A forwarder of sleazy emails, a co-sponsor of the Birther Bill, the woman who signed Arizona’s immigration measure into law—John Avlon, author of Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America, ranks the candidates highest on our Wingnuts Index.
And so it has come to this—the final Wingnut Index of the 2010 campaign season, the gubernatorial edition.
This is, after all, a year when Carl Paladino won the GOP nomination in New York and looked almost sane next to the full Star Wars bar of candidates in the governor’s debate. It is a time when Tom Tancredo, a man whom Karl Rove banned from the White House for his far-right irresponsibility, has a shot at winning the governor’s seat in Colorado as the Constitution Party candidate. In short, it has been a very weird year in American politics—angry and apocalyptic, sordid and surly—the Year of the Wingnut.
As with the previous Wingnut Indexes for Senate and congressional candidates, respectively, we have semi-scientifically rated candidates along 10 criteria, ranging from whether the candidate subscribes to conspiracy theories, such as being a “birther” or a 9/11 Truther, to whether they have compared their political opponents to Nazis or communists. Evidence of Bush Derangement Syndrome or Obama Derangement Syndrome was taken into account, as were corruption investigations, extreme policy positions, playing the race card, or other forms of fearmongering.
We’ve used The Daily Beast’s Election Oracle software to track which candidates have the term “Wingnut” attached to them the most in digital grassroots debate. Politifact’s “Truth-o-meter” ratings were taken into account. We have also measured the number of appearances on the Web aggregator Fark.com, which tracks absurd, hypocritical, or unintentionally hilarious statements from candidates on both the right and left.
Both New York and Colorado have two gubernatorial nominees in the top 5—not something that should cause citizens of those great states to swell with pride. (For fans of the rapid-fire repartee courtesy of The Rent Is Too Damn High Party nominee Jimmy McMillan and former Madam Kristin Davis’ “Prohibition Party” campaign, well, you have to draw the line somewhere—and their lack of any record made it tough to score them competitively on the Wingnut Index.) The list also contains three candidates I profiled during the primaries and classified as “ Tea Party Hypocrites” for their profiting off government contracts while railing against big government. Hypocrisy is the unforgivable sin in politics.
Running for governor is generally less attractive to candidates with a strong demagogue streak because they actually have to do something rather that just engage in an increasingly surly ideological debating society. Executive office is grounded in real responsibilities.
• The House’s 25 Biggest WingnutsThe good news is that comparatively few candidates running in the 37 gubernatorial contests this year qualified with enough points to make the Wingnut Index. The bad news is that the degree of Wingnuttery among gubernatorial candidates is worse than most years. Race to the bottom-style irresponsibility is no longer disqualifier for high office—and in some cases embracing the politics of incitement is what helped them win their closed partisan primary and get to the general election.
John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and a CNN contributor. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.