No joke: Did you hear about the Nazi running for Congress as a Republican?

Forget Washington for a moment. Forget the news that the Republican Congress has voted to massively deepen the budget deficit, the same deficit they used to blame Obama for. Instead, let’s trek to the American Midwest and play “Meet the Nazi.”

In case you haven’t heard – and this will be a worthy footnote in the annals of dystopic 2018 – an actual Nazi is the official House Republican candidate in Illinois’ third congressional district. There’s virtually zero chance that he will triumph in November, given the district’s longstanding Democratic tilt, but we do have to wonder what in blazes is wrong with the GOP that it would leave a vacuum for a Nazi to fill.

Yes, folks, it’s rare indeed to see on cable TV the kind of exchange that transpired on the air yesterday. A CNN host conversed with Republican candidate Arthur Jones – who spent eight years in the National Socialist White People’s Party, who assails “the Jew-party system,” who thinks the Holocaust is a crock – and we got this:

Host Alisyn Camerota: “Mr. Jones, it is shocking to hear how vocally and unapologetically racist you are. Are you a Nazi?”

Jones: “Well, for the past 15-20 years I have not had anything to do with any national socialist organization on a formal basis…I call myself an American patriot and statesman, OK?”

Camerota: “You’ve been part of anti-Semitic groups since the 1970s. You go to neo-Nazi rallies – we have pictures of you there. You are – were part of the White People’s Party. You dress in Nazi garb and you celebrate Hitler’s birthday. You’re a Nazi…”

Jones: “…You Jews-media, you’ve gone absolutely nuts…”

Jones has been quite candid about his life-perspective – he calls the Holocaust “an international extortion racket by the Jews,” he stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Donald Trump (while complaining that Trump hires too many Jews), he says he’s a “white racialist” who thinks blacks are dumb – and I’m loath to detail his loathsomeness any further, lest I risk lowering the ambient IQ of this post. Suffice it to say, this dude doesn’t exactly burnish the GOP’s reputation.

The big question is: How did Jones wind up on the Republican congressional ballot, with the GOP primary just weeks away – running for the party nomination unopposed?

The answer is: Various factors have fueled this perfect storm.

For starters, Illinois’ Third Congressional District, which takes a slice of Chicago and adjoining liberal-leaning suburbs, hasn’t elected a Republican congressman since the 1970s. Some people blame Democratic gerrymandering, but no matter how you carve up that particular area, the district would be solidly blue. As a result, the Illinois GOP has had a tough time recruiting quality candidates.

But still, how could they cede the ’18 field to a Nazi? As Illinois political analyst Christopher Mooney reportedly said the other day, “Anytime you’ve got a Nazi running, somebody was asleep at the switch.” By all accounts, the state GOP is extra somnolent this year because Trump, who lost Illinois in a landslide, has further soured the grassroots’ mood. Nobody wanted to risk time and money losing the Third District race in the midst of a nationwide blue tsunami.

So as the GOP sat on the sidelines, Jones sallied forth, taking advantage of Illinois’ easy ballot-access rules. All he needed, to get on the Republican line, was 603 petition signatures. He did the job all by himself, going door to door, talking vaguely about economic security, ending wars in the Middle East – and saying nothing about his Nazi track record. He found a sufficient number of incurious citizens (you find 603 people to sign anything). And now that he’s on the ballot, he’s dialing up the candor: “I don’t believe in this doctrine of racial equality.”

With the March 20 primary looming, with all deadlines having expired, the state GOP can’t even field a write-in candidate. All it can do is distance itself from Jones with all deliberate speed: “The Illinois Republican Party and our country have no place for Nazis like Arthur Jones. We strongly oppose his racist views and his candidacy for any public office.” The national GOP says: “We condemn this candidate and his hateful rhetoric in the strongest possible terms.”

Well, at least that’s something. No party wants to be publicly defined by its worst bottom-feeder. But for the next nine months Jones will be peddling what he pitched on CNN -“I am not campaigning as a National Socialist, I campaign as a Republican” – and in a tough election year, Jones will be dead weight on the GOP’s potentially heavy lift.

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“For me,” he said earlier this week, “it’s not just about politics. If I told you that I was invited to a party by an individual I believe is sexist, or has no respect for women, or I told you that this individual has said offensive things toward many minority groups and I don’t feel comfortable about it – this individual also called my peers and my friends SOBs – you would understand why I wouldn’t want to go to that party. Why is it any different when the person has the title of president of the United States?”

Touchdown.

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