Irvin's campaign plays to both sides

Almost every weekday since the beginning of February, the Richard Irvin campaign has sent at least one press release to reporters about a host of issues, from crime to taxes to corruption to former House Speaker Michael Madigan to, well, you name it.

  Last week, however, the Irvin campaign was conspicuously silent for 24 hours. While pretty much everyone in both political parties felt the need to be heard the day after a US Supreme Court draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked, the Irvin campaign hit the mute button. No comment would be forthcoming, the campaign told reporters.

  It goes without saying that Irvin is attempting to win a Republican Party primary without saying or doing anything that could derail his chances in a general election. Abortion rights are generally popular in Illinois, but unpopular with Republican primary voters.

  Obviously, the decision was made to protect the candidate and not give his rivals within or outside his party any ammunition to use against him before or after primary day. Again, pretty basic.

  Irvin's Republican opponents are so hapless and cashless that they haven't yet been able to force him out of his protective shell, including last week on an issue that has, along with gun rights, defined the GOP for decades. Bailey posted a standard milk carton meme on his social media accounts that tried to press the issue, but it was pretty vague and contained a misspelling of the word "statement." At least he tried, I suppose.

  The Chicago-area news media, which dominates coverage in this state, has spent more time focused on the 2023 mayor's race than the 2022 contests and, perhaps understandably, hasn't shown much interest in helping a gaggle of ultimately doomed far-right candidates whack a Black and seemingly moderate Republican who has an actual chance of winning in November. The Associated Press and Downstate news outlets are shells of their former selves and several newspapers in the region are now relying on the Chicago Tribune for much of their statewide political coverage.

  Gov. JB Pritzker's Democrats have spent big bucks on ads trying to deflate Irvin and promote Bailey. Aside from pushing a hoped-for Bailey win, the Democratic Governors Association ads are designed to hit back at the well-funded Irvin, who has focused much of his advertising on Pritzker, which is a sure-fire unifying force among Irvin's targeted GOP primary voters and also helps keep the governor's numbers from rising as the Republicans argue (albeit tepidly to date) amongst themselves.

  From the start, this whole Irvin thing has had the vibe of a campaign apparatus seeking out and building a candidate instead of the usual other way around. The Irvin campaign, of course, denies this. But we're at about the halfway point between when Irvin formally announced his candidacy in March and nomination day, and his campaign has so far managed to only present what it wants the electorate to see, with just a couple of memorable candidate flubs.

  The problem is that the Irvin GOP primary strategy is to essentially gaslight Republican voters. In Irvin's manufactured world, Darren Bailey and Jesse Sullivan are closeted liberal Democrats who hate Donald Trump, despite the fact that Irvin has taken numerous Democratic primary ballots and won't say if he voted even once for Trump. And I dunno about Sullivan, but I've covered Darren Bailey for quite some time now and he ain't any kind of liberal.

  Also in Irvin's world, the candidate who claims to be pro-life won't specifically define what that means or what he would do about it if elected. That's really not much different than any other important issue. Irvin makes a claim, obfuscates when he's asked to define it, then won't say what he'd do about it come January of 2023.

The gaslighting was elevated to new heights last week when Irvin promised in a television ad that he would refuse to commute Mike Madigan's sentence if the indicted former House Speaker is convicted. As I pointed out to my blog readers, the pledge is utter nonsense. Madigan is under federal indictment. A state's governor can't do anything about that.

  Irvin's campaign has literally created a fantasy world where an ultra-right, anti-vax Republican state Senator is a secret Democrat, and where a mayor can call out the National Guard to put down rioting and a governor can commute a federal prison sentence. It's just bonkers, but it's also brilliant so far because almost nobody else is effectively calling him out on it. 

About The Author

Rich Miller

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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