In 1988, Republican incumbent Rep. Dick Schulze was cruising toward re-election to serve an eighth term from Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District. Schulze was popular and the suburban district was so solidly Republican that Pennsylvania Democrats didn’t put a lot of thought or effort into recruiting challengers for the seat, nor were they planning on spending much money on the campaign.
That changed after the primary, when the Democratic Party began buying radio ads and billboards on I-95 urging Democratic voters to re-elect the Republican Dick Schulze.
Pennsylvania Democrats had to advertise on behalf of Schulze because the winner of their own low-turnout, low-attention primary was a man named Donald Hadley, who turned out not to be a Democrat at all, but a LaRouchie. And when a LaRouchie succeeds in getting their name on a general election ballot as the purported representative of your party, then your party is obliged — by decency, by rationality, and by self-interest — to make sure that person doesn’t get enough votes from your party’s members to create the impression that they enjoy your support.
The LaRouchies are a dying breed, even though Lyndon LaRouche himself is apparently still alive (he’s 95). I still occasionally see devotees with their familiar folding tables set up outside of the local post office, but the “LaRouche Movement” never really managed to keep up with the digital age. Even if they’d tried to adapt to the Internet, though, it likely wouldn’t have mattered, since AM talk radio and Fox News ultimately rendered their far-right conspiracy theorizing redundant.
Consider, for example, this 1994 article from The Chicago Tribune, warning against stealth candidates from the LaRouche Movement who were attempting to make mischief in Illinois primary races:
Do you believe the National Education Association is perpetrating a “Satanic attack” on the nation’s children and “brainwashing” them through the local school curriculum?
Do you think free trade is a “form of psychosis” and a “metastatic cancer” that, to mix a few overwrought metaphors, is “looting” the world economy?
Do you think the Anti-Defamation League is the real power behind the Ku Klux Klan?
Should Congress resolve the government’s multibillion-dollar debt simply by declaring a moratorium on its repayment?
Even if you dismiss such ideas, you could unwittingly endorse them on March 15.
Followers of the political extremist Lyndon LaRouche have 21 candidates running in the Democratic primary.
Those involved in races for prominent offices, where most voters know the candidates, will probably draw their usual sliver of protest votes.
But some are running in less prominent races, where voter ignorance can be an ally.
LaRouche, who was released from prison in January after serving five years for fraud, has views that range from the bizarre to the bigoted.
(The quotations and ideas at the beginning of this editorial are drawn from his writings and from the campaign proposals of his Illinois followers.)
The theories and policies of the LaRouchies — presented in that 1994 article as self-evidently bonkers — no longer seem quite so easily dismissible as lunatic fringe. LaRouche’s conspiracy theories about the National Educational Association are routinely promoted by religious right preachers, often with financial support from the family of the current secretary of education. Dozens of Republicans in the House “Freedom Caucus” have explicitly endorsed the idea of defaulting on government debt. And LaRouche’s “overwrought” rhetoric on trade and his bizarre theories about Jewish conspiracies would be perfectly at home on Breitbart News, or in a presidential tweet.
“Views that range from the bizarre to the bigoted” are no longer obviously disqualifying. (Not that they really were in 1994, either — that was, after all, the same year Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton gave an hourlong speech on the House floor detailing his elaborate conspiracy theory about the death of Vince Foster. Burton was re-elected, easily.)
But as that Tribune article shows, this was a favorite strategy for LaRouche supporters in the 1980s and early 1990s. They would look for low-attention primary contests in less competitive races where they had a chance to sneak off with a nomination, getting LaRouchies on the general election ballot before anyone realized what was happening. Tribune reporters and Illinois voters were particularly aware of that strategy because LaRouchies managed to sneak a whole slate of candidates into the 1986 election — including the nominally Democratic nominees for lieutenant governor and secretary of state.
An article in today’s Chicago Tribune shows that this strategy is still being used by far-right fringe candidates in Illinois: “Holocaust denier likely to appear on ballot for GOP for Chicago-area congressional seat.”
A west suburban man known as a Holocaust denier and for his ties to neo-Nazism is expected to advance to November’s general election for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District seat.
Arthur J. Jones, 70, of Lyons, is the lone candidate on the March 20 Republican primary ticket for the seat that includes Western Springs, La Grange and parts of southwestern Chicago. Jones, a former member of the American National Socialist Workers Party, has run for political office several times in the past but has never made it past the primary stage in the 3rd District.
… The lack of a GOP challenger means Jones will likely face off against Democratic incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski or challenger Marie Newman on Nov. 6 in the 3rd District, a traditionally Democratic district.
That’s the key factor here: the 3rd District is so overwhelmingly Democratic that Republicans didn’t bother recruiting even a sacrificial lamb to run against the incumbent. Jones tried this same trick in 2016, but Republicans caught on and managed to get his attempted candidacy disqualified by challenging his ballot signatures. (Lipinski ran unopposed in the general election.) This time, it seems, Jones managed to collect enough valid signatures to be a legal candidate, but by the time the GOP realized that, it was apparently too late to get anyone else into the primary race against him.
It’s disturbing to realize that Jones was able to collect all those signatures. Was he honest about his Neo-Nazi views when he got so many of his neighbors to help him qualify as a candidate? (I’m sure we’ll find out soon when The New York Times sends a fleet of reporters to warmly profile all of them at the counters of local diners.)
To their credit, Illinois Republicans were quick and unambiguous in denouncing Jones and his attempt to claim their mantle in a race the party wasn’t bothering to contest:
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said in a statement: “The Illinois Republican Party and our country have no place for Nazis like Arthur Jones. We strongly oppose his racist views and his candidacy for any public office, including the 3rd Congressional District.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner released a statement Monday: “There is no room for Neo Nazis in American politics. I condemn this man in the strongest possible terms.”
And Jones is, to be clear, an actual Nazi — one of the very same “Illinois Nazis” mocked in the original 1980 Blues Brothers movie:
In 1976, Jones ran for mayor in Milwaukee. He said he appeared in TV commercials dressed as an American storm trooper with slogans billing himself as “the White People’s Candidate.” Jones also said he featured swastikas in a newspaper ad for a candidate he supported for school board in Wisconsin. In the 1970s, he said he marched in Skokie in full Nazi regalia.
On his campaign website, Jones calls the Holocaust “the biggest, blackest lie in history.” In a phone interview Sunday, he defended concentration camps. …
Jones also said he doesn’t support interracial marriage or integration in schools, and he hesitated when asked whether African-Americans and Latinos should have the right to vote.
“I don’t believe in equality — period,” Jones said.
The primary isn’t until next month, so Illinois Republicans still have a few weeks to cobble together some kind of write-in campaign to keep this actual Nazi from walking off with their nomination and getting his name on the general election ballot as their representative.
If that doesn’t work, they’ll have to do like Pennsylvania Democrats did back in 1988, spending Republican campaign money urging Republican voters in the 3rd District to re-elect the Democratic incumbent.