Matthew Lifson, Columnist
Ideology: Moderate Democrat | Writing from: Capitol Hill
Sharron Angle, Nevada’s Republican nominee for Senate, is gunning for Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, and if she does not win, she might actually go gunning for him. In January, Angle, who boasts a concealed weapons permit, ominously warned, “If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”
Outrageous comments like that endeared Angle to the far right and won her the Republican primary, but continued histrionics are guaranteed to lose her the general election. Despite Reid’s notorious unpopularity, voters will not likely vote for a candidate they perceive to be unstable or radical. To defeat Reid, Angle needs to dial down the rhetoric, rehabilitate her image, and reintroduce herself as a viable and mainstream alternative to the Majority Leader.
The former assemblywoman has already begun her pivot to the center by downplaying and rewording the incendiary positions that propelled her from obscurity to an unlikely victory. After clinching her party’s nomination, Angle pulled her campaign site from the web and launched a sanitized version that excludes most of the positions that earned her the endorsements of the Tea Party Express, Joe the Plumber, and Mark Levin.
But, as anyone with a Facebook account knows, removing something from the internet does not mean it is really gone. Reid has already republished her old website, prompting legal threats from the Angle campaign over supposed misuse of her intellectual property. Unfortunately for Angle, her bizarre protests over seeing her own website quoted have only attracted more attention to the discrepancies.
Where Angle once called for the repeal of regulations preventing off-shore
drilling, her new site merely suggests we enforce “the rules and regulations currently on the books.” Gone is the reference to the “unconstitutional” Department of Education, replaced by a more moderate call for increased control at the state and local levels. Angle has purged sections on the repeal of Social Security, withdrawal from the United Nations, and the “unscientific hysteria over the man-caused global warming hoax.” Her old page advocated replacing the entire tax code with a flat tax, but that recommendation has since been scrubbed.
Angle has also taken down endorsements from the Minutemen, a vigilante anti-immigrant group, the Declaration Alliance, a “birther” organization, and Citizens United, of recent campaign finance fame.
By censoring her full views and editing her list of supporters, Angle hoped to take herself out of the equation and make this November a referendum on Reid. But she got caught, and now voters and the media are fixated on exactly what she was trying to hide, reinforcing the narrative that she is erratic and extreme.
And even if Angle could somehow shake the positions that led to her primary win and her subsequent efforts to conceal them, she unfailingly generates new drama everywhere she goes. Just this week, she came out against abortion rights for teenage girls raped by their fathers, insisting they can still turn “really a lemon situation into lemonade,” before channeling Joe Barton and labeling the $20 billion BP escrow account a “slush fund”, reigniting a debate Republicans thought they had finally escaped. Tack on the clip where she calls the separation of church and state “unconstitutional” and you have yourself an attack ad that would make most Republicans nervous.
The GOP needed an inoffensive candidate who could keep a low profile and ride the anti-establishment mood until Election Day, but they may have blown their chance at unseating Reid when they nominated Angle for being the loudest conservative in the room. While a Reid comeback is still far from guaranteed and he still trails in the polls, Angle’s total lack of discipline and inability to tailor her campaign to a general election has made the race about both of them instead of just him. If the Majority Leader prevails, Republicans can justly blame Angle for thrusting herself into the spotlight and giving Reid an opening where none had existed before.