Monday, September 20, 2021

Bruce O'Connell Might Steal Some of Cawthorn's Support


11th CD candidate Bruce O'Connell

While the other three Republicans running in the 2022 primary for Madison Cawthorn's seat seem moderate by comparison (described here and here), Bruce O'Connell, the well known Pisgah Inn host, comes off as (much) more conservative, not so much for the policy positions (though we do get standard-issue MAGA compost -- protect guns, build the wall, "Critical Race Theory" BAD, etc.). He seems Trumpist-lite more for what he doesn't say about Cawthorn (and he says a lot). 

O'Connell's list of Cawthorn's faults makes no mention of his sanctioning of violence against the US government and his participation in the "Stop the Steal" movement which led to violence, property destruction, and death. Cawthorn was there at the rally on January 6th. He spoke. He ginned them up to accept BLOOD as part of the compact for making American great again. He's implied his belief that force can be legitimate public reaction

But candidate O'Connell makes no mention of any of that -- says not one word about Trump or that whole election mishegoss. O'Connell's only concerned about Cawthorn's lack of maturity, particularly his adolescent behavior: he's mouthy and disrespectful, slacking on his chores, partying instead of working. Teenage stuff. O'Connell makes no acknowledgement that what Cawthorn models is dangerous to our very democracy.

Maybe that blindspot comes from this: O'Connell's main fame came with running the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway for decades -- running it well -- and then defying the government shutdown in 2013, declaring on social media and in the press that he would not give in to government "tyranny." He kept the Inn open -- the land and building are actually owned by the Federal government -- until Park Service cars blocked the entrance to his parking lot. He had to give in. Which makes him sympathetic to the insurrectionists on January 6th? Or at least willing to give them a pass and forget they ever fulminated into mass violence? 

Here's a small irony: The government shutdown of 2013 was engineered by hard-right conservatives to show their contempt for Obama's government. Bruce O'Connell's defiance was showing contempt for government shutdowns. In 2013 it was all Mark Meadows's big show. He led the Freedom Caucus into bullying other Republicans to get in line. O'Connell has no cause to admire former Congressman Meadows, who was what a conservative was supposed to be in 2013.

For historians, let alone believers in science, O'Connell is just wrong in opposing a vaccine mandate: "I believe the choice not to get vaccinated does NOT infringe on other's rights. I understand many will disagree with my position, and that is what freedom is all about. The freedom to disagree. I do not want to live under a Dictatorship." Small problem with that particular freedom: It's based on a lie. Unvaccinated people do pose a threat to others. That's just a fact. And that's why government has mandated vaccines against any number of childhood diseases going back a century.

Bottomline for me, after spending several hours on his website: I can't help thinking that O'Connell will be an attractive candidate. The popularity and high ratings of the Pisgah Inn suggest he knows how to use his personality to win people over, and his Trumpist boilerplate might be enough to coax former Cawthorn Republicans to come away from the dark. The problem of four total candidates, all with their own winning qualities and commensurate followers -- sorry to say it, means Cawthorn wins the primary with a plurality.

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