CNN's Alisyn Camerota interviewed the presumptive Republican nominee for Illinois's 3rd Congressional District on live television Thursday morning. Such a segment is about as standard as cable news gets, but this particular candidate, Arthur Jones, happens to be a former leader of the American Nazi Party and a Holocaust denier.
“Yes, I deny the Holocaust,” Jones said when Camerota confronted him about his views. “It's an extortion racket. . . . It is nothing but an international extortion racket by the Jews to bleed, blackmail, extort and terrorize their enemies.”
Jones has gotten a lot of press lately. My Washington Post colleague Amy B Wang wrote about him Monday, noting that he is unopposed in a March 20 GOP primary. The New York Times published a similar article Wednesday.
Jones made the cover of the Chicago Sun-Times this week and was the subject of an editorial in the Chicago Tribune.
The attention on Jones is maddening to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which contends that the media should simply ignore him.
“This man is equal parts disgusting and delusional,” NRCC spokesman Jesse Hunt said in an email. “He has run for office for over two decades, and the Illinois Republican Party previously had him removed from the ballot. Why have you now decided to cover him? In a race to generate clicks and ratings, you all have given his heinous and despicable views the platform he desperately wanted.”
Whether, and how, the media should cover Jones are legitimate questions — part of a broader debate about reporting on hate speech. But for news outlets that have decided to cover Jones, the reason is rather obvious: Unlike his congressional campaigns in 1998, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2016, Jones's bid in 2018 almost certainly will make him the GOP's standard-bearer in a race for national office.
“Was the burden not on the party to field another candidate to make sure Jones would not be the nominee?” I asked Hunt in an email. He did not respond. A spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party did not respond to a similar inquiry about coverage of Jones and whether the party should have fielded another candidate.
There is a case to be made that no, the burden was not on the party. Illinois's 3rd Congressional District is solid blue, and in the last contested general election, in 2014, Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D) was reelected, winning by 29 points. Any Republican nominee is a sacrificial lamb.
Is it reasonable to expect the party to have drafted a candidate into certain defeat for the sole purpose of blocking Jones?
Such a candidate would have had to be a write-in, by the way, because Jones filed on the last day to register for the Republican primary, leaving the party no time to put someone else on the ballot.
Still, the GOP had 45 days to find a write-in candidate and did not do so. And although Jones filed at the last minute, it was not hard to foresee that the five-time entrant would run again. The Illinois Republican Party almost got stuck with Jones as its unopposed nominee in 2016 but managed to avoid the embarrassment by successfully petitioning the state election board to disqualify him because of paperwork errors.
A more public-relations-conscious party organization might have anticipated that Jones would be back in 2018 and proactively thwarted him by finding someone — basically, anyone — willing to give Republican voters an alternative and save the GOP from the entirely predictable media nightmare it is now living. Ensuring that Jones would not represent the party would have been especially prudent on the heels of the Roy Moore debacle in Alabama.
The right-leaning editorial board of the Tribune expressed little sympathy for the party.
“Jones is an odious character who should have been challenged,” the paper editorialized Monday, adding that “it's a shame Illinois Republicans weren't paying closer attention.”
“Lay part of the blame on gerrymandering, which creates districts that overwhelmingly favor one party,” the Tribune continued. “But also blame apathy.”