The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion MAGA candidates are imperiling the GOP’s 2022 dreams

Then-Georgia Sen. David Perdue joins President Donald Trump onstage during a rally in Valdosta, Ga., on Dec. 5, 2020. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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The Democratic Party might consider closing up shop and finding other work if it doesn’t run ads in 2022 featuring the clip of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) declaring, “We are going to take power after this next election. And when we do, it’s not going to be the days of Paul Ryan and Trey Gowdy. . . . It’s gonna be the days of Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene and [Paul] Gosar and myself.”

Voters cannot say they were not warned. The polite, sane GOP is gone. Voters will have a choice in 2022 between Democrats tethered to the center and a party run by those who sought to overturn the election, who concoct insane conspiracy theories, who defend animations depicting the murder of other members of Congress, who are willing to default on the nation’s debt, who voted overwhelmingly against an infrastructure bill and who just might decide the former president and insurrection instigator Donald Trump should be speaker. (House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is delusional if he thinks the MAGA wing of his party will support him for the position should Republicans win the majority.)

Is there a more potent recipe for chaos and a constitutional crisis than putting this crowd in power?

Trump is intent on finding the most radical candidates — so long as they are loyal to him — to challenge the few Republicans who had the nerve to stand up to him. The MAGA cultists will gladly double down on the “big lie” of a stolen election and whatever conspiracy theories are in fashion at the moment to please their patron. Indeed, adoption of the big lie is a prerequisite for getting MAGA support.

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In Wyoming, Trump’s pick, Harriet Hageman, is out to vindicate Trump and run his nemesis, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, out of the House. In Ohio’s 13th Congressional District, he’s backed Max Miller, who has been accused of abuse by former Trump press secretary Stephanie Grisham when they dated (a charge Miller strenuously denied). Ryan Zinke, forced to resign under a cloud of scandal from his post as interior secretary, has received Trump’s nod in Montana’s 2nd Congressional District. And in Florida’s 13th, Trump has tapped right-wing media personality Anna Paulina Luna.

For the Senate, Trump has systematically lifted the most loyal and extreme contenders, thereby strengthening Democrats’ prospects in Pennsylvania, Alaska, North Carolina and Georgia. Even where Democrats’ chances are slim, his endorsements of unhinged candidates such as Rep. Mo Brooks, a speaker at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6 who is running for Alabama’s Senate seat, will cement the party’s image as full of Trump pawns and chaos-makers. So much for running on the Glenn Youngkin playbook.

Trump is not ignoring governor races, either, having tapped former losing Georgia Senate candidate David Perdue to run as the pro-Trump, “big lie”-defender candidate against incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who had the temerity to resist undermining the 2020 election. As Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, an outspoken Republican Trump critic, told the Associated Press: “It is going to be a political civil war here in Georgia. It’s all avoidable if we just act like adults and move on. But that’s not reality at this point.” Not by a long shot.

Endorsing a flock of MAGA contenders has a number of consequences for Republicans. First, the party will be hampered in swing districts and competitive states in any effort to distance themselves from the disgraced former president. Their candidates will be repeatedly asked to declare their loyalty or independence from the unhinged cult leader who dominates the party. Jan. 6 will be on the ballot, as will their intentions for the remainder of President Biden’s first term. Would they renounce frivolous impeachment attempts, as payback for the two impeachments of Trump for betraying our national security interests and later for fomenting a violent insurrection?

Second, with abortion bubbling up as an issue thanks to the right-wing Supreme Court majority’s willingness to overturn nearly 50 years of reproductive freedom for women, the race to the far right on abortion will be intense. Both MAGA and non-MAGA candidates will be eager to prove their loyalty to the anti-choice base. Be prepared to see pledges to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

Third, the battle royal is a no-win proposition for Republicans. If a MAGA candidate wins the nomination, suburban voters, women and moderates may run from the GOP; if the MAGA candidate loses, the MAGA base may stay home.

None of this suggests Democrats will have an easy time in 2022. Their fate will largely depend on the economy and the pandemic. But Democrats are fortunate to have opponents like the Trump-MAGA crowd. They will be eager to make the election a choice between themselves and unfit extremists, especially since voters are perpetually disdainful of the party in power. Thanks to Trump, Democrats may get their wish.