It wasn't too long ago when Arizona Republicans developed a reputation for electing GOP candidates who kept the fringe at arm's length. Senators such as John McCain and Jeff Flake were clearly conservative, but they also expressed discomfort with the party's extremists.
That's changed in a hurry. Politico reported last week that Arizona Republicans are filling up their 2022 midterm ballot with "a roster of conspiracy theorists and extremists," including a celebrity from the QAnon conspiracy world. Under a headline that said the Arizona GOP has gone "full fringe," the article added that the entire Republican ticket in the state is embracing the Big Lie as if it were true.
Reading the piece, I was reminded of a Republican lawyer in Tucson named Robert Gonzalez, who wrote an op-ed for The Arizona Republic in February, urging voters not to give up on the GOP just yet. Against a backdrop in which the state party had just censured their own party's governor for taking the pandemic at least somewhat seriously, Gonzalez argued that his party was not a "lost cause" and could still be salvaged.
"We aren't all election-result-denying, insurrection-endorsing, Trump-supporting extremists," he wrote in February. In an appeal to voters repulsed by the party's direction, the Republican lawyer concluded, "Don't go just yet. We still need you."
Eight months later, Gonzales has changed his mind. In a follow-up op-ed for the state's largest newspaper, he wrote that he was wrong; reforming the GOP from within isn't going to work; and he's leaving the party altogether.
I had hope back in February that we could correct course. Especially after Jan. 6, a return to sanity seemed necessary, maybe inevitable. But after months of meeting with folks on the ground, watching the news and seeing the 2022 GOP primaries unfold, I'm less optimistic. One of the few remaining tools to influence the Republican Party is to sever ties. So I urge remaining Republicans who stand for truth and democracy to vote with their feet, and leave.
To be sure, Gonzales is obviously just one voter, and without evidence, it'd be a mistake to assume he represents a much larger constituency.
That said, there are related data points to consider. Two weeks ago, for example, The Washington Post's Max Boot wrote in a column, "I'm a single-issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. Simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans win power. Thus, although I'm not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats — as I have done in every election since 2016 — until the GOP ceases to pose an existential threat to our freedom."
Boot, who earned a reputation as a relatively conservative political observer, added, "To prevent a successful coup in 2024, it is imperative to elect Democrats at every level of government in 2021 and 2022 — to state legislatures and governorships, as well as the House and Senate."
The same day, The New York Times published a similar piece from former Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and Miles Taylor, a veteran of the Trump administration's Department of Homeland Security, who wrote that political extremists "maintain a viselike grip" on the GOP at the state national and state levels. They added:
Rational Republicans are losing the party civil war. And the only near-term way to battle pro-Trump extremists is for all of us to team up on key races and overarching political goals with our longtime political opponents: the Democrats.
The duo — which includes the writer known as "Anonymous" — added that "the rational remnants of the Republican Party" should partner with Democrats "to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year."
I won't pretend to argue with confidence what will happen in upcoming elections, but the louder disaffected Republicans become as they walk away from the party, the more GOP leaders have cause for concern.