Today’s magnum opus profile of Tom Cotton by Molly Ball of The Atlantic is a definite must-read. It is quite long, but full of scary insights into the mind of the first-term congressman. We’ve pulled a few key nuggets for you.
It’s been clear for some time that Cotton is out of touch with Arkansans, but Ball’s stellar reporting, shows that Cotton is really not in touch with anyone other than himself. Cotton doesn’t even really connect with his own colleagues in the House of Representatives. But as you will see, that is not very surprising, as Cotton believes that a man of such great intellect and “raw brainpower” as himself (tongue planted firmly in cheek) belongs in the Senate.
Ball unearths for the first time Cotton’s thesis from Harvard College – a body of work the Tea Party darling stands by to this day (he can still quote much of it verbatim) and one that offers a very clear picture of the real Tom Cotton.
This little doozy from Cotton’s thesis pretty much sums up how highly Tom Cotton regards Tom Cotton:
“National officeholders have an enlarged ambition and mental acuity that distinguishes them from all other sorts of men,” Cotton wrote. And where such men belong, he argued—where they will naturally find their place—is in the U.S. Senate.
But wait – it actually gets worse:
Men who seek national office, Cotton wrote in his thesis, are the most ambitious men, seeking the headiest sort of power over a nation’s commerce, finance, and affairs of state. Self-selection ensures that they have “a superior intelligence compared to the unambitious and to the lesser ambitious.” This does not necessarily mean that they are wise, he notes, but “it does imply some amount of sheer, raw brainpower. National officeholders will all possess something akin to shrewdness, cleverness, or perhaps even cunning.”
There’s even more:
“Ambition characterizes and distinguishes national officeholders from other kinds of human beings,” Cotton wrote. “Inflammatory passion and selfish interest characterizes most men, whereas ambition characterizes men who pursue and hold national office. Such men rise from the people through a process of self-selection since politics is a dirty business that discourages all but the most ambitious.”
The article also gives insight into how much Cotton has been trained and groomed by some of the most extreme far right conservatives out there, how they’ve funded his political rise and he votes in lock step with their agenda. That includes The Club for Growth, which was the largest fundraiser for his first election to Congress and which gave Cotton a 92% rating on their Congressional scorecard in his first term.
One reason Club for Growth was so high on Cotton was that he was so low on farmers.
The votes that marked him an outlier in the Arkansas Republican delegation—the farm bill, disaster aid, the Children’s Hospital—were all in keeping with the Club’s austere philosophy.
She also writes:
It is not the only time Cotton has outdone even other Republicans with his conservative absolutism. He was the only Arkansas Republican to vote twice against the farm bill and five times against disaster-aid funding—two initiatives that national conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation see as symptoms of big government, but that many rural Southerners rely on heavily. Cotton also was the only Arkansan to vote for a budget drafted by the Republican Study Committee that would slash spending, voucherize Medicare, and raise the eligibility age for Social Security to 70.
Cotton’s unwillingness to compromise and his blind and reckless adherence to the extreme agendas of outfits like The Club for Growth and Heritage Foundation clearly causes frustration with other Republicans. They even question his voting record!
One GOP strategist involved in the midterm elections complained about Cotton’s failure to leap decisively ahead of Pryor, telling me, “His problem is, his voting record was scripted by the Heritage Foundation.”
Scorecards like the Club’s frustrate House Speaker John Boehner, who believes that it and other pressure groups—the Heritage Foundation keeps a similar tally—encourage Republicans against constructiveness and compromise. But the groups’ tough-minded ideology has found willing acolytes in the House’s most staunchly ideological crop of members, many of them elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 that handed Republicans the House majority, and more, like Cotton, elected since. Politico last year dubbed Cotton the face of the “hell no caucus” that was making Boehner’s life difficult by refusing to entertain any inkling of gun control or immigration reform.
The Atlantic article also shows just how concerned national Republicans are over Cotton’s inability to connect with voters and the impact that might have on his chances in the election.
Yet Cotton retains an air of impenetrability, a blankness that has puzzled voters and pundits alike. And his failure to dominate the race has prompted prominent Republicans to worry that something is missing.
Ball also caught up with Gov. Beebe for the article. Unlike Cotton, Gov. Beebe knows that to get things done, there has to be compromise. And she spoke with Sen. Pryor:
Arkansans are conservative, Beebe said, but they are practical, not ideological, and they value a personal connection with their politicians. “Some of those pragmatic business Republicans see more advantage to Senator Pryor’s reelection than they do to an extremely, very, very conservative opponent,” he said. Pryor, when I interviewed him at a catfish fry in the tiny town of Grady, agreed with this assessment. (Cotton had appeared briefly at the event—a mainstay of the Arkansas political calendar—shaking a few hands and leaving early for a fundraiser. Pryor stayed for several hours, sweating profusely and greeting every voter like an old friend.) “I meet a lot of Republicans who say that, for one reason or another, they just can’t support him,” Pryor told me. “What they know from business is that this my-way-or-the-highway attitude my opponent has, it’s dead-end politics. What you end up with there is, you end up shutting down the government. You end up with fiscal cliffs. Businesspeople know that you’ve got to compromise and work with other people.”
We could write more about Cotton’s out of touch views on race, his issues with freedom of the press, etc., but this post is already quite long, and this is just one more chapter in the narrative Democrats have built against Tom Cotton and his positions that are out of step with Arkansas.