No matter how long Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin remains in politics, he’ll probably never release an ad that generated more attention than the one he released in 2010. The then-governor, as part of his first Senate campaign in West Virginia, was filmed literally shooting a copy of a cap-and-trade bill with a rifle.
It was memorable — and based on Manchin’s victory, effective — in large part because Americans generally aren’t accustomed to seeing politicians brandishing firearms as part of their campaign pitches.
That is, Americans weren’t accustomed to seeing this.
The New York Times reported last month that in the current election cycle, viewers have seen “more than 100 television ads from Republican candidates and supportive groups” that have “used guns as talking points or visual motifs.”
But I think reasonable observers can probably agree that GOP Senate hopeful Eric Greitens has broken new ground in this area with his latest ad. The Kansas City Star reported this morning:
Former Gov. Eric Greitens put out a video Monday that showed him and a group of men in tactical gear with guns hunting Republicans who they do not deem adequately conservative, ramping up the war-like messaging of his campaign for U.S. Senate.
That description is not an exaggeration. In this new ad, Greitens begins by talking to the camera with a shotgun in his hands, and another gun on his hip. He identifies himself as having been a Navy SEAL before boasting, “Today, we’re going RINO hunting.”
The Republican was referring, of course, not to rhinoceroses, but to “Republicans In Name Only.”
“The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice,” Greitens says, as a tactical team breaks down the door to a house, throws a smoke grenade into a room, and enters with guns drawn. The armed candidate, again talking to the camera, then adds, “Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”
It’s unclear whether the video was designed to air on television — it’s 38 seconds, instead of the usual 30 — but that’s not especially important given the larger context.
Against a backdrop of mass shootings and elected officials receiving death threats, Greitens thought it’d be a good idea to release a video in which he’s seen armed and talking about hunting Americans he disagrees with.
To be sure, the Missouri Republican was already controversial. During his 17-month tenure as governor, Greitens was accused of, among other things, blackmailing his former mistress following an encounter in which he taped her hands to pull-up rings in his basement.
Earlier this year, the GOP Senate hopeful was accused by one of his ex-wives of physically abusing her and their children, claims that Greitens denied.
And now, as Primary Day in Missouri approaches, he’s making an appeal based on overt violence.
I’ll confess that it’s tempting to ignore such an outrageous video. It’s obvious that Greitens released the message to be needlessly provocative. He’s being offensive on purpose, knowing it would generate attention and pushback, which he could then brag about to the Republican base.
But the fact remains that a leading U.S. candidate, who stands a reasonably good chance of winning in the fall, has released a video in which he literally talks about hunting Americans with guns. As broken as our politics are, this shouldn’t be OK.
Update: Facebook has removed Greitens’ video, saying it violates the company’s policies “prohibiting violence and incitement.” Twitter, meanwhile, has concluded that the video is at odds with its “abusive behavior” rules, but the Republican’s tweet will remain accessible anyway.
Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”