With Donald Trump scorching the land like a political Agent Orange, it’s easy to forget about all the juicy House races also underway. Among the most competitive: the battle for Minnesota’s 2nd, a swingy sort of district in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities. Although represented since 2003 by Republican John Kline (who is retiring), the 2nd is more purple than red and narrowly went for Obama in 2012. It is seen as a prime target for Democrats to flip, and the party set its sights on the seat over a year ago, even before Kline announced his departure. Its chosen candidate, Angie Craig, is a business executive who ran unopposed in the primary—and has been raking in the bucks—on a message of unifying voters. As Sacha Haworth, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said of the district, “The fundamentals are strong.”
So how have Minnesota Republicans responded to the challenge? By nominating Jason Lewis, a hard-right radio provocateur turned internet activist famous for racist, misogynistic, and generally from-the-fringe rants that make Donald Trump sound like Mitt Romney. Hard to believe, I know. But behold just a few of the pearls of wisdom Lewis has dropped over the years.
During the November 9, 2012 broadcast of The Jason Lewis Show, Lewis spoke at length about how white people were committing “cultural suicide” and “political suicide” with their failure to procreate at the same level as Hispanics. “I don’t want to make a racial thing out of this. I’m just stating a fact,” he reassured listeners.
Even more illuminating were Lewis’s thoughts on women voters, which he shared on the show just two days earlier:
I never thought in my lifetime where’d you have so many single, or I should say, yeah, single women who would vote on the issue of somebody else buying their diaphragm. This is a country in crisis. Those women are ignorant in, I mean, the most generic way. I don’t mean that to be a pejorative. They are simply ignorant of the important issues in life. Somebody’s got to educate them.
There's something about young, single women where they’re behaving like Stepford wives. They walk in lockstep—is that really the most important thing to a 25-year old unmarried woman—uh, getting me to pay for her pills? Seriously?! Is that what we’ve been reduced to? You can be bought off for that?
You’ve got a vast majority of young single women who couldn’t explain to you what GDP means. You know what they care about? They care about abortion. They care about abortion and gay marriage. They care about The View. They are non-thinking.
Fans of The Rush Limbaugh Show, of which Lewis was a popular guest host, were treated to his take on Hurricane Katrina during one 2009 broadcast. “If you talk to real Americans, they think the mistake was a bunch of whiners down there. They don’t think we did too little in Katrina. They think people did not help themselves,” asserted Lewis. While politicians and the media gripe that not enough was done to aid the victims, he said, “the average Kentuckian says, ‘We did plenty. It was their fault.’”
And then there’s slavery, Lewis’s go-to analogy for whatever political topic is at hand. While guest hosting for Rush in November 2008, Lewis equated slavery with the taxation of rich people:
[T]his whole notion of taxing—taxing America’s labor—you know, I don’t know how else you describe what this sordid experience of slavery was when you take away somebody's ability to engage in the marketplace with the fruits of their labor. … During the times of slavery, we targeted black folks. Well, now I guess it’s OK to target wealthy folks. Either way, you're taking something that doesn’t belong to you.
More recently, in an update to his 2011 book on state’s rights (which we’ll get to in just a second), Lewis invoked slavery in criticizing the Supreme Court’s role in defining marriage:
In fact, if you really want to be quite frank about it, how does somebody else owning a slave affect me? It doesn’t. If I don’t think it is right, I won’t own one. And people always say, ‘Well, if you don’t want to marry somebody of the same sex, you don’t have to, but why tell somebody else they can’t.’ Uh, you know, if you don’t want to own a slave, don’t. But don’t tell other people they can’t.
As for slavery itself, Lewis’s book, Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States’ Rights, smacks Abraham Lincoln as the ultimate Big Government president, who used slavery as an excuse to go to war and prevent the secession of the South. As the book’s kicker, Lewis calls for a constitutional amendment allowing “any state to peaceably leave the union.”
Lewis hasn’t been doing much radio of late. In 2014, he quit his show to work full time on developing Galt.io—a “members-only network of makers” inspired by Atlas Shrugged, the Ayn Rand novel that has been enthralling earnest campus conservatives for decades. Galt.io members participate in a “virtual economy”—how this works is not entirely clear from the outside—using “Galtcoins” to invest in political causes and candidates. Among the causes promoted on the site are “exposing the global warming hoax,” promoting a “Free Market Education,” and championing states’ rights.
A candidate with Lewis’s ideological profile, much less his toxic tongue, could prove a turn-off for many in a Minnesota’s 2nd. “The kind of ultraconservative firebrand who Jason Lewis has been and who he is running as,” observed Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, “that’s not really a fit with that more moderate district.”
Don’t take Jacobs’s word for it. In February, Chris Fields, deputy chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, took a swing at Lewis in an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, calling the latter’s statements on race, gender, and slavery “contradictory to the values Republicans share and principles the party was founded upon." Of Lewis’s controversial statements on race (including his 2015 remark that "the median income for blacks in America would make them rich in most African nations, not most—all."), Fields said, "Provocative comments like that demonstrate ignorance, a lack of sensitivity, and they exacerbate the racial divisions in America.”
Unfortunately for Fields, at the party’s May nominating convention, Republican delegates voted to endorse Lewis. (It took six ballots.) After that, most GOP leaders fell into line—though not retiring Representative Kline, who continued to back one of the more moderate candidates. Lewis went on to beat three other Republicans in the August 9 primary. When I emailed Fields about the outcome, he responded:
During our endorsement process, Republican activists concluded Jason Lewis is uniquely qualified to fight for working families and seniors. I wholeheartedly stand by their decision without reservation. I firmly believe the District does not need Angie Craig, an out of touch liberal who will only stand with Hillary Clinton. Minnesotans need Jason Lewis because he will always stand with Minnesotans!
For their part, congressional handicappers responded to Lewis’s nomination by promptly reclassifying the district as more likely to go blue in November.
Democrats, as you might imagine, are loving all this. “This race was really a microcosm of the presidential race,” said the DCCC’s Haworth. “You had establishment Republicans trying to get a candidate, Jason Lewis, out of the race. Obviously they were not successful. Then they had to unify behind him.”
Haworth’s team is now itching to familiarize voters with Lewis’s more colorful statements and positions. He “is going to be forced to defend all of his inflammatory, sexist, questionable commentary,” she said.
As with Trump, Democrats are being cautioned against getting complacent or cocky. Said Jacobs, “This will not be an easy race for Democrats,” given that Angie Craig is a true political rookie. “Running for public office takes talent, skill, and experience,” he notes, and “you’ve got a district where independents have a history of voting Republican.”
Even so, Democrats are feeling much better about their chances now that Lewis is the GOP nominee. As Haworth noted with a chuckle, “His nicknames are Minnesota Todd Akin and Mini-Trump.”