Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
It's rerun season for the far-right
Campaign season is underway and, as much as it’d be great to ignore the whole thing for a couple more months, it’s already feeling pretty familiar.
It’s Friday, Alaska!
In this edition: Campaign season is underway and, as much as it’d be great to ignore the whole thing for a couple more months, it’s already feeling pretty familiar.
Dive deep: Aviation writer Colleen Mondor has a new piece on the blog breaking down a new FAA report and why its recommendations all sounded pretty familiar: The FAA’S latest Alaska aviation safety report harkens back to a whole lot of history
Good news: It was surprisingly hard to find something positive above the fold on Alaska media outlets today, but at least the excellent UAA Women’s basketball team is back in action in Alaska for the first time since their super-strong season was cut short by the pandemic at the Seawolf Hoops Classic. See ya there!
Programming note: It’s been a week that’s not been particularly productive, even by my middling standards. Friday in the Sun will be out on Saturday. In the bigger picture, I’m in the process of considering some overhauls to how I work and write that will see some changes to that weekly column. I’m being vague in large part because I’m not entirely sure what direction I want to take it in, but it’s not been working for a while now. Feel free to reach out by hitting reply on this email or finding me.
Reheating the reruns
It’s a chilly Friday midway through November 2021 and it already feels like we’re several months into the grueling election season. We’re seeing a flurry of post-redistricting political activity as candidates launch campaigns, eyeing newly friendly matchups, and try to squeeze in as many fundraisers as possible before we ring in the new year (that’s because campaign contribution limits go by calendar year). And that’s not to mention another recall that got underway this week in Anchorage. With a whole year of this to look forward to, you can certainly be forgiven about not wanting to engage with any of it when, well, everything else is going on.
Still, I wanted to delve into what I’ve been seeing develop on the far-right side of the tickets. Specifically, just how it all same-y it feels. We’re into rerun season.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy skipped out on a gubernatorial debate this week just as he did throughout his 2018 bid, leaving his opponents to refer to him as “the guy who didn’t show up today.” Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson is back at it with antagonizing the Anchorage Assembly—issuing a pair of new vetoes under the guise that the Assembly’s efforts to enforce separation of powers is a pernicious “power grab” (which have both since been overridden, as was expected)—and drumming up far-right candidates to “take control of the school system.”
But perhaps what was most attention-grabbing for me is that far-right U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka’s miserably awkward Twitter presence found a hit in parroting the far-right’s favorite swear-word stand-in. “He doesn’t understand the Let’s Go Brandon Movement,” reads her tweet in a nod to what has become a far-right in-joke meaning “Fuck Joe Biden,” which I wouldn’t exactly describe as a movement (more on that later), but has nevertheless done far better than of her previous “Liberal Lisa” postings.
To me, it’s got some real strong U.S. Dan Sullivan-running-for-office-in-2014 vibes. For those who recall, Sullivan’s campaign was doggedly committed to turning each question back on President Barack Obama, making it more a race against Obama and the entire Democratic Party rather than a race against a senator who was by almost every metric a pretty conservative Democrat. Economic development goals? Blame Obama. What about the military? Blame Obama. What about Mark Begich? Well, he’s friends with Obama! As tiresome and predictable as it all was, it worked. (And, sure, the race was far more complicated than that, but was it? Was it really?)
And it makes plenty of sense! Alaska pollster Ivan Moore’s numbers from earlier this week more than paint the picture. At the bottom of Alaska’s elected officials are Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson with a -13 approval rating and Gov. Mike Dunleavy with a -3 approval rating. It’s not a place that any campaign worried about reelection would be thrilled about, but there’s a consolation for conservatives with the official at the very bottom of the list: President Joe Biden’s -30 approval rating.
And that, right there, is a proven route to success for candidates like Dunleavy and Tshibaka.
You don’t need to harp about Murkowski—who has a middling -2 approval rating in that poll, by the way—when you’ve got an unpopular president to heap the blame on. And seven years of politics and a Trump presidency have made it that much easier for Tshibaka, who can now just say stand-in words for “Fuck Joe Biden” and get the point across.
And about this whole “Let’s Go Brandon Movement.” It’s a weird thing to grapple with from the outside, which is probably the point. On the one hand it’s a hollow, childish stand-in for a swear word (Also, c’mon! Just say what you mean! I thought this was America!) that they seem to love throwing out there with delight. On the other, it’s quite literally virtue signaling. Signaling that they’re part of an in-crowd with a secret phrase that everyone knows about.
Ultimately, there’s just nothing to it.
And, to me, when we contemplate just what kind of U.S. senator that Tshibaka would be based on what she’s telling us, she’s just another opportunistic right winger who’ll be more beholden to the national conservative outrage machine than anything else. (And if you want to learn more about her authenticity, Dermot Cole has you covered.) More interested in obstructing any policy goals that have a D next to them and rubberstamping whatever has an R next to it. After all, what else is there to the “Let’s Go Brandon Movement”?
It’s a position that would relegate U.S. Sen. Kelly Tshibaka to the backbench of reliable, unremarkable conservatives… and Alaska already has one of those in U.S. Sen. Sullivan! But at least Sullivan had the good sense to vote for the infrastructure bill, understanding the late Ted Stevens’ immortal words of “to hell with politics, just do what’s right for Alaska.” Which, if we’re in the mood of decoding political statements, would really translate to “to hell with politics, just bring home the bacon for Alaska.”
Tshibaka, in her haste to oppose all things Biden, wouldn’t even have done that.
Why it matters: Sure, a good bit of this all is just effective politics. By reframing the race into more friendly terms, it becomes an easier race to win. To me, though, what’s so frustrating about it is that it represents this larger push to morph Alaska politics into just more of the same Lower 48 national drivel. It’s fully on display in the U.S. Senate race, but we’re also seeing it on the local level as conservative groups push to rile people up about vaccines and masks, drum up fears about critical race theory, and ban books. These aren’t some earnest Alaska grown concerns, but merely talking points straight from Outside aimed at keeping the base angry, engaged and divided from everyone else.
As we move forward, it’s critically important to stay in tune and aware of what’s going on. Not just to the on-the-ground moves but how they fit into a wider national outrage machine. Moves like banning a book intended to help gender queer young adults navigate a difficult and uncertain world is just the start.
As I said up at the top of the post, the University of Alaska Anchorage’s women will be back on the court to dominate in just a matter of minutes!
Have a nice weekend, y’all. Be safe, be kind and watch out for one another.