Politics & Policy

Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Part III

Editor’s Note: This week, we have been presenting a series by Jay Nordlinger on Tom Cotton. He’s the Republican nominee for the Fourth Congressional District of Arkansas. To read the first two parts of the series, go here and here.

‘Cotton for Congress World Headquarters,” as the candidate says, is his house. And his car. The house is in Dardanelle (a house once belonging to his great-aunt). The car is most anywhere in the vast Fourth District (21,000 square miles, as you may recall).

Near the house are the Methodist church and the Baptist church. There’s a mad scramble on Sunday after church, says Cotton, to get to the restaurants first. You can look over and see whether the other guys are beating you.

There’s also a Presbyterian church in the mix. If a Methodist and a Baptist get married, they may well get married in the Presbyterian church, to avoid acrimony. (Acrimony should play no part in matrimony.)

‐The Cotton campaign has five staffers, two of them volunteers. The campaign manager, Doug Coutts, is one of the volunteers. None of these six people — including the candidate — has ever been in politics before.

No, wait, that’s not quite true: There’s a college kid who worked on a previous campaign.

‐Cotton has raised over $2 million — a pretty sum in these parts. Coutts calls him a “genius” at fundraising. Cotton finds out whom to call. They give. And he asks them, “Who else should I call?” The money just keeps rolling in, apparently.

The Club for Growth has been supportive — this is the group founded by National Review’s Dusty Rhodes, among others. Its purpose is to support limited-government, free-market types such as Cotton. The candidate explains to me that the club has 100,000 members. He has received help from a great many of them. A Chicago firefighter may give $5. A retiree may give $5,000.

Cotton says that the club enables principled candidates to go ahead and run on principle, safe in the knowledge that there are people to back them. People who want nothing except that the candidates do “the right thing.”

Among such candidates are Ted Cruz and Josh Mandel, says Cotton — and him. (Cruz and Mandel are the Republican Senate nominees in Texas and Ohio.)

(By the way, don’t you think a group of the Arkansas candidate’s backers should be called the Cotton Club? I mean, what else?)

‐Mike Ross has been the congressman from this district for six terms. He’s a Democrat. He won even in the giant Republican year of 2010. He decided not to run this year, though. Because of Cotton? Hard to say. The presence of Cotton couldn’t have made the race more attractive for him.

Cotton would have run anyway — would have run with Ross in the race. This way, however, it’s easier for Cotton.

He is heavily, heavily favored over his opponent, Democratic nominee Gene Jeffress. Jeffress has little money at his disposal. And Arkansas has turned quickly Republican.

The more difficult race for Cotton was the GOP primary — in which he beat the 2010 nominee, Beth Anne Rankin, a former Mike Huckabee aide, and, more interestingly, a former Miss Arkansas.

She is now supporting Cotton, as is Huck.

‐Tom Cotton takes what you might call the standard conservative positions — on economics, foreign policy, the judiciary, immigration, energy, and so on. But he takes them with unusual sharpness and brio. The “Issues” section on his website makes for interesting reading. Cotton, of course, wrote up his own positions.

He writes such things as, “I view our fossil fuels as a valuable asset to be used, not an embarrassing liability to be restrained.”

And, “Beware of politicians who promise to create jobs, because only businesses and entrepreneurs — not politicians — can create jobs. What government can and should do is ensure a free-market, job-friendly environment where businesses and entrepreneurs have the certainty and incentives to invest, innovate, grow, and hire.”

Under “Defend the Constitution,” he writes this: “As an Army officer, I took an oath of office to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I administered that oath to many soldiers. I will proudly take the same oath as your congressman, and I will honor that oath by always asking one question about any proposed law: Is it constitutional?”

Obamacare is one law, he says, that is not constitutional. (He and Chief Justice John Roberts might have an interesting talk about this.)

‐De Queen is a town of just under 6,000. The newspaper is, of course, the De Queen Bee (“Serving Sevier County since 1897”). On the main road through town is the Dairy De Queen.

‐Cotton shakes hands with voters, or potential voters, at Papa Poblano’s Mexican Café (“Family Owned and Operated since 1998”). Someone says, “Who’re you running against?” Cotton answers, “No one, they’re running against me!” I’ll hear this answer a few more times on the trail with Cotton.

‐He then speaks at the De Queen Senior Citizen Center, to a meeting of the Southwest Arkansas Tea Party Patriots.

The meeting opens with a prayer — we are not to take for granted our freedoms, or those who have sacrificed for them. Then there is the Pledge of Allegiance.

Cotton gives his spiel. He says he grew up on a family farm outside Dardanelle. They had faith in a caring God. They nurtured a simple patriotism. They believed we should all live within our means.

He says he went to college and law school — doesn’t say where. After working for a bit to pay off student loans, he relates, he went off to the front lines: “taxpayer-paid vacations abroad.”

From the Tea Party Patriots, he answers a bunch of questions. He talks very fast, and gives brief, though somehow substantial, answers.

One man says, “Everyone runs for office saying they’re going to clean up that ‘cesspool’ in Washington. Then they get there, and discover the cesspool is actually a hot tub. Why should you be any different?”

Cotton smiles and says, in essence, Watch me. And if you don’t like him, you can throw him out after two years. That’s the beauty of the system.

There are many questions on foreign policy — on Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, the U.N. In his remarks on the U.N., Cotton slams, in particular, “the farcical Human Rights Council.”

A Vietnam vet talks a bit about his war: “If we learned anything, we learned, If you’re not gonna win, get out.” He then says this applies to Afghanistan. Cotton says that winning is, in fact, possible in Afghanistan — with the right leadership. The Vietnam vet murmurs, “You’re never gonna win there.”

Before he leaves, Cotton makes sure, one more time, to ask them for their vote. That was a Tip O’Neill axiom: “Always ask them for your vote.” Cotton points out that early voting has already begun. “If you’re for me, please cast your ballot before you change your mind.”

‐That night, down in Texarkana — on the Texas border, of course — we go to GOP HQ. Republican-party headquarters for Miller County. There’s a debate-watching party going on. The debate to watch is the second presidential debate, between Obama and Romney.

One of the attendees is a helicopter pilot named Ruggles. Any relation to the brilliant composer Carl Ruggles (1876-1971)? Yes, a cousin of some sort. You never know whom you’ll meet, along the way.

More tomorrow . . .


To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.