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July 31, 2014

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jon ralston:

Sharron Angle’s political makeover

I may have been wrong about Sharron Angle. And that may be very bad news for Harry Reid.

I assumed Angle would resist attempts by skittish national Republicans to moderate her views, or at least frame them more palatably for a general election. Strong tea is fine for a primary, but decaf is much preferred for the general.

But this is Sharron Angle, whose conservative bona fides are unquestioned and whose career has been marked by attracting a hard-core following on the right because of her strict adherence to a certain mantra and by what has seemed to be her abiding sincerity. I have suggested the middle was not a place on her political map and that any guide to her election as U.S. senator would have only roads on the right.

But judging by what is wafting back from the much-hyped Ms.-Angle-Goes-to-Washington trip, she is submitting to a makeover that, if not Capraesque, is at least Scott Brown-like (indeed, she has some of the Massachusetts Miracle’s handlers). And if she can feint toward the middle on issues that might have alienated her from independent voters — or at least massage them in a non-L. Ron Hubbard way — Reid, despite his Angle Marginalization Plan, may be the one consigned to the fringe.

It is hardly out of the question that the populous Anybody-But-Reid Caucus will choose her instead of one of the ballot’s other choices (including “none of these candidates”), especially if she seems benignly eccentric instead of certifiably cuckoo.

Of course it’s early: We will hardly remember in November that Angle hid from the mainstream media in favor of lapFox interviews or that she may emerge as a more reasonable (albeit ersatz) version of her former self by the time voters go to the polls.

The real question, considering the fodder her critics have, is whether Angle, the unassuming former schoolteacher, has thespian abilities to rival Hepburn or Streep. She is going to need them, and not just because of The Reid Machine’s ability to exhume sepia-toned reels of old Angle footage.

The media, especially the ravenous and competitive national folks, are salivating over this story, and have found some startling stuff. Most surprising of all: Angle is more of a politician than I thought.

During an interview on “Fox and Friends” that could induce diabetic comas in those so susceptible, Angle decried as “nonsense” that she wanted to get rid of Social Security. And instead of using the word “privatize,” she said she wanted to “personalize” the program.

Softer. Nicer. More senior-friendly.

There’s also been some capital reporting — notably by The Wall Street Journal and Talking Points Memo — about Angle’s previous membership in the Independent American Party and her decision, in the late ’90s, to leave the third party so she could get elected as a Republican.

Expediency. Opportunism. Harry Reid would be proud!

Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson also told the media that Angle, who generally has had the Groucho Marx sentiment about clubs, told GOP senators she is “part of the team.”

Sharron Angle, team player? What planet am I on?

There also was some stuff that must have made her new handlers cringe, too. Most notably: The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted that she told a conservative talk radio host that “Second Amendment remedies” may be in order if Congress keeps going the way it is. I shudder to think how many people reading this agree with that sentiment.

This is some wild, crazy stuff, as Johnny used to say to Ed — or as Reno GOP Mayor Bob Cashell essentially said about Angle on primary night.

It’s true that some of the things she has been saying for years are not as radical as Reid & Co. would have people believe — abolishing the Education Department, for instance. But some Republicans — elected and otherwise — clearly are uncomfortable with Angle.

This veritable torrent of Angle-is-weird-and-maybe-dangerous stories can’t continue for 139 more days. Right? If it does, Angle can’t possibly survive, even against the manifestly unpopular Reid whom pundit Stu Rothenberg wrote this week “is still more likely than not to lose.”

That’s especially true if the new Sharron Angle can stand up to the assault on her record. If she can display the same unexpected flexibility that allowed her to shift from the IAP to the GOP to get elected, that induced her to become an amnesiac on John Ensign’s failings so he could be her D.C. valet and that prodded her to wipe the word “privatize” from her Social Security lexicon, that may be very bad news for Harry Reid.

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