In June 2021, as Republicans looked ahead to the 2022 midterm elections with cautious optimism, the leader of Congress’ largest conservative caucus saw hot-button social issues as the key to electoral success. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, then-chair of the Republican Study Committee, prepared a memo for his members titled, “Lean into the culture war.”
The document added, “We are in a culture war. ... We are winning.”
As we later learned, Banks’ advice was dubious, and the GOP’s message on social issues didn’t do the party any favors on Election Day 2022. But as Semafor reported, the Republican Hoosier appears undeterred.
Last month, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks founded the Anti-Woke Caucus, calling for “a recorded vote on an amendment to defund wokeness” on any bill that spends money on “leftist activities.” Days later, he launched a campaign for U.S. Senate, lining up conservative endorsements for a potential race against former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who later opted not to run. Banks, for now, has the Senate race to himself, giving him more time to build the caucus and fight to strip out “diversity, equity, and inclusion” from federal agencies.
Banks has been quite candid about his vision, writing a curious piece for a conservative website last month arguing that the United States’ “most powerful forces — our intelligence agencies, corporations, the press, our universities and even our military — are all pressing further and further into uncharted territory from which it’s not clear America can return.”
He added, “The most toxic part of this tyranny is its doctrine — ‘wokeness.’ Everyone has by now heard this word but it means something very specific. It means that all the so-called oppressor groups must be punished for their past and present alleged sins. There are many steps to punishing them: inducing self-hatred through indoctrination, stripping away their rights by not enforcing the laws on their behalf, public humiliation, hatred, expropriation and ultimately violence. That’s what the Left has done so far. It’s not exactly clear yet how far this can go.”
It’s clearly a conspiratorial, if not paranoid, perspective. It’s also the sort of missive that might lead some to see Banks as an unserious person.
But note that the congressman took two steps within a few days of one another: The Republican announced the creation of an Anti-Woke Caucus, and soon after, he launched a U.S. Senate campaign that he’s now well positioned to win.
In theory, Banks had an incentive to steer clear of weird political conspiracy theories about nefarious “woke” tyrants infiltrating American institutions. He was, after all, preparing a statewide campaign. Common sense suggested he needed to put his best foot forward.
But in contemporary GOP politics, this is how ambitious candidates prove themselves worthy of support, especially in reliably red states: They put seriousness aside and they pander to a partisan base with paranoid stories about liberal rascals who are out to ruin everything.