Midterm Ad Watch: Republicans Love Social Security!

Bill Scher

Earlier this month I observed, over at Real Clear Politics, that Republicans have been leaning left to survive the midterm elections, belying notions of a conservative-fueled Republican wave. And on this site my colleague Isaiah J. Poole noted that the GOP has been engaged in a “Social Security Deception Game.”

Don’t believe it? Let’s go the videotape…

U.S Senate, Arkansas: Republican nominee Rep. Tom Cotton

In the toss-up Senate race of Arkansas, Republicans were proud to recruit a “conservative superstar,” as The Atlantic described Rep. Tom Cotton. Cotton is so ideologically pure, he voted against farm subsidies and children’s hospital funding for Arkansas. He also voted to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70.

But is Cotton defending that vote, on the grounds that he sincerely believes we need to cut retirement benefits?

Nope. He’s running an ad using his elderly mom for political cover in which he says, “every vote I’ve cast, and will cast, on Social Security and Medicare, protects and preserves benefits for seniors like Mom.”

The key words there, of course, are “for seniors,” which gives him plenty of wiggle room to cut benefits for people who are not yet seniors, like his past vote did. But Mr. Conservative Superstar sees no need to explain the details of his past vote to Arkansas voters.

U.S. Senate, Iowa: Republican nominee Joni Ernst

Or take Iowa’s Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst. She made national waves in the Republican primary with her ad that promises to cut federal “pork” — including the repeal of Obamacare — the way she used to castrate hogs.

Now for the general election, Ernst’s ads depict a completely different candidate: no talk of brutal cuts. Only support for “protecting Social Security for seniors, like my mom and dad.” (There’s that “for seniors” again, and the parental name-check.)

By the way, she’s now also for “good schools, good-paying jobs, and health care we can afford.”

She also has an ad specific to retirement security, which again pledges to “protect Social Security and Medicare for every senior who depends on them.”

What she doesn’t mention in the ads is her recent comment, “I have talked about privatizing Social Security as an option.” Nor her mealy mouthed comments about raising the retirement age, which she says she opposes … until she is pressed about the possibility of raising it for younger workers.

This may all work out for Ernst and Cotton on Election Day. But if it does, it’s important to remember why they won. Not because they were running as unadulterated conservatives, but because they were telling voters they would uphold a pillar of the New Deal.

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