The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

We must do something about this alarming escalation of gun violence (in campaign ads)

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It began, they say, with Joe Manchin.

The then-governor, now-senator from West Virginia wanted to prove to voters in his state that, while he was technically a Democrat, he really disagreed with the rest of his party on key issues. Issues such as new restrictions on gun ownership and efforts to curtail carbon dioxide emissions.

So Manchin combined those two things into one. He grabbed his bolt-action rifle and put a hole right through the pending cap-and-trade climate legislation.

Manchin won. The bill lost.

In 2012, the tactic was a bit more popular. There was Rick Santorum's presidential campaign ad, where a menacing Mitt Romney lookalike shot frothy mud at a Santorum cut-out in a warehouse. True to Santorum's squeaky-clean image, the weapon used was a paintball gun.

That year, a former plumber named Joe Wurzelbacher ran for Congress. Over a spoken-word performance that may have been titled, "A People's Guide to Government Slaughter" (those poor Armainians!), Wurzelbacher used a shotgun to blow away some tomatoes (meant to represent government interlopers). This was a significant ramping-up of firepower.

Former Georgia representative John Barrow ran an ad in which he showed off two weapons, an apparent first.

Santorum and Wurzelbacher lost. Barrow won. The clear moral: More guns means better odds of winning election.

By 2014, rootin'-tootin'-shootin' campaigns were a veritable fad, with at least five ads featuring people shooting stuff.

Dan Sullivan, running for Senate in Alaska, shot at a TV with a handgun. (He won.)

Matt Rosendale, running for the House in Montana, fake-shot-down a government drone with a rifle. (He lost.)

Estakio Beltran, running for the House from Washington, shot an elephant-piñata with a shotgun. For good measure, he included some extra fake gunshot sounds at the end. (He lost.)

Joni Ernst, running for the Senate from Iowa, used a handgun to shoot up Obamacare (in the form of a target at a firing range) — after using proper ear protection. (She won.)

Will Brooke, running for the House in Alabama, made a nice little birdhouse for his copy of Obamacare to live in and then shot it with:

  • A handgun,
  • A bolt-action rifle, and
  • A semi-automatic rifle

Obamacare survived. Brooke's candidacy failed.

A mixed record of success, certainly, but the escalation in firepower (though not rhetoric) is clear.

Now 2016 has brought things to a whole new level, in the form of Missouri gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens. Greitens is a former Navy SEAL, and he really hates "Obama's Democrat machine" and "politics as usual," both of which he would like to shoot to bits. (He hates the "Democrat machine" because it's trying to steal another election, and if you don't believe him, he has a news story that proves it.)

Over the weekend, Greitens released an ad in which he's shooting what appears to be an M134 machine gun off into the middle distance.

It's not really clear what he's hitting, but apparently it is the Democrat machine.

In an ad earlier this cycle, though, Greitens really let his metaphorical opponents have it.

What blew up? Politics as usual. Boom. Farewell, politics as usual!

The problem with this, of course, is that we don't have many other places to go.

Hello, I'm Chip Gannon and my stance on abortion will blow you away.

Paid for by Chip Gannon for Congress.

Actually, that may be better used as a Trump 2020 reelection spot.