What the Hell is a “Radical Liberal”?

Kelly Loeffler’s Senate campaign doesn’t contain a ton of substance. She’s running as a proto-Donald Trump: an obscenely rich person with the business sense to get her state back on track but whose personal excess somehow doesn’t alienate her from regular people. Loeffler’s also copying Trump’s attack moves, repeatedly calling her opponent Raphael Warnock a socialist with a radical agenda. But Loeffler took it a step further by reviving a conservative insult.

The term “radical liberal” doesn’t really make sense. By today’s definition and standards, a liberal can’t really be all that radical. Apparently the term isn’t new, though—it was a “favorite ad hominem epithet” of Spiro Agnew, according to Rachel Maddow, who just co-authored a book about the former vice president. Agnew was best known for spearheading the white suburban movement and his unfettered virulent racism, and “radic-lib” was used to smear anti-segregationists. So, y’know … if the shoe fits.

Loeffler spent most of the debate Sunday night robotically defending herself against accusations of stock dumping (which she did) and racism. She even used the term “totally exonerated” and said there wasn’t “a racist bone” in her body—two favorites straight out of the Trump playbook. However, radical liberal is a conservative Mad Lib Trump never managed to piece together. Unsurprisingly, it was an immediate hit on conservative Twitter. Mixing and matching terms for people on the left is fair game as long as they all sound negative—it’s how Trump got away with repeatedly calling Joe Biden and Kamala Harris socialists, despite basically every single person knowing that they aren’t. It’s almost as if words don’t matter when you’re insulting the libs.

For Loeffler, co-opting a political barb made famous by a notorious segregationist seems right on brand. It’s a neat mix of dumb wording, veiled racism, and perfomative nonsense designed to distract from the fact she offers nothing as a candidate besides outright corruption. Republicans are going to throw their weight behind her no matter how meaningless her insults are or how robotic she sounds delivering them.

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