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Opinion Meet the perfect Senate candidate for today’s Trumpified GOP

Armed homeowners Mark and Patricia McCloskey confront protesters in front of their house. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)
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It’s fitting that Mark McCloskey, who rocketed to GOP stardom by brandishing a gun at racial justice protesters, has announced a Senate run in Missouri at exactly the moment that Republicans are rejecting a full accounting into the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Both these stories are deeply entangled with one another. Both reveal how essential a fantasy-fiction version of the leftist threat has become to GOP identity.

House GOP leaders are urging their lawmakers to oppose legislation creating a commission to examine the insurrection, which will get a vote on Wednesday. It won’t hype up organized leftist violence to a place of equivalence alongside the violent right-wing extremism that drove the effort to overturn U.S. democracy, which GOP leaders cannot tolerate.

When McCloskey declared his candidacy in the Missouri Senate GOP primary on Tucker Carlson’s show on Tuesday night, he repeatedly declared that the leftist threat — or his fantasy version of it, anyway — was a central motivating factor.

McCloskey became a GOP superstar after video of him and his wife pointing guns at protesters passing through his upscale community went viral.

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Politicians often speak of a moment of foundational inspiration, a singularly transformative experience that awakened in them a deeply felt mission to serve the public. For McCloskey, his armed confrontation with protesters was one such moment.

“God came knocking on my door disguised as an angry mob,” McCloskey told Carlson, in announcing his Senate bid. “It really did wake me up.”

“If we don’t stand up now and take this country back, it’s going away,” McCloskey said.

I don’t claim insight into McCloskey’s private communion with his creator, but his suggestion that this was a moment of divine awakening raises a question. What, exactly, did it awaken him to?

“The people out there in this country are just sick and tired of cancel culture, and the poison of critical race theory, and the big lie of systemic racism, all backed up by mob violence,” McCloskey told Carlson.

Some of these individual elements — cancel culture, wokeism, etc. — surely have moments of serious excess. At the same time, critical race theory and the study of systemic racism are intellectual tools that offer important insights into deeply ingrained societal injustices.

But in McCloskey’s telling, they’re all bundled into one massive, monolithic leftist enemy, a trick neatly accomplished with the phrase “all backed up by mob violence.”

This is merely a crude version of a type of anti-leftist hyperbole you hear constantly from Republicans. The crucial ingredient — as I’ve documented with examples here and here — is the complete unshackling of oneself from any empirical constraints in depicting the leftist threat.

As John Ganz notes, the protests fired up this right-wing anti-leftist imagination with uncommon force, because of their racial character, their mass presence in the streets, and the broader embrace of their goals by liberal civil society and culture. The raging at “woke” corporations for defending African American voting rights trades in this.

But the packaging of this as a form of divine inspiration makes it particularly virulent. David French has aptly described this tendency as “Christian Trumpism,” which fuses “idolatry” and “fanaticism” with a kind of sublime, unchecked rage inspired by unbridled fantasies of persecution at the hands of the political opposition.

McCloskey is the perfect martyr to such a cause: Not only did he heroically face down his supposed persecutors; he faced felony charges for it. I don’t know if McCloskey has a real chance in the Missouri GOP primary. But the fact that all this turned him into a GOP superstar itself hints at how widespread this tendency seems to be.

A permission structure for right-wing radicalization

Which brings us to the Jan. 6 commission. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) opposes it in part because it won’t examine “political violence” associated with the protests and the shooting of a GOP lawmaker at a baseball practice in 2017.

This is plainly designed to obscure the unilateral threat that right-wing radicalization poses to democratic stability. As Amanda Carpenter notes, a key reason Republicans oppose an accounting focused squarely on Jan. 6 is that it will shine a harsh light on the violent, radical far right that’s currently in operation, as well as its active, ongoing incitement by Trump and Republicans.

In a way, the constant hyping of left-wing political violence as equivalent to the violent effort to disrupt a presidential election — after extensive efforts to subvert it via other means, all backed by much of the GOP — serves as a permission structure of sorts for Republicans to allow extreme right-wing radicalization to continue metastasizing without serious efforts to police it.

As many as 20 or 30 House Republicans may vote for the commission. If so, perhaps 10 GOP senators will as well. I’m skeptical, but either way, large swaths of the party are still perfectly willing to allow that radicalization to keep flourishing, while using anti-leftist hyperbole as their justification for it. In this, McCloskey is the perfect Senate candidate for today’s GOP.

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