Sunday, March 28, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Harry Reid is dead, another in an occasional series:
The Senate majority leader may be strapped into the political execution chamber, but after the events of the last week, Republicans have to be wondering if Sue Lowden or Danny Tarkanian is up to administering the lethal injection come November.
The escalating confrontation between the front-runners has become emblematic of GOP Senate and congressional primaries across the country and in down-ticket Nevada legislative races.
The phenomenon occurs in Democratic primaries, too, but this year it is coursing through the GOP electorate: The stifling of any reasonableness or thoughtfulness to hew to what the candidates believe are the inflexible, doctrinaire positions of the majority of the relatively small number who will vote.
In Nevada’s Senate race, this dynamic has exposed the reflexive prevarication by one candidate and the opportunistic malleability of the other. I am not sure which is worse, but that will be for the GOP primary electorate to judge.
Let’s first look at Little Tark’s week.
Tarkanian seems to react viscerally — and sometime untruthfully — when confronted by interlocutors. But he has shown an uncanny ability in this race to push the Tea Party hot buttons, surely why Glenn Beck anointed him as that wing’s candidate. He calls Lowden the establishment candidate at every turn as a way to turn off the anti-establishment wing, which will make up a large part of the June 8 GOP electorate. And Tarkanian has pounded Lowden for her comments about the first Bush-era bailout, which he did again on Alan Stock’s KXNT 840-AM program last week.
Stock asked Tarkanian about a robocall in which he called Lowden a socialist and Tarkanian retorted, as reported by the Nevada News Bureau: “There is no socialism word in there. You are wrong on that, I guarantee you.”
But — and you know how this story ends — the word was in there, Little Tark’s guarantee notwithstanding. The robocall contains this line: “... she and the Republican establishment defended the Wall Street bailouts ... that’s not freedom … Let’s call it what it is: ‘socialism.’ ”
At first, Tarkanian’s campaign put out a news release with the actual robocall audio, the equivalent of a murderer turning in the weapon to police. The release: “As you can hear for yourself — Danny Tarkanian did not call Sue Lowden a “socialist.”
Well, no — only by extension. And Little Tark had guaranteed the word was not in the call. His campaign eventually had to apologize for Tark’s faulty memory, but his adamant, ready-shoot-aim tactics surely will get him in trouble, especially if he faces the $25 million bazooka in the general election.
Lowden’s performance on the issue Tarkanian has relentlessly used against her was equally — if not more — disturbing.
Her controversial comments about the bailout came two months ago in a story by venerable capital reporter Geoff Dornan. In 2009 Lowden had indicated she was opposed to the bailouts. But here’s how Dornan quoted her Jan. 10:
“It’s easy to say, no, I wouldn’t have voted for it. But people were panicked, we were facing collapse — that’s what they were saying. It’s easy to say from a distance I would have voted no, but I can’t do that.”
That is a perfectly reasonable, even thoughtful position by Lowden, who later would claim it was an “intellectual conversation” with a reporter she has known since she was a state senator.
But intellectual conversation has no place in primaries, and Tarkanian has been bludgeoning her ever since, and fairly effectively, as it plays into his theme of him as the, ahem, rebel, against her, the D.C. clone.
But instead of sticking to what many economists contemporaneously argued — i.e., the bailouts saved the economy from implosion — Lowden has succumbed to the politics of a GOP primary. Even though Tarkanian may have stretched to say she supported the bailout, it is a reasonable reading — and analogous to Tarkanian saying he didn’t call Lowden a socialist. In both cases, the inference could be made.
But now, apparently sensing Little Tark may have seized the Tea Party high ground, Lowden’s campaign has showed its spine — or lack thereof. “Sue would not have voted for the TARP or any of the other bailout bills in Congress ... period,” Lowden aide Robert Uithoven told the news bureau.
How convenient. How situational. How dishonest — in a different, but telling way from Little Tark. His was simply lying; hers was a metamorphosis from intellectual conversation to intellectual dishonesty.
Harry Reid may be dead. But judging by the character the front-runners are displaying to the Republican faithful as they genuflect for support, I’m still not sure the GOP voters won’t find a different Angle to pursue come June 8.