Be honest. Either you have never heard of Don Blankenship, the coal tycoon running in the Republican Senate primary in West Virginia, or you think he is absolutely hilarious.
If you are the kind of person who follows politics closely you have probably watched his infamous "Cocaine Mitch" ad several times and laughed. Blankenship is probably the first person in history to object to "Chinaman" and its plural on the grounds that they are insensitive to women. The first sentence on the "About Me" page of his website contains the word "urine." He's too good to be true.
The menagerie of Republican Senate candidates in the post-Obama era has certainly been home to some very exotic fauna: oddly insistent anti-occultists, would-be philosophers interested in speculating on the metaphysics of "legitimate rape," judges in leather vests and cowboy hats whose hobbies seem to include cruising malls for teenage girls, even Ted Cruz.
But Blankenship is something new. This divorced family values proponent is also an old-fashioned, down-and-dirty captain of industry who drops in person into the pits to threaten miners considering unionization and a narcissistic conspiracy theorist who claims to have counted all the bullets that have supposedly entered his office window. He is a fantastical hybrid of the Tea Party fanatic of the 2010 midterms and the perennial Chamber of Commerce Republican who outspends his opponents on television and radio using his own money. He is what Christine O'Donnell might have been if she had been both independently wealthy and a literal descendent of the famous McCoys — or what Donald Trump would be today if he actually bought into the GOP platform.
In a way it's inevitable that we would end up with someone like Blankenship sooner or later. In the past, the gulf between the kind of wealthy businessman who buys the race and the uncompromising constitutionalist fanatic seemed more or less absolute. Blankenship is the first country-club Tea Partier, not a RINO but an actual pro-fossil fuel rhinoceros ramming his great dome through the walls of respectable conservative discourse and grunting in a language no one understands. Most rich businessmen have more to lose socially than this former convict, if not politer opinions; very few credibly accused sorceresses who have redirected their attention to safeguarding the virtues of the American republic have vast fortunes.
If the campaign's internal polling is to be believed and the last-minute denunciations of his own opponents mean anything, there is a very good chance that Blankenship will win the Republican primary on Tuesday. This is excellent news for Sen. Joe Manchin, who, like so many red-state Democrats, has been outflanked on his left as well as his right. Unlike many of his embattled colleagues, he made the crucial decision to vote in favor of Neil Gorsuch's confirmation to the Supreme Court and has committed himself to supporting conservative Trump appointees in the future, which is more or less the only meaningful action that a sitting politician can take against abortion in 2018. No one in West Virginia will be facing a Roy Moore-style dilemma this fall.
Are the people who are inclined to support Blankenship, of whom there must be tens if not hundreds of thousands in West Virginia, all vicious and moronic bigots? It is difficult to say because they are precisely the sort of persons whose views are not represented even in conservative media. Perhaps they are just bored. After all there really is no reason to think that Blankenship would be any worse in office than his GOP opponents, who will support the same lunatic policies without any of their man's fringe panache. If he loses, so what? One increasingly gets the sense that taking delight in the pronouncements of lunatics has become an agreeable way of passing the time.
But it is worth asking ourselves why so many people feel this way, about politics or anything else. It must, I think, have something to do with the way we consume political media, the leveling of discourse that has made us approach the making of prudential decisions about the most important issues of the day with all the gravity of a WWE pay-per-view.
Whatever happens to Blankenship on Tuesday, it is fair to say that the phenomenon he represents is not going away.