GOP candidate Neumann tunes his right-wing dog whistle

Cory Liebmann

There are still a number of unanswered questions about the upcoming race for retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl’s seat.

However, we do know that Republican Mark Neumann, who has repeatedly failed in statewide races, is running. And we also know he brings an extreme right-wing agenda with him. 

Neumann is especially extreme when it comes to his obsession with social issues. In the past he said that if he were God for a day, he would not allow homosexuality. He also suggested that he would never hire a gay staffer and would use the heavy hand of government to enforce his brand of religion. 

It will be interesting to see if Neumann’s campaign will attempt to hide his extremism from the public. This is especially relevant given that the only Democrat to announce for the seat is U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the first – and only – open lesbian to be elected to Congress.

The political landscape for LGBT issues has changed dramatically since Neumann was last an elected official in the 1990s. While in a Republican primary it may still be desirable to launch paranoid attacks against the LGBT community, today it is also something that could hurt in a general election.

So will Neumann be honest about his extreme social agenda? Will he temper his comments? Or will he try to avoid those subjects all together? 

Thus far it seems that Neumann is keeping his social extremism largely in check. It looks like he may try to rely on blowing a right-wing dog whistle so that he doesn’t have to actually say what he means. For example, in his most recent fundraising e-mail to supporters, Neumann complains that “seemingly, every nutty liberal group in America” is behind Baldwin. While he doesn’t go on one of his gay-bashing rants in the e-mail, Neumann makes a particular point to list the “Gay and Lesbian Action Fund” (sic) as one of those allegedly “nutty” groups.

Instead of directly calling Baldwin “gay,” he blows a right-wing dog whistle by throwing in the outdated name of a gay organization. Or did he intentionally change the name of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund to something that his followers would be able to get more easily? 

In recent comments at a luncheon hosted by WisPolitics, Baldwin stressed that her overall record does not provide a real basis for such shallow name-calling. She pointed out several examples of bipartisan leadership, as well as times when she bucked her party and the president to act in Wisconsin’s best interests. Baldwin also pointed to several past votes, such as her opposition to the war in Iraq, that were once viewed as “liberal” but are now positions shared by most Wisconsinites.

Neumann plans to get ahead by saying as little in the way of substance as possible. He plans to attack Baldwin by name-calling rather than exploring the actual substance of her record. And it appears that he also plans on using a right-wing dog whistle rather than actually being honest with Wisconsin about his extremist social views.

Neumann may think this approach is a winning tactic, but it fails to provide the kind of substantive and honest debate that Wisconsin deserves.