Yet McCloskey, now running for Missouri’s soon-to-be-open Senate seat, has retconned his behavior into some Alamo-esque last stand against left-wing authoritarianism (which, no matter what you think of Black Lives Matter, is not an apt description).
“When the fascist mob came to my door, it woke me up,” McCloskey says in his ad, during a stretch when the imagery is transitioning from showing him outside his expensive mansion to showing him at a small farm, bouncing along on a tractor. “When the angry mob came to destroy my house and kill my family, I took a stand against them,” he says at another point. And when Chicken Little discovered that the sky was falling, she hastened to tell the king.
If you watch that ad, you’re left with one real question: Why does Mark McCloskey want to be in the Senate? What is pushing him to be one of 535 people with the authority to introduce or finalize legislation? What does he want to do?
The ad and his campaign website check various boxes that you’d expect. McCloskey is pro-Second Amendment, he notes, unnecessarily. He insists that he is against critical race theory, which at the moment is generally a way of saying that you’re in favor of traditional patriotism while also winking. He’ll only support conservative judges, he assures visitors, which is not only unnecessary given the context but also gets to the heart of things: McCloskey is running for Senate to be a Republican vote on stuff and not much else.
There are a lot of people who are running for office these days who seem to be hoping to parlay notoriety into political success or to parlay political success into notoriety. Caitlyn Jenner’s gubernatorial campaign in California isn’t much of a campaign at all; she’s released an ad full of California-ized rhetoric about the dangers of the left but hasn’t actually done much campaigning. In New York, former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s son Andrew has thrown his hat into the ring for governor, combating the perception that his political résumé is rather thin by including his father’s first mayoral campaign in 1989 — when Andrew Giuliani was 3. He, too, has released an ad. It, too, is a state-specific overview of what he dislikes.
Obviously it’s not unusual for political ads, particularly introductory ones, to be a bit light on specifics. But it often seems as though the point, as with McCloskey, is simply to bolster a political team rather than to implement specific proposals.
I mean, why does former Olympian and reality-television star Jenner want to be governor of California? Sure, there’s power and, sure, there’s attention, but executive positions such as that are often not very fun. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) had a global pandemic dropped in his lap and had to figure out how to balance the risk of infection and death with economic specifics — a tricky balance that earned him a recall effort. Why would a wealthy celebrity want that gig? Why would liberal activist and actress Alyssa Milano even speculate about challenging a Republican House incumbent? Does Milano really want to take constituent calls about highway potholes while being one of 200-plus votes for legislation in the House?
Of course, running a political campaign and earning elected office can itself be a useful way of attracting attention. A year ago, you probably hadn’t heard of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and three years ago you probably weren’t yet familiar with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Now they are two of the better-known members of the House, for diverging reasons.
A better example here, though, is Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.). Cawthorn’s approach to his job has been quite honest: He’s there to make an impact, but through the position and not through policy. In an email to his colleagues on Jan. 19, Cawthorn admitted he had “built my staff around comms rather than legislation” — prioritizing how he talked about what he was doing over what he was doing.
Earlier this week, Axios reported that Cawthorn had the worst attendance record on House votes among freshman lawmakers. In fact, a Washington Post analysis of voting this year shows that Cawthorn has a worse voting record than all but five of his colleagues — and all but one Democrat.
Cawthorn has cast 132 votes, but his absence percentage is more than seven times higher than the median lifetime record of his peers. He has, however, been mentioned on the three major cable news channels four times as often as Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), the first-year Democrat who has missed the most votes. Cawthorn has missed more than five times as many votes.
Honestly, it’s not really clear why even a noncelebrity would be terribly interested in being a first-year member of the minority party in the House. There are plenty of chances to vote against things, if you feel like casting votes, and you can even try to take credit for them if they pass anyway (as Cawthorn did). But it would be hard for even the most policy-focused lawmaker to break through the House’s intractability.
So why try? Why not raise money for a few months on the complicated issue of “winning” and see what happens?
After all, there was once a wealthy celebrity with an aversion to policy details who parlayed a broad “be mean to the other party” approach into four years as president and a stunningly loyal base of millions of Americans. If you don’t recall who that was, he’s mentioned both in McCloskey’s ad and on his website.