It might have been inevitable that the 2022 version of the Republican Party would be dominated by its most extreme and unhinged impulses. The election of a Democratic president always produces a furious backlash. With Donald Trump demanding GOP fealty to his lies about 2020, there wasn’t going to be much appetite for serious people with ideas for sensible governing.
But in this year’s Republican primaries, things have truly gone off the rails. And this raises an important question: What exactly do Republican voters think they’re going to get from the collection of clowns they’re nominating for office this year?
Let’s take a brief tour:
- Georgia: While Gov. Brian Kemp looks to be holding off a primary challenge from former senator David Perdue, whose entire case is that Kemp failed to steal the 2020 election, the story is quite different on the rest of the ballot. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is in a neck-and-neck race with another Trump lickspittle, Rep. Jody Hice. Herschel Walker, a walking collection of scandals whose deep thoughts about policy start and end with his football career decades ago, will almost undoubtedly be the party’s nominee for Senate.
- Arizona: The likely gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, is an election denialist who has proposed imprisoning the leading Democrat, who is currently secretary of state. The Republican who might take that office and run the state’s elections, Mark Finchem, is a QAnon conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed member of the far-right Oath Keepers.
- Pennsylvania: A leading candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano, recently appeared at a QAnon-style gathering at which the “global satanic blood cult” was explored. The organizers presented Mastriano with a sword, which he accepted with the words “Oh yeah.” A recent debate among GOP Senate candidates featured so much embarrassing praise for Trump that it was a wonder none stopped the proceedings to get Trump’s name tattooed across their chest.
- Ohio: In the Senate race, Trump endorsed author J.D. Vance, who recently said that if Trump becomes president again after 2024, he should “Fire every single mid-level bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state" and “replace them with our people.” So he envisions some kind of authoritarian coup? He says that to accomplish the right’s goals, “we’re going to have to get pretty wild, and pretty far out there.” With Trump’s endorsement, Vance has vaulted to the head of the field.
- Wisconsin: Republicans there are still investigating the 2020 election despite turning up nothing; their probe was scheduled to end, but after Trump threatened the speaker of the assembly with a primary challenge, he quickly announced that it would continue.
- Michigan: Republicans just chose Matt DePerno and Kristina Karamo as nominees for attorney general and secretary of state. Both are vigorous election deniers, and Karamo has identified Beyoncé́, Cardi B, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, and the practice of yoga as tools of satanic influence in America today.
All this creates a deranged atmosphere, in which the looniest candidates rise to the top and extremism prevails.
Some of these candidates will probably lose. Indeed, Democrats’ hopes of holding the Senate are based largely on the possibility that a few of them will do or say things that make them unpalatable in the general election.
But some of them will probably win. What then?
Try to imagine Vance or Walker serving in the Senate. What will they do with themselves? The idea that they’ll be carefully analyzing national challenges and writing legislation to address concrete problems faced by their constituents is ludicrous.
When you wade into the mire of Trump tributes and culture war signaling in Republican candidates’ ads, you can discern some things you might call “issues” — there’s mention of immigration, and gun rights, and gas prices. But the real common thread is fighting: GOP candidates want primary voters to know that they’ll fight and fight and fight.
They’ll fight Biden, they’ll fight the “radical left,” they’ll fight socialism. Governing is not a matter of solving problems, but of battling enemies. Will that unending struggle make anyone’s lives better? The question seems almost beside the point; what matters is whether the candidates hate the same things and the same people you do, and will bring that hatred to the state capital or to Washington.
If that’s what Republican politics is about, then there really isn’t a line a candidate can cross beyond which they become too extreme. Instead, extremism is proof of their willingness to wage unending war, which is what they think their voters want. That’s not to say the most extreme candidate always wins, but extremism is no bar to success.
And what all of them appear to be promising is a politics of unending opposition, even when it’s their turn to govern. If they have control of a governor’s office or Congress, their primary goal will be fighting the libs, always and forever.
To some voters, that might be just fine. But it’s a pretty grim view of the future.