"What's wrong with slavery?"
That was the response that Jan Mickelson, a conservative Iowa radio host, had for a listener on Monday who called in to discuss the premise of his plan to crack down on illegal immigration.
The caller was concerned that Mickelson’s prescribed policy would, to many, sound an awful lot like a revival of state-sanctioned enslavement—because that is precisely what the plan sounds like.
“If you are here without our permission, and we have given you two months to leave, and you're still here, and we find that you're still here after we we've given you the deadline to leave, then you become property of the State of Iowa,” Mickelson modestly proposed. “And we have a job for you. And we start using compelled labor, the people who are here illegally would therefore be owned by the state and become an asset of the state rather than a liability and we start inventing jobs for them to do.”
One of the potential gigs? For those caught farther down south, they’ll be building that long wall along the Mexican border that right-wingers love to talk about constructing one of these days.
“We’re going to invite the illegal Mexicans and illegal aliens to build it,” he continued. “If you have come across the border illegally, again give them another 60-day guideline, you need to go home and leave this jurisdiction, and if you don’t you become property of the United States, and guess what? You will be building a wall. We will compel your labor. You would belong to these United States. You show up without an invitation, you get to be an asset. You get to be a construction worker. Cool!”
You may be tempted to say that Mickelson was kidding. Mickelson was not kidding. And his controversial pronouncements aren’t limited to undocumented immigrants. For instance, he is anti-gay to the point where he has actually endorsed former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s views on the matter.
But this isn’t just some random, on-air extremist openly fantasizing about slavery or a bleakly reactionary America—this guy is a genuinely influential figure in the Republican primary process.
He has already hosted 2016 hopefuls Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal. That’s because he has quite the reach with Iowa’s Republican caucus voters, who themselves have significant influence over who eventually becomes the GOP presidential nominee. He hosts one of the top talk-radio programs in the state, and has held an audience of roughly 350,000 Iowans per week.
“Having high-profile personalities in Iowa—well, we’re kinda halfway used to it and we think we’re qualified to vet them,” Mickelson told Dave Weigel in a Bloomberg piece on Iowa talk-show personalities who are “some of the most powerful Republicans you’ve never heard of”—a handful of the state’s radio “gatekeepers” who Republican presidential contenders simply cannot ignore.
“I’m like a public utility, like the light company or water company,” Mickelson said. “I have a pragmatic use, and even if listeners don’t agree with me they know I will ask the right questions.”