio and Blake Masters of Arizona, that has me wondering whether Zengerle actually lives in America or has spent any time in the past decade observing American politics. Zengerle begins by telling us about what he says are the "aesthetic rules" of American political advertising:
A candidate who’s touting education proposals, for instance, will invariably be shown sitting awkwardly in a kid-size chair, reading to elementary-school students. A promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States must be accompanied by footage of the candidate, preferably in a hard hat, nodding meaningfully at someone in a factory. The candidate should always appear with people — talking, listening, shaking hands — except when speaking directly to the viewer, which should be done from a living room, with a credenza cluttered with family photos in the background.
Has Zengerle actually watched a Republican TV ad in the past ten (fifteen? twenty?) years? It seems impossible if he thinks all political ads in America are still built around serious-looking candidates acting forthright, earnest, and adult. Did Zengerle completely miss the moment when Rand Paul took a chainsaw to the U.S. tax code, or Brian Kemp not only wielded a chainsaw but also set off an explosion in his backyard, brandished a shotgun, and claimed he liked to round up "illegals" in his pickup truck?
Does Zengerle not know about right-wing candidates' fondness for shooting things in TV ads? Surely you'd imagine that Zengerle knows about the ad in which right-wing Democrat Joe Manchin shot a cap-and-trade bill, given the fact that Zengerle once wrote a long profile of Manchin.
Nope. Zengerle is shocked to learn that one of the Thiel candidates, Blake Masters, made a series of ads in which he's not nice. Yes, really! A Republican candidate did that!
Blake Masters, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, ignores these rules. In a series of online videos for his campaign, he appears all by himself, far from hearth and home, to make a slew of dire pronouncements. In one, Masters stands in the desert, flanked by cactuses, and declares: “Psychopaths are running the country right now.” In another, he’s in the middle of a hayfield, saying, “Our military leadership is totally incompetent.” In a third, he appears to have just walked out of a forest at twilight to announce, “Our schools are making our kids dumber.”
The only thing "rule-breaking" about the Masters ads is that he's completely lacking in the yee-haw! good-ole-boy spirit of his predecessors. Masters appears to be what you'd get if Kafka's Hunger Artist decided he could distract himself from food cravings by trying to read all of Hayek.
But if you're running for office as a Republican, there's nothing rule-breaking about standing in a field and proclaiming to a camera that all liberals are evil. Zengerle doesn't understand that.
He also seems to believe that there's something remarkable about the fact that Masters and J.D. Vance both sound like Tucker Carlson.
Yes, and? Don't most Republicans sound like Tucker Carlson these days? Zengerle -- who, you'll recall, thinks Republicans as well as Democrats do thoughtful, earnest campaign ads exclusively -- thinks the influence of Carlson on Masters and Vance is unmistakable.
... these campaign videos actually have a different, more prosaically political antecedent: Tucker Carlson’s monologues. Five nights a week, Carlson offers his populist message to more than three million Fox News Channel viewers. He tells them that the people who run our country, namely Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, are “a senile man and an imbecile”; that our military leadership, in the person of Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is “not just a pig, he’s stupid”; and that in our schools, “your children are being taught by some of the most ignorant people in the country.” Now Masters — along with another former Thiel employee, J.D. Vance, who’s running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in Ohio — is trying to convert this rhetoric into an actual political campaign.
If I'm reading this correctly, Zengerle believes that Tucker Carlson invented right-wing name-calling. After reading this paragraph, I can only conclude that Zengerle has never heard of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Dinesh D'Souza, Alex Jones, or Laura Ingraham; he completely missed Sarah Palin and, I guess, Donald Trump.
Oh, and did I mention that, according to Zengerle, the thread linking Masters, Vance, and Carlson is ... intellectualism?
Carlson is the rare Fox News host whose words carry weight with conservative intellectuals. He is especially popular with those who identify as “national conservatives,” or NatCons — writers and thinkers who tack hard to the right on culture-war issues, denouncing Critical Race Theory and drag-queen story hours, while sharing a set of economic concerns with the left, supporting child subsidies and industrial policy.
Is this intellectualism? Are these concerns? No and no. These people pay lip service to the economic worries of ordinary citizens, but it's in the service of bashing "elitists" and encouraging the Volk to have more (white) babies.
Carlson and Vance share a fondness for one particular strongman whose policies in this area they praise:
Trust me, if any Orban-loving national conservatives get elected, they'll talk about this when it seems advantageous to them to do so, but they won't find any support in their own party and they'll never make common cause with liberals on any areas of overlap, just as the current class of Republicans refuses to do outreach to liberal critics of Big Tech monopolies despite all their theatrical rage at Facebook and the rest.
Vance didn't go Orbanite because of Carlson, by the way -- Vance is pals with Orban fanboy Rod Dreher, who was present in 2019 when Vance converted to Catholicism. Carlson didn't sit at Orban's feet until two years later.
Zengerle's has a few facts half-right, but his piece is a mess. Why can't The New York Times do better than this?
Published with permission of No More Mister Nice Blog.