Republicans Slam Ben Folds, Jason Isbell in Effort to Tie Democrats to ‘Unhinged Left’

Ben Folds Jason Isbell

WASHINGTON — The National Republican Senate Committee is again trying to turn Democrats’ overwhelming support among entertainers into a negative, this time tying Tennessee Senate candidate Phil Bredesen to past remarks made by Jason Isbell, as well as Ben Folds’ support for Bernie Sanders.

Isbell and Folds are scheduled to headline a concert for Bredesen in Nashville on Monday.

The NRSC put out a press release headlined “Phony Phil partners with the unhinged left.” It notes that Folds “proudly supported” Sanders in 2016, and that Isbell criticized Christian Trump voters, saying, “God is gone from those people.”

Isbell made the comment in an interview with Rolling Stone Country. In context, he said, “I could see how a lot of conservative right-wing Christian Americans would vote for someone like Mitt Romney, who seems like a stand-up guy. But Trump is obviously not a good Christian person. I think the fact that so many people voted for him means that there aren’t that many good Christian people left in rural America. God is gone from those people.”

This is the latest effort by Republicans to try to seize on rivals’ celebrity support and put Democratic campaigns on the defensive. Last week, the NRSC attacked the campaign of Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) after Pearl Jam promoted a get-out-the-vote concert in Missoula, Mont., with a poster that depicted a corpse in front of the White House that looked like Donald Trump. Tester’s campaign said it had nothing to do with the poster, but the campaign did buy up tickets to the concert as part of fund-raising pitches.

The Republican National Committee put out a video in late June, titled “Unhinged,” that featured a gallery of celebrities making outrageous comments about Trump.

Like Tester, Bredesen is facing a tight race in a state that Trump won handily in 2016. A former governor of the state, Bredesen’s campaign is viewed as a potential opportunity for Democrats to pick up a Senate seat in November. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is retiring.

Bredesen’s rival, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), has long been a champion of the recording industry, and has received the Congressional Grammy from the Recording Academy and the Platinum Award from the Recording Industry Association of America.

Isbell reacted to the GOP attack on Twitter, writing, “I’ve been in the paper a few times now, but this one is my favorite. This is one I’ll be proud to show my grandkids.” He also wrote “2 Unhinged 2 Quit” and, after one commenter said he was going to boycott him on Spotify, added, “Oh no not Spotify I need that half a cent.” One of the raging debates in Washington is over the relatively paltry pay that artists receive from digital platforms.

Laura Zapata, Bredesen’s communications director, said in a statement, “Jason Isbell is a champion for working men and women. Ben Folds is a leading advocate for arts education and he even played at the Republican National Convention. The swamp needs to spend less time worrying about these popular recording artists and more time looking into Marsha Blackburn’s ties to hate groups and Russian nationals, and her illegal coordination with dark-money groups in Washington.”

Adrienne Elrod, a Democratic strategist who was director of strategic communications and surrogates for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, dismisses the GOP attacks. She said in an email that “you know national Republicans are digging deep when they begin attacking Democratic candidates for leveraging the talents of popular musicians on the campaign trail.” She also said that the two musicians are particularly well suited for campaigns, as they are “two lyrical geniuses who often sing about the strife and struggles of working class Americans.”