Freshman U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) is the Republican Party’s pick to deliver its rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.
It’s easy to see why party leaders would pick her. She’s the first female combat veteran in the Senate, and part of a somewhat more diverse GOP freshman class than usual. She will be the second woman in a row to deliver the Republican response speech at a time when “war on women” attacks against the party are still potent. The media sees her as a “folksy,” charismatic figure who rose to public attention with her famous hog-castrating campaign ads.
She is also an example of how far-right views in the Republican Party have become the norm, and how the difference between “right-wing” and “establishment” Republicans is often more about style than substance.
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Her anti-government views verge on militancy. The gun she carries with her nearly everywhere is to defend herself, she says, “whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government.” She has called President Obama a dictator who should possibly be impeached, and she has suggested that states can or should nullify federal laws—an idea that is against the Constitution and was used to justify slavery and segregation.
She wants to completely abolish federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Department of Education, and thinks that government employees trying to implement the Affordable Care Act should be arrested.
Some of Ernst’s views aren’t that unusual in today’s Republican Party, including her support for radical fetal “personhood” bills that would outlaw all abortion and likely some forms of contraception. But many of her views and statements stand out for their extreme rhetoric or fringe sentiments.
Yet unlike former Rep. Michele Bachmann, famous for her far-fetched ideas about Muslims and Benghazi, Ernst hasn’t gotten a reputation for her fringe views in most media narratives. This may be due to her tendency to immediately walk back much of what she has said when challenged, but it may also show that for whatever reason, the media isn’t willing to challenge her too harshly.
Correction: A version of this story included one instance of an incorrect party affiliation for Ernst. We regret to error.