WASHINGTON ― Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has had several months to figure out whom to vote for in the presidential election and how to defend his choice.
Kirk, who faces a tough re-election challenge from Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), initially pledged to support Donald Trump if he were to become the Republican nominee. But in June, he became the first Republican senator to rescind support for the bombastic candidate, evidently sensing that being tied to Trump would hurt his own chances of hanging on to his Senate seat.
Since then, Kirk’s waffled between various write-in options, including former CIA Director David Petraeus and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The Illinois lawmaker appeared to have settled on writing in Powell’s name rather than voting for the viable alternative to Trump, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But his reason for doing so, which he explained to CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on Wednesday, suggests he hasn’t fully thought this one through.
Brooke Baldwin: So, since you were the first, let me begin there. Un-endorsing Trump, but not endorsing Clinton, correct?
Mark Kirk: No, not at all. Cuz Hillary Clinton was for the Iran agreement and I cannot support someone who was for the Iran agreement.
BB: So, who will you be voting for, or who will you be writing in?
MK: In my case, I’ll be writing in Colin ― Gen. Colin Powell, that I think would be the best person.
One problem: Powell also supported the Iran agreement, breaking with his party to defend the accord.
Last September, just days before Kirk and his fellow congressional Republicans failed to tank the nuclear agreement, Powell praised it as “a pretty good deal.”
“I say, we have a deal, let’s see how they implement the deal. If they don’t implement it, bail out. None of our options are gone,” Powell said at the time.
Duckworth’s campaign offered a blunt assessment of the apparent contradiction in Kirk’s remarks. “Once again, Republican Mark Kirk can’t keep his facts straight and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. In the era of Trump, deciding who should be the next President is serious business, and this is deeply unserious from Senator Kirk,” Matt McGrath, Duckworth’s campaign spokesman, said in a statement.
Asked why Kirk would support Powell but not Clinton when they both defended the Iran deal, Kirk’s campaign tried to downplay the significance of the nuclear agreement in the senator’s calculus.
“Sen. Mark Kirk has given several reasons why he could not support Sec. Clinton, including her careless actions regarding the handling of classified information, conflicts of interests and her position on key national security issues, including her work to negotiate the Iran deal,” said Kirk’s campaign manager, Kevin Artl.
It’s worth remembering that Powell, as secretary of state, also used a personal email address to conduct official business ― and that Petraeus, Kirk’s previous pick for a write-in candidate, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials last year.