How can one of the most reviled men in West Virginia be competitive in the GOP primary race for a Senate seat? Politico took on the question Monday in its profile of disgraced coal baron Don Blankenship, who’s throwing money into a me-against-the-world campaign that’s leaving national Republicans shocked—shocked—at what their party has become.
The former CEO of Massey Energy, once among the nation’s largest mining companies, Blankenship spent a year in prison for flouting safety standards in the lead-up to the notorious 2010 explosion that killed 29 workers at Upper Big Branch Mine. (As Politico noted, 60% of people in West Virginia thought his sentence was too short.) Even before then, he was well known in West Virginia for shirking environmental rules, crushing unions, and pushing employees not to report workplace injuries.
Yet the multimillionaire has portrayed himself in campaign ads as a victim of the Obama Justice Department and a target of the Deep State. He wrote a 67-page manifesto literally titled, “An American Political Prisoner.” And he has embraced his persona as a ruthless arch-capitalist, uploading an old interview to his website in which he compares the United States to a jungle: “Unions, communities, people, everybody’s going to have learn and to accept that in the United States is a capitalist society. And that capitalism, from a business viewpoint, is survival of the most productive.”
Still, Blankenship has performed surprisingly well in what little polling has been conducted in the state so far, running close with more establishment candidates. Blankenship’s secret sauce, Politico’s Kevin Robillard writes, may lie in support from local Republicans like the Rev. Becky Deitch, chairwoman of the Brooke County GOP, who actually said this:
“The common man doesn’t want another politician,” she said. “I could tell from his handshake. He’s real.”
I asked her about the deaths at Upper Big Branch, but she brushed it off.
“Most of us should be in jail for the things we do,” she said. “We just haven’t been caught. No one’s gone after us.”
Hm. Speak for yourself, Becky.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other national Republicans are apparently worried by the prospect of a Blankenship win, thinking that he could hurt their chances to unseat Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November. But given the kid gloves they’ve reserved for Donald Trump, to say nothing of the moral relativism that brought him to the national stage, they shouldn’t be surprised.