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Magazine

Meet the New Republican Flamethrowers

These are the conservative voices that make the GOP mainstream cringe.

(From L to R, Chris Schneider/Getty Images, John Moore/Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images and REUTERS/John Adkisson)

photo of Alex  Roarty
November 18, 2013

Republicans aren't only worried about what might come out of Paul Broun's mouth. Here are others who have party strategists worried.

Ken Buck: "You can choose who your partner is. I think birth has an influence over [homosexuality], like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you have a choice." Senate debate in 2010

Any list of disastrous Republican Senate candidates since 2010 always includes Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Todd Akin, but Buck should be on it, too. The 2010 GOP nominee in Colorado cost the party a winnable seat by running a gaffe-prone campaign that let Sen. Michael Bennet squeak out a victory. No misstep was more prominent than the one when, during a nationally televised debate on Meet the Press, he called being gay a choice and compared it to alcoholism. The sharp-edged social conservatism doesn't play well in increasingly liberal Colorado.

 

Mark Harris: "There is not the medical evidence that an individual that chooses the homosexual lifestyle is born that way. That is a choice." Interview on Speak Out Charlotte in July 2013

Harris would be a newcomer to office, but not to politics. The Baptist pastor last year led the movement in North Carolina to adopt a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a measure that passed overwhelmingly. But a renewed debate over same-sex marriage is the last thing national Republicans want, especially as public support for it swells. Harris would dash those plans, and his unapologetic evangelicalism will make him prone to other rhetorical mistakes.

Joe Miller: "Ultimately, we've got to transition out of the Social Security arrangement and go into more of a privatization." Interview with ABC News in July 2010

The best thing many Republicans say about Joe Miller is that they don't think he can win. The 2010 GOP nominee already suffered one embarrassing defeat three years ago, when Sen. Lisa Murkowski ran a write-in campaign to defeat him in the general election. Now in a three-person primary race, GOP operatives hope rank-and-file voters remember him as the man who has vowed to ultimately rid the country of Social Security. Not to mention the man whose campaign once put a reporter in handcuffs.

Phil Gingrey: "[Akin] went on and said that in a situation of rape, of a legitimate rape, a woman's body has a way of shutting down so the pregnancy would not occur. He's partly right on that." According to the Marietta Daily Journal in January 2013

He's not Paul Broun, but he's close. The 71-year-old House member has a voting record every bit as extreme as his colleague's, and his rhetoric is nearly as controversial. Gingrey made headlines early this year when he defended Akin's infamous suggestion that a woman can stop herself from becoming pregnant after a rape. Republicans will have a better shot at defeating Michelle Nunn if he, not Broun, is the nominee, but just barely. Democrats are confident they will win if they face either one.

Bob Vander Plaats: "If we're teaching the kids, 'Don't smoke, because that's a risky health style,' the same can be true of the homosexual lifestyle. That's why I think we need to speak the truth once in a while." Interview with ThinkProgress in April 2011

Everyone who follows Iowa politics knows Bob Vander Plaats. And everyone who knows Bob Vander Plaats knows the outspoken social conservative loves to court controversy. His suggestion that homosexuality is a public-health risk is his best-known gaffe, but it's hardly the only comment that would haunt him in a general election. The group he runs, the Family Leader, suggested during the last presidential campaign that black men and women were better off during slavery because at least then they lived in a two-parent household. Even many Republicans find him off-putting: In 2010, he lost the party's gubernatorial fight to Terry Branstad.

This article appears in the November 16, 2013 edition of National Journal Magazine as The Flamethrowers.

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