If recent events are any indication, state Republican parties could prove a major impediment to pulling things toward the middle.
Over the weekend, the Arizona Republican Party voted to censure not just former senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and the late Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) widow Cindy McCain for opposing Trump, but also Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) for certifying Trump’s loss in the state. It also narrowly reelected Chairwoman Kelli Ward, whose leadership has led the state GOP in a decidedly different direction from Flake and McCain.
Farther to the west, the Hawaii Republican Party promoted the idea that adherents of the QAnon, an extremist ideology that the FBI has deemed a domestic terrorism threat, were merely engaging in misguided patriotism. It also promoted political analysis from a YouTube vlogger who has expressed extreme views that include casting doubt on the official account of the Holocaust.
And last week, the Oregon Republican Party condemned the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump and cited a baseless conspiracy theory that the siege of the Capitol was a “false flag.”
The former development is particularly pertinent given Arizona’s importance on the national stage. Despite having lost consecutive Senate elections and seeing the Grand Canyon State emerge as a major electoral battleground — one of the closest states in the 2020 election — the state party has continued to venture to the right.
Before becoming chair of the state GOP, Ward made her name as a primary candidate against McCain in 2016 and for the state’s other Senate seat in 2018, losing both decidedly. She concluded the race against McCain by attacking his age and mental acuity. Her husband has also promoted numerous conspiracy theories, including about the Clintons and the 2016 killing of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
The Arizona Republican Party under Ward also has been among the most extreme state parties when it comes to a response to the 2020 election. In December, it promoted a tweet from a conspiracy theorist who went on to organize the rally that preceded the Capitol riot, asking supporters whether they were willing to die for the cause. “He is,” it said in a tweet. “Are you?”
The organizer, Ali Alexander, has since had his Twitter account suspended. He also claimed that Arizona GOP Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul A. Gosar — two of the state’s four GOP members of the U.S. House and two outspoken critics of the 2020 election results — helped organize the Jan. 6 rally, though a spokesman for Biggs denied it.
Ward in November also told Ducey to #sthu — “shut the hell up” — about the legitimacy of his state’s election.
The decision by the state GOP to turn against Ducey is particularly remarkable given his reputation as a conservative Republican governor. Ducey is someone who could figure into GOP efforts to win back a Senate seat — and perhaps the 50-50 Senate, period — in a state in which the GOP has recently underperformed. But he pulled out of consideration for the 2022 race around the time of his censure — a reflection of the potential political peril of such efforts.
As all that played out, another state GOP in a decidedly less conservative state was making its own news. The Twitter account for the Hawaii GOP this weekend tweeted a thread sympathizing with supporters of QAnon. The thread dismissed the extremist ideology, which holds that government leaders are engaged in a mass pedophile ring, but said its adherents engaged in a form of patriotism. The tweets have been deleted, and an aide, Edwin Boyette, has resigned while citing an error in judgment.
But the same feed this weekend also promoted analysis from a YouTube user who goes by Styxhexenhammer666, calling it vulgar but saying “his commentary and analysis is generally high quality.” The same YouTuber has repeatedly cast doubt on the official account of the Holocaust. The tweet is still live.
The same day, another state GOP with a controversial leader tweeted a similar message about Gab.
The Texas GOP, like Arizona’s, has come under the control of a leader on the fringes of the GOP at a time when the state is drifting toward the opposing party. It recently installed former Florida congressman Allen West as its chairman. Since then, it has adopted a slogan associated with QAnon, “We are the storm,” which West denied is a nod to QAnon but came at a particularly conspicuous time.
West also issued a statement after the Supreme Court rejected a far-flung challenge to the 2020 election results by alluding to secession. He said that “law-abiding states should bond together and form a union of states that will abide by the Constitution.”
As in Arizona, such extreme ideas aren’t necessarily unheard of in the state GOP — even former Texas governor Rick Perry (R) toyed with secession talk a decade ago — but they come at a time in which the state is more in play.
Other swing-state GOPs have also engaged in actions that reflect the more extreme parts of the GOP.
Last week, the Michigan GOP sought to replace a canvasser who certified Trump’s loss in the state, Aaron Van Langevelde. The state party is also set to install a co-chair, Meshawn Maddock, who participated in a rally near the Capitol the day before Trump supporters stormed the building. Maddock’s husband, like Ward’s, has engaged extensively in conspiracy theories, and she reportedly organized buses for the Jan. 6 rally.
And in nearby Minnesota, state party chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan has promoted election conspiracy theories and also suggested that MyPillow CEO and Trump ally Mike Lindell could be the state’s next governor, before Lindell emerged as a dead-end for Trump’s attempts to overturn the election.
The GOP writ large has recently elected to move forward with business as usual on the national level on one key respect, reinstalling Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna McDaniel, despite the party losing the House, the Senate and Trump’s reelection on her watch — the first time that has happened since 1932. To the extent that McDaniel has any designs on helping the party evolve past Trump, she’ll apparently have to drill down at the state party level.