Is being in a campaign never having to say you’re sorry?
Last Tuesday Rep. Justin Amash won his Republican Primary for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. Amash won taking 57.4% of the vote from his challenger Brian Ellis, who took 42.6% respectively. But Amash’s win is not the story here. It’s the comments he made after the results came in.
After Amash’s primary victory, he made it clear that Ellis owed his family and the community an apology for the comments he made during the race. In a post-speech interview to a local Fox affiliate, Abash continued by saying, “I’m an Arab-American, and he has the audacity to say I’m Al Qaeda’s best friend in Congress. That’s pretty disgusting.” The comments that Amash is referring to were made in a campaign ad that Ellis’ campaign endorsed questioning Amash’s loyalty to the US and the military.
Amash’s comments were alarming because after a primary election, for most politicians, everything is forgotten. Even the nastiest of primaries ends with concession speeches talking about “hard fought races” and “worthy opponents.” Amash airing his grievances is definitely out of the norm. This does however breed an interesting question.
Should primary challengers be held accountable for things said during a political campaign?
Of course the answer is yes. But this is politics. Nothing is ever that clear cut.
In the past there was always an unwritten rule of letting bygones-be-bygones when it came to statements said in a primary election. After all, the party always came first. Not individual candidates. So when a primary was over, both men would shake hands and focus on trying to give their party the best chance at winning the general election. Which usually meant burying the hatchet.
But elections are changing.
More and more voters are starting to look at themselves as independents. In other words, party identification – people who consider themselves either to be a Democrat or Republican – is starting to weaken. In turn elections are becoming less about political parties and more about candidates. When that starts to happen, forgiving a primary opponent’s statements for the betterment of the party becomes less of an issue.
You can actually start to see it in other primary races as well.
In Mississippi’s Senate Republican Primary, State Sen. Chris McDaniel and longtime incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran had, what can only be described, as a long and nasty campaign. Nothing signified this race more than an attack ad from Cochran accusing McDaniel’s of being involved with videotaping Cochran’s wife – who has suffered dementia for the past 14 years – in her nursing home bed for a political blogger.
And it gets worse.
After the runoff election, which Cochran won handily, McDaniel is refusing to concede stating that Cochran’s victory was due to Democrat voters illegally casting votes for his opponent. When discussed with Mississippi GOP leaders, they refused to recognize McDaniel’s claim to the seat and now will have to be settled in court.
As said before, in the past political parties possessed enough power to make even the most contentious of primary challengers play nice after their race ended. With party identification dropping among the public, two primary opponents burying the hatchet might just be a thing in the past.
As elections go forward, don’t be surprised when you start to seeing instances like Amash’s comments or the McDaniel/Cochran dispute. These cases might now be political outliers, but they are rapidly becoming the norm.
(Photo Credit: Associated Press)