It is easy, almost too easy, to laugh at Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita.
He is, after all, a walking caricature of unfettered ambition, the sort of politician who runs for office not out of any great desire to serve but almost as a reflex. That’s why he once ran for three different offices in one year — because he literally can’t help himself.
There also is the man’s strutting pomposity, his unrestrained sense of self-importance. It goes beyond the “let-them-eat-cake” memo for staff conduct — among other things, his staffers weren’t to make eye contact with him — that made him a national joke for a time. It includes his desire to insert himself into disputes — such as the ways other states administer elections — that are none of his or even Indiana’s business.
Let us also not forget his unctuousness. Perhaps the most embarrassing example of Rokita grossly overestimating the power of his charm was the moment he tried to duck a tough question from CNN’s Carol Costello by telling her she was “beautiful.”
Yes, Mr. Attorney General, there is no more effective way to mollify or distract an intelligent and talented woman than to objectify her, particularly in front of a national audience. Confident, capable women just love it when men do that.
Rokita’s assorted gaucheries and scrambling demands for attention encourage people to treat him as a buffoon, little more than a secondary player in a comic opera, one given to pratfalls and malaprops.
But the reality is that what Rokita often tries to do is dangerous.
His determination to attach himself to the Texas attorney general’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election could have subverted the very process of self-government. That he wasn’t even in office at the time he made the commitment didn’t even give Rokita a moment’s pause.
Nor did the fact that the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, launched the suit in a desperate attempt to get then-outgoing President Donald Trump to grant him a pardon for the securities fraud charges Paxton has been trying to duck for years.
Similarly, Rokita rushed to be part of the discussion over whether the omicron wave had swamped hospitals and the healthcare system around the state. Rokita questioned whether the hospitals were really that full, then ducked and weaved when hospital officials offered to show him just how overwhelmed they were.
He treated it as if it were a game.
As someone with a loved one who was battling a life-threatening illness at the time and had needed surgery delayed because there simply weren’t any hospital beds available, I can assure him it wasn’t a game.
The same can be said of the latest foolish and likely costly bit of bungling in which Rokita has decided to engage.
He picked a senseless fight with conservative journalist and gadfly Abdul-Hakim Shabazz. Rokita’s staff denied Shabazz access to a press conference last year.
Rokita’s office said the attorney general did so because Shabazz is not “credentialed” media but rather is a gossip columnist.
There are at least two problems with that argument.
The first is that the state of Indiana itself issued Shabazz media credentials. Rokita is thus arguing that his judgment should take precedence over the established process.
The second is that no public official — even one who has as outsized a view of his place in the universe as our attorney general — gets to determine who is a journalist and who isn’t. That isn’t government’s role any more than getting to decide which church a person should attend is.
Rokita has made clear that he doesn’t care much for Shabazz. They apparently fell out over a campaign debate Shabazz moderated a few years ago.
Rokita delivered a classic Rokita performance then. He was in the debate, then he was out, then he was back in.
Somehow, in the attorney general’s mind, it was Shabazz’s fault that Rokita looked like an indecisive fool during that episode.
Rokita now says that it’s Shabazz’s fault that this has become such a big deal.
Shabazz, the attorney general says, “is trying to make a federal case out of a bruised ego.”
Perhaps we ought to listen to the attorney general when he says things like that.
Because Todd Rokita clearly knows a great deal about bruised egos.