In a new series of campaign ads hitting the airwaves, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler appeals to Georgia conservatives by depicting herself as “more to the right than Attila the Hun,” who appears in the ads as a grunting, vicious barbarian.
I’m admittedly an outsider to conservative circles, but that seems a curious choice: What is Loeffler trying to tell us about herself with such ads, and what makes her think that the voters whom she’s trying to attract would see Attila as a positive model?
It’s not as if Attila was pro-life, a defender of law and order or someone who respected private property. The man was a vicious killer who slaughtered every living soul in the cities that he conquered and plundered. It’s also not about low taxes; Attila “taxed” you by stealing everything you had.
It’s not his adherence to constitutional principles and liberty; like someone else we’ve come to know, Attila demanded total personal loyalty, and those who wouldn’t give it weren’t kept around very long. And it isn’t defense of religious freedom in general or of Christianity in particular; in the words of a chronicler in his day, Attila “took captive the churches and monasteries and slew the monks and maidens in great numbers.” In the fantasy world that conservatives have built for themselves, that would make Attila a liberal, right?
So it’s a mystery: What exactly makes Attila an icon for today’s conservatives? When did they abandon Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater as examples to be emulated and turn instead to a man renowned as brutal and cruel?
We got an inkling of an answer in the presidential debate on Tuesday night, which quickly devolved into a 90-minute microcosm of Donald Trump’s presidency. Throughout the debate Trump lied, provoked, attacked, ignored the rules, cheated, insulted, created chaos and incited violence, all to distract attention from his own incompetence and amorality.
At one point the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, all but begged Trump to state publicly that he would abide by the results of the election.
Trump would not do so.
Wallace also asked Trump whether he would repudiate white supremacists and the armed militias that seem to be gathering in his support. Again, Trump refused to do so. Instead he cited the Proud Boys, one of the more violent right-wing bully-boy groups, instructing them to “stand back and stand by,” mumbling that “somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
The Proud Boys were ecstatic, treating Trump’s request to “stand by” as an order from their commander-in-chief to be ready when he called upon their services.
Loeffler has also signaled that she’s comfortable with such associations. In a photo released by her campaign on Twitter, Loeffler is shown campaigning in Ringgold alongside Marjorie Taylor Greene, the congressional candidate whose embrace of the bizarre QAnon theories and white supremacy has drawn stern disavowals from other Republicans. The photos also include several heavily armed militia members in cammo.
Those photos were not broadcast by accident. It’s one thing for people to show up at your event to demonstrate their support. As a candidate, you can’t control that and can’t be held to account for it. However, when a campaign sends out official photographs of such people alongside the candidate, it sends an official message that the candidate welcomes and embraces such support.
While that’s Loeffler’s right, it’s not a message that would have been sent by Johnny Isakson, a longtime Republican and Loeffler’s predecessor in that Senate seat. It’s not a message that any mainstream Republican would have been comfortable sending even four years ago.
But Attila the Hun would have liked it just fine.