Alexander: Ives goes full culture warrior

Illinois Rep. Jeanie Ives seems to have forgotten what state she’s in.

Ives, R-Wheaton, has made no bones about running to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s right. It was, after all, his signature on legislation protecting abortion access that drove her to primary the GOP incumbent. 

But Ives went full Alabama in an ad posted Friday that’s been described as “transphobic,” and “repulsive,” and left even the state GOP chairman howling for its removal.

After multiple viewings, it’s still unclear who Ives considers her constituency. It’s a bizarre move from a campaign arguably coming off its best week yet.

The ad features various actors thanking “Benedict Rauner” for empowering their liberal or plutocratic cause. There’s a black woman clad in a shirt emblazoned with “Chicago Teachers Union.” There’s a white woman wearing one of those pink hats that have become the staple of the Me Too movement. There’s a corporate type sarcastically lauding 2017’s Exelon deal, an admittedly flawed bargain that saved thousands of jobs in and around the Quad-Cities.

And, to top it off, there’s a deep-voiced man in a dress thanking Rauner for letting him use women’s bathrooms.

In short, the Ives campaign opted to tick every box on the list of culture warrior gripes. In the process, she’s denigrated thousands of Illinoisans and more than likely turned the noses of suburban Chicago Republicans whom she’d need to mount any sort of legitimate challenge to Rauner on March 20. Those who loved the ad probably already supported Ives.

There’s simply nothing to be gained here except some more attention. And, after last week, she has already started to get that.

This past week, Ives and Rauner dueled in front of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board. The debate was widely broadcast and most pundits, myself included, thought Ives mopped the floor with Rauner. The incumbent governor spent much of the time on the defensive. He’d complain that Ives was interrupting him and then butt in when it was her turn to speak. She pounded him on the budget, the aforementioned abortion bill and the general chaos that’s wracked Rauner’s first term.

The debate in Chicago was huge for Ives. Polls have shown most voters haven’t even heard of her. She’s tens of millions short of Rauner’s self-funded war chest. Ives needed a good showing. She succeeded.

And then, days later, she releases this divisive Hail Mary. It smacks of a campaign in the throws of desperation.

The campaign’s distress might be founded, too. Rauner has spent months looking past them, instead pounding away on Democratic front-runner J.B. Pritzker. Ives is without serious money or name recognition. And the fact that talking heads like me are writing about the ad counts for something, but Ives is bound to lose more would-be voters than she’d gain.

Ives’ message is toxic, one that simply won’t fly in Illinois. Perhaps Ives hopes to build a right-wing social movement in Illinois if and when she falls next month to Rauner. Maybe she’s angling for more political clout in her caucus. Whatever it is, the likes of Ives should raise red flags for Illinois GOP, a party that’s also likely to nominate unapologetic anti-Semite Arthur Jones up as its candidate in the 3rd Congressional District. 

What’s certain is Ives and her advisers opted to go full culture warrior in a state that simply needs fiscal stability, which Rauner hasn’t been able to deliver. And Ives — more interested in making trans men out to be sexual predators — probably couldn’t, either. 

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