Results from the May 8 primaries from four key states are being finalized, but one conclusion can be drawn from preliminary results–labels are dangerous. Congressman Robert Pittenger from North Carolina’s Ninth District and Don Blankenship, running for the Republican nomination for the US Senate from West Virginia, are just two examples of how voters reject empty labels that too many politicians embrace.
Pittenger, in a rematch with Reverend Mark Harris from 2016, became the first House member to lose his reelection bid. Pittenger portrayed himself as an ally of President Trump and as an evangelical. In embracing Trump, Pittenger called the president’s leadership “extraordinary” and compared him to Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill. He also defended the president’s remarks about African nations as “shit hole countries.”
A felon and ousted coal mining executive, Blankenship finished third in a three-way primary. He not only referred to himself as “Trumpier than Trump,” but adopted Trump’s penchant for outlandish statements, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch” and referring to those of Chinese ancestry as “Chinamen.”
Candidates adopting labels, such as the “education governor,” have long histories in electoral politics. This rhetorical shorthand often works well when there is some policy substance that supports the label. There is only one Donald Trump and the rush to embrace the Trump label, as we head into the high season of midterm primaries and the general election, should be a strategy most candidates reconsider.