Democrats looking to unseat Sen. Joni Ernst have landed on a particularly distasteful line of attack, accusing the Iowa Republican of being insufficiently supportive of domestic violence victims despite her experience as a survivor. Unfortunately for them, Ernst isn’t having it at all.
A Radio Iowa article published Thursday summarized the conflict well:
Republican Senator Joni Ernst and the top Democrat in the senate are hurling accusations at one another over a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
Ernst accuses New York Senator Chuck Schumer of blocking Democrats from supporting the bill to hurt her bid for re-election. Schumer accuses Ernst of blocking gun-related provisions because she’s afraid of the National Rifle Association.
Ernst’s objection is a perfectly substantive one, arguing a Democratic version of the bill could lead to due process violations. “That would be someone who was guilty of assault 30, 40 years ago, but has since been, you know, having good behavior,” the senator told Radio Iowa. “…What we can’t do is go back, change the law as it existed in 1975 and expect that is due process. It is not.”
That’s actually a reasonable objection, not the kind of straw-grasping politicians engage in to placate special interest groups. Nevertheless, a Democratic super PAC decided to imply Ernst, a domestic violence survivor, is a poor ally to domestic violence survivors.
@joniernst is sending a message that she's not serving the needs of domestic violence victims and those in the most vulnerable communities. Iowans and victims of domestic violence deserve better than Senator Ernst #IASen
— Senate Majority PAC (@MajorityPAC) November 21, 2019
On Thursday, Senate Majority PAC tweeted “@joniernst is sending a message that she’s not serving the needs of domestic violence victims and those in the most vulnerable communities. Iowans and victims of domestic violence deserve better than Senator Ernst.”
That’s odd, given that Ernst is both an Iowan and a victim of domestic violence. Senate Majority PAC is helmed by J.B Poersch, described by The Hill as a “confidant” of Schumer. Ernst is up for reelection in 2020, and Democrats see her seat as a potential pickup opportunity.
Schumer claims Ernst’s bill demonstrates that she’s “simply afraid of the NRA.” The implication, of course, is that she’s favoring special interests over domestic violence victims, which is a pathetic line of attack given the circumstances.
Earlier this year, Ernst said that as a college student she was in a relationship with someone who was both “physically and sexually abusive,” and raped her. In an affidavit connected to their divorce, Ernst accused her ex-husband of verbal and physical abuse as well.
“Ernst, a Republican who represents Iowa, said that during her 26-year marriage with Gail Ernst, she was the victim of verbal and mental abuse and a physical assault after which a victim’s advocate wanted to take her to a hospital, she wrote in public records connected to their divorce,” the Des Moines Register reported in January.
“I am a survivor, and I fully believe that our survivors have the right to keep their stories to themselves if they don’t want to share those stories. Unfortunately, I have been forced to share my story,” Ernst said at the time.
Fast-forward ten months and Democrats are cynically using Ernst’s opposition to their version of a VAWA bill as a campaign attack, claiming domestic violence survivors “deserve better” than a domestic violence survivor with whom they happen to share a policy disagreement.
Addressing the Senate Minority Leader’s attacks, Ernst told Radio Iowa, “I do not need to be mansplained by Chuck Schumer.” She added, “I am a survivor. I’m not afraid of anyone, folks. I’ve been through the worst of the worst and I’m here today.”
It’s entirely fair for Democrats to disagree with Ernst’s bill. They’re even welcome to argue it would put people at risk. The senator is capable of winning on the merits of her argument. You’d think, however, the so-called “party of women” would refrain from calling into question the motives of a domestic violence victim, or casting her as a poor ally to her fellow survivors. But Ernst is a Republican, and we all know Democrats have different rules for women on the other side of the aisle.