The Hayride

And Then There’s Lenar Whitney…

And Then There’s Lenar Whitney…
July 30
19:07 2014

…who is getting some rather intensely bad press from David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report after what can be charitably described as an “unsuccessful” interview last week.

Wasserman, writing at the Washington Post about all the wingnut GOP candidates out there who so freak out the party’s Beltway elite and give it such a rotten image (how come nobody ever says these things about Sheila Jackson Lee or Alan Grayson?), tore Whitney apart after the interview.

The headline?

The most frightening candidate I’ve met in seven years interviewing congressional hopefuls

Oh, boy.

As a House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, I’ve personally interviewed over 300 congressional candidates over the course of seven years, both to get to know them and evaluate their chances of winning. I’ve been impressed by just as many Republicans as Democrats, and underwhelmed by equal numbers, too. Most are accustomed to tough questions.

But never have I met any candidate quite as frightening or fact-averse as Louisiana state Rep. Lenar Whitney, 55, who visited my office last Wednesday. It’s tough to decide which party’s worst nightmare she would be.


What Wasserman especially disliked, apparently, was Whitney’s “global warming is a hoax” video. Apparently he challenged her contentions as a skeptic of the theory, and he wasn’t satisfied with her level of command of the issue…

Whitney’s brand of rhetoric obviously resonates with some very conservative Louisiana voters who view President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency as big-city elitists directly attacking the state’s energy industry and their own way of life. And she would hardly be the first “climate denier” elected to Congress. But it’s not unreasonable to expect candidates to explain how they arrived at their positions, and when I pressed Whitney repeatedly for the source of her claim that the earth is getting colder, she froze and was unable to cite a single scientist, journal or news source to back up her beliefs.

Whitney’s people told us that by “pressing,” what Wasserman means was that he turned the interview into an interrogation and it would be generous to call his  attitude “belittling.” One can imagine how the differing perceptions could be arrived at.

And then one can absolutely imagine this…

To change the subject, I asked whether she believed Obama was born in the United States. When she replied that it was a matter of some controversy, her two campaign consultants quickly whisked her out of the room, accusing me of conducting a “Palin-style interview.”

To “change the subject?”

So because Lenar Whitney, who is not a scientist but who represents a Louisiana legislative district heavily dependent on oil and gas and other carbon-related industries and whose opinion on global warming is by no means exotic among her people (not to mention lots of other folks within the mainstream of American politics), has an opinion Wasserman differs with his next question is to ask her how big a birther she is?

He’s surprised when Whitney’s people get pissed and pull her out of the interview? Can you blame them?

After the interview, she took to Twitter…

There is no particular reason to doubt Whitney’s version of events. We’ve seen this kind of hit-job from “mainstream media” lefties again and again, particularly against conservative women. You practically have to be Margaret Thatcher not to get treated as a bimbo by those people if you’re a Republican woman running for office. Search her on Twitter and what you’ll see isn’t exactly polite discourse; you quickly come to a question why any Republican woman would put herself out there for this kind of abuse, and you also recognize that’s exactly the question the abusers want people to ask. No Republican women running, no pushback to the “War on Women” narrative.

And yeah, Wasserman fits nicely into the box of “liberal shill,” so it’s hardly a surprise if he snarled at her the entire time during that interview and then covered her in flames in his writeup about it.

That having been said, Whitney hasn’t been perfectly served here by her campaign team. A few points…

1. They made the decision to have her do a four-minute video taking the boldest possible position on a very high-profile issue. There is nothing wrong with calling global warming a hoax; today is July 30 and in Baton Rouge the high temperature was 87 degrees. Word is this is the coolest American summer on record, as measured by the Historical Climatology Network. And while that’s anything but a definitive indictment of global warming theory, it’s no less scientific than what’s offered as “proof” of a theory which is used as a lever to create public policy which is devastating to the American economy generally and the economy of both Whitney’s congressional district and her legislative district. And we’re not even going to get into all the questions about the credibility of the people who promote global warming under the banner of objective science.

The problem is, if you’re going out on a limb and making that video in an effort to stake out a position starting a fight that will increase your profile on the political scene, you had better become a lay expert on that subject. Wasserman might not like the authorities behind your position, but you ought to make sure he knows you’re pretty well read on the topic. He’s going to report that you believe a bunch of charlatans and shysters and quacks about that issue, but that’s a lot better than him reporting you don’t know anything at all about the issue you just did a four-minute video on. Whitney needed Wasserman to think he had walked into her wheelhouse when he asked that question.

That’s the price of going out on a limb. It’s a potentially high-reward move, but it carries with it a high risk. You have to be ready to minimize that risk by knowing your stuff.

2. Or if she’s not ready to go toe-to-toe with hostile reporters on global warming, then she’s not ready to go up to DC to do an interview with the Cook Political Report. Issue prep is the lifeblood of a good campaign, particularly if you’re running a federal race. Down the ballot you can get by on retail political skills and being folksy when you speak to the Kiwanis Club; when you get to Washington for interviews as a congressional candidate they don’t care so much about that stuff and they’re going to grill you like there’s no tomorrow. Especially if you’re a conservative woman who takes bold positions and you’re going to sit for an interview with a member of the Beltway leftist elite.

But this far out from November, when you’re still getting your name out there and meeting voters and raising a little money you can avoid the Washington interviews. You still have time for the issue prep so that when you do make that trip to Washington to talk to the Wassermans of the world you can hold your own. Whitney was up in DC last week for a fundraiser Tony Perkins was holding for her, but she didn’t have to sit down with Wasserman until a future trip up there when she’d read up on global warming enough to be a walking encyclopedia about the issue.

3. If you’re a grassroots conservative you are the enemy to somebody like Wasserman – as he makes clear in his piece. So when you take an “extreme” position on a big issue, you probably ought not be surprised when you get treated as a nutjob and you get “Sarah Palin questions.” Nobody can blame Chris Comeaux, her political consultant, for canceling the interview at that point – but what’s the effect?

The effect is, you then have to explain yourself to the Times-Picayune

Chris Comeaux, Whitney’s campaign spokesman, told The Times-Picayune | the candidate knows the president was born in the United States.

“Of course she thinks Obama was born in America. She just wishes he would act like it,” he said.

Which is a nice line. Whitney would have done herself some good telling it to Wasserman. That line is juicy enough that he would have had to use it, and regardless of how much he’s beating her up in the rest of his piece today she’s going to gain some points with potential supporters when that quote makes his story.

In other words, you’ve probably got to hang in there and trade punches with this guy; succumbing to the temptation to kill the interview, as understandable as it might be when he’s clearly hostile to her, only assures you’re going to get a terrible writeup out of the encounter.

Whitney is trying to position herself in this race as what she is – a principled hard-core conservative with a record to prove it. She’s telegenic, she’s very likable and she’s a good retail politician. In addition, she’s somebody you can be completely sure will be a rock-solid, reliable conservative vote.

But the question coming out of that interview is whether the video she did on global warming – and the one on immigration where she called for employers of illegal aliens to do jail time – isn’t an example of overdoing it. There are a ton of hard-core conservatives on the Republican side of the 6th District field, and while it’s a challenge to separate yourself and your message from that field there are pitfalls associated with coming out so strongly.

Whitney just hit one. As a result, her biggest challenge for the immediate future is to close a perceived “competency gap” between herself and more seasoned policy people in the race like Edwin Edwards, Dan Claitor and Garret Graves.

Another global warming video jam-packed with facts and sources could do that, maybe, but it’s probably not enough and maybe it’s time to move on. Whatever the plan, it had better feature Lenar Whitney The Conservative Policy Wonk from here on in.

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MacAoidh is the Gaelic spelling of Hayride publisher Scott McKay's last name. It's pronounced "Mac-AYE." McKay has published The Hayride since December 2009.

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