The Republican Party Can’t Escape the Fringe

A congressional candidate in Illinois is doing everything the party desperately wants to stop.

Jim Griffin, dressed as Capt. America, holds a large American flag while participating in a Tea Party rally at the U.S. Capitol, June 19, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
March 21, 2014, 1 a.m.

After a tight primary this week, the Illinois Re­pub­lic­an Party has its can­did­ate in the House race against Demo­crat­ic Rep. Jan Schakowsky. And the party is really, really not happy about that.

“We called on her to drop out of the race in Janu­ary,” a spokes­man for the state party tells Na­tion­al Journ­al. “We hope that she still does drop out of the race.”

Why all the dis­tan­cing? Meet the can­did­ate: Susanne Atanus, a politi­cian who makes Todd Akin look like Fred Ro­gers.

Back in Janu­ary, Atanus, who lost the GOP primary for the same seat in 2010 and 2012, told the ed­it­or­i­al board of Chica­go’s Daily Her­ald she be­lieves that God is pun­ish­ing the United States for same-sex mar­riage.

“God is angry. We are pro­vok­ing him with abor­tions and same-sex mar­riage and civil uni­ons,” she said. “Same-sex activ­ity is go­ing to in­crease AIDS. If it’s in our mil­it­ary it will weak­en our mil­it­ary. We need to re­spect God.”

God’s wrath doesn’t stop with the mil­it­ary and AIDS. Ac­cord­ing to Atanus, God’s an­ger has also res­ul­ted in tor­nadoes, aut­ism, and de­men­tia. “Abor­tions should not be used for birth con­trol,” she ad­ded.

Those com­ments drew quick con­dem­na­tion from the state’s Re­pub­lic­an Party. “Her can­did­acy is neither sup­por­ted nor en­dorsed by the lead­ers of our party, and she should with­draw from the race im­me­di­ately,” Jack Dor­gan, chair­man of the Illinois Re­pub­lic­an Party, said in Janu­ary. The head of Chica­go’s Re­pub­lic­an Party went fur­ther: “Atanus is not in any way af­fil­i­ated with any of our ef­forts in the Chica­go GOP, nor have we ever sup­por­ted, en­dorsed, or as­sisted her in any way at any time.”

Atanus stood by the state­ments. “I can’t turn my eye and look the oth­er way when I know that abor­tions, gay rights, and civil uni­ons are mak­ing God very angry,” she said in Janu­ary. “I don’t know why [state party of­fi­cials] are not stand­ing be­hind me.”

Aside from so­cial is­sues, Atanus’ primary cam­paign was fo­cused on an eco­nom­ic mes­sage that ad­voc­ated for elim­in­at­ing the U.S. stock ex­changes. Her ideas, in short, are very far re­moved from what the es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­an Party is or wants to be. So how’d she ac­tu­ally win the primary Tues­day with no sup­port from the party? Her Re­pub­lic­an primary op­pon­ent, Dav­id Wil­li­ams III, sus­pects Demo­crat­ic med­dling. “I do be­lieve @jan­schakowsky is ter­ri­fied of a Black Re­pub­lic­an,” Wil­li­ams, who is a Black Re­pub­lic­an, tweeted Wed­nes­day. “So send­ing your sup­port­ers to vote for my primary op­pon­ent won’t work.”

Whatever the cause, Re­pub­lic­ans are now in a place they had hoped to es­cape. Es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans have been des­per­ately try­ing to avoid a re­peat of Akin, the 2012 Mis­souri Sen­ate can­did­ate who set off a polit­ic­al hor­ror cir­cus when he tried to elab­or­ate on dif­fer­ent kinds of rape. In what is ex­pec­ted to be a good elec­tion year for Re­pub­lic­ans, a highly vis­ible polit­ic­al can­did­ate es­pous­ing Akini­an views could badly dam­age the party’s ef­forts to ex­pand its ranks.

It’s highly un­likely that Atanus will de­feat Schakowsky in the Illinois House race this year. The dis­trict, says the Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port, is solidly Demo­crat­ic; Pres­id­ent Obama won 65 per­cent of the vote there in 2012. No Re­pub­lic­an stood a chance at tak­ing the seat this year.

But just be­cause Atanus won’t likely win doesn’t mean she isn’t cap­able of cre­at­ing a few head­aches for the GOP. Sev­er­al na­tion­al news or­gan­iz­a­tions are already giv­ing Atanus the kind of at­ten­tion a likely doomed House can­did­ate rarely re­ceives.

It’s safe to as­sume the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee won’t go any­where near Atanus this year. But when the party is try­ing to build a big­ger base ahead of 2016, hav­ing a fringey re­mind­er of 2012 hanging around doesn’t help.

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