Blake Masters is good on camera. From his launch video last year to this week’s declaration of war on affirmative action, the Republican nominee for the Senate in Arizona has demonstrated fresh mastery of a stale medium. His primary election ads read like a cross between director Terrence Malick and 2015’s Sicario. His talks to the phone camera rival AOC for savvy use of social media. It doesn’t feel poll-tested or consultant-driven. It looks real even while being slick. One would expect the aesthetic to change a bit since Masters won the primary. And indeed, now there are some Masters for Senate ads that look just as seizure-inducing as every other GOP politician’s. Maybe it’s the mandates of general election TV or maybe it’s the national party; it’s probably both. But there aren’t many of them.
Monday’s message from what looks like a hotel elevator bay is primary Masters through and through. “I'm declaring war on Joe Biden's dysfunctional affirmative action regime,” he tweeted with the video. “I don’t care if every single employee at the Fed is a black lesbian,” he said, “as long as they’re hired for their competence and not because of what they look like or who they sleep with. News for Joe Biden, we are done with this affirmative action regime.” So far, safe enough, but then, the consultant heart attack: “I can’t think of a single policy since the end of Jim Crow that’s been worse or more divisive for race relations in this country. Race quotas are wrong. Gender quotas are wrong. They’re unjust. They’re illegal. But the Democrats are addicted to this kind of identity politics garbage.”
This shouldn’t be controversial to say, especially among Republicans. In 2020, California’s blue electorate voted no on Proposition 16, which would have repealed the state’s constitutional ban on identity politics in hiring. And the Supreme Court is set to hear two collegiate affirmative action cases in the fall. This is an issue of the moment and an issue that matters. Masters went on to say in his video, “We’ve had enough of the Democrats’ diversity obsession. They put diversity over competence, over prosperity, and there are real costs to this. We’re done with the media selectively reporting on crimes depending on the race of the criminal. We’re done being told that the moral status of people is dependent on their skin color. Look, there’s such a thing as fairness. We’re going to end this unfair and incompetent affirmative action regime.”
Mitch McConnell and the rest of the D.C. establishment are not happy with Masters, and they think they can get their bare majority without him. Recent reports indicate the Senate Leadership Fund has cut about $8 million in advertising buys from the Arizona Senate race against Democrat incumbent Mark Kelly. Originally slated to kick off after Labor Day, nationally funded ads are now scheduled to start in October, a half-hearted last-month get-out-the-vote push before Arizonans head to the polls. The subtext, of course, is a very worldly take on Matthew 13 and the parable of the sower: “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
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So the Trump-endorsed Masters has for now been released on his own recognizance. There is an upside to the national party apparently deciding you’re too much trouble to help; you can go and do your thing. I hope the direct attacks on affirmative action represent a Masters who doesn’t feel he owes McConnell and Republican leadership much of anything, one who knows that he won the primary for a reason and that the message and aesthetic of that campaign (you should be able to be a normal, happy family in America) are ones he can and should stick to. After all, Mark Kelly seems to feel he has to tack “right” in purple Arizona, at least on vibes and image (as Masters’ most recent viral ad reminded viewers, there’s nothing moderate about Kelly and the Democrats’ position on abortion). In this case, meeting in the middle is not how you clarify the battle lines.
The crybaby chatterboxes of Washington, D.C., were quick to wring their hands in consternation after the overturn of Roe by the Supreme Court, wondering aloud whether this wouldn’t cause an electoral backlash. So used to campaigning on the idea, suddenly having the thing itself, to them it seemed the red wave might be scheduled for a midterm termination. Which is to say that I expect nearly every national GOP operative, consultant, and PAC manager right now to be pushing for the most milquetoast campaigns you can imagine. Most of them of course do that every cycle, never seeming to consider that this risk aversion itself might be part of why the party has such a reputation for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But I guess they get paid.
In the end the real question is, what good is a Republican majority in the Senate without Arizona? Much could be done along conventional party lines, sure, some taxes cut, some regulations clarified or even removed, and Cocaine Mitch would again become the Democrat bogeyman du jour. But the vital issue of 2015 would remain: the border is still unguarded. Arizona is a key border state. Lawless immigration and the country’s weakening identity as a place where those who obey the law have a fair playing field to make something of themselves remain the central problems of the day. Congressmen are busy, and must pick their battles. Without another senator for whom solving those problems is not only a television talking point, but central to the business of representing his state, we appear set to watch great opportunities be squandered in Congress once again.