Rep. Ron Kind (Wis.) announced Tuesday that he will not be running for reelection, a blow to Democrats in one of the most competitive swing seats in 2022.
Kind is a 13-term Democrat who said he had finally “run out of gas” in the job.
It’s not clear who will step up on the Democratic side to run for the seat, but Republicans have a candidate ready to go: Derrick Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL who lost to Kind in a closer-than-expected race last year.
Van Orden has the backing of powerful House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.).
But while Republicans have said they want 2024 to be a year with GOP women leading the way back to a majority in the House, Van Orden has a history of controversial remarks about women.
In 2015, Van Orden published “Book of Man: A Navy Seal’s Guide to the Lost Art of Manhood,” about the lessons he learned from being a Navy SEAL. In the book, as the La Crosse Tribune reported in 2020, Van Orden describes an incident where he surprised two unsuspecting women by showing them a lieutenant’s swollen genitals (his “ball sack huge as a cantaloupe”).
Van Orden and the male lieutenant were receiving treatment at a medical facility for poison oak, which he said had strange effects on the body ― including enlarging genitalia.
He said the lieutenant was sitting behind a little curtain, “spread eagle, ball sack huge as a cantaloupe,” when he spotted two “young girls in their early twenties” whom he describes as “cute.” He approached them and said, “Could I ask you something?”
Van Orden writes:
After walking them over to the outside of the lieutenant’s location, I whipped the curtain back. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” I asked. They gasped in horror as they saw the LT in all of his glory. I’m sure they never wanted to have anything do with a man ever again.
In 2020, Van Orden told the La Crosse Tribune that in the passage in the book, he “was instructing two junior Medical Corps officers in recognition and treatment” ― even though he never identifies the two “cute girls” as medical officers.
“I discussed treatment modalities used to approach the problem set and the pharmacological interventions utilized to ensure that the SEAL officer could maintain a patent airway,” he said in a statement.
Van Orden has also criticized the 2016 decision to allow women to become Navy SEALs, saying it was a “political decision” but not a good “business decision” in a recent interview.
“The ability to get enough women through training isn’t really ― it’s not worth the end,” he said on June 3 on “The Vicki McKenna Show.” “Once you have a person in the military, your career is planned for 30 years. And so, women take different breaks. If they want to have children, that’s fantastic. We encourage that. That’s a two-year break.”
“When the woman is on her two-year break, someone has to fill that void,” he went on. “And that would be a man who has to work up, deploy and leave his family for that two-year period of time. And that’s quite frankly ― it’s not a good business decision.”
Van Orden has been outspoken about the role of traditional family structures, expressing admiration for “aboriginal cultures” because women would stay home and focus on child-rearing for the first six years of a child’s life. In a September 2020 interview, he drew a connection between the murder rate in “advanced cultures” and women having jobs.
“If you look at the murder rate, the theft rate, all these things that we track as metrics in our society, in our advanced cultures ― we are more inclined to violence being in our advanced cultures than we look at these aboriginal cultures,” he said. “And I think it’s because when you do have the ability to have a mom that’s at home, that’s taking care of ― and we’ve got to remember, only females are capable of growing a child and giving birth.”
“When you grow that bond with a child to the mother and allow the father to do more external things, providing for that mother so that she doesn’t have to go to work outside of the village or outside of the home, it allowed that bond to grow between the mother and the child, which really humanizes the child more,” he added. “And then the child can look towards the father that’s doing a more traditional provision of sustenance.”
A spokesperson for his campaign told HuffPost that Van Orden was “raised in abject rural poverty by a single mother,” and that he and his wife of 27 years have four children and six grandchildren.
“Derrick holds women and mothers in the highest regard, and any insinuation otherwise is insulting and preposterous,” the spokesperson said. “The media’s pursuit of this ridiculous narrative the day after a 13-term incumbent chose to retire rather than face a rematch makes it clear that Nancy Pelosi and Democrats will do or say anything to attempt to smear Derrick, a decorated veteran who will be the next Representative of Wisconsin’s 3rd District.”
Earlier this year, Van Orden used leftover campaign funds from his 2020 run to travel to Washington, D.C., for Donald Trump’s “stop the steal” rally. Van Orden claimed that he never set foot on the U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, but a photo from that day shows otherwise.
In an opinion piece published on Jan. 13, Van Orden said he left the area when the “protest had become a mob,” fearing that if he stayed, it “could be construed as tacitly approving this unlawful conduct.”
In 2020, Kind was one of only seven Democratic members of Congress to win in a district that voted for Trump. His district is one of a handful of areas where support for Trump increased between 2016 and 2020.
“While House Republicans desperately try to rewrite their disastrous track record with women, one of their favorite recruits apparently believes that women shouldn’t work outside the home,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Helen Kalla said. “No amount of breathless rebranding can hide Van Orden’s backwards views or erase the GOP’s relentless push to restrict women’s access to health care.”