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State-level GOP radicalism becomes even more unavoidable

It’s a mistake to think the radicalization of Republican politics is limited to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.


While campaigning in Minnesota in recent months, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Scott Jensen, more than once, publicly touted MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. As Axios reported, the GOP candidate not only cheered on the pro-Trump conspiracy theorist, he also told one group of Republican voters, “Mike Lindell’s gonna work his tail off trying to get rid of machines, and we should thank him for that.”

Of course, that was only part of Jensen’s overall message. The Republican candidate for governor also reportedly threatened Minnesota’s Democratic secretary of state with imprisonment for no reason. What’s more, Jensen has been a leading voice in the Great Lakes State expressing “skepticism” for Covid vaccines and mask requirements during the pandemic.

Ordinarily, with a record like this, a guy like Jensen would seem like a long-shot candidate, especially in a state like Minnesota, which has produced mainstream Republican governors such as Arne Carlson. And yet, as the Associated Press reported, Jensen won his party’s backing over the weekend.

Dr. Scott Jensen, a skeptic of the government’s response to COVID-19, won the Minnesota GOP’s endorsement after a wild ride on Saturday to challenge Democratic Gov. Tim Walz in the November election, going over the top on the ninth ballot with 65% of the vote.

“Minnesota Republicans have chosen the most extreme and dangerous candidate to lead their party in the fall,” Minnesota Democratic Party Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement. “In just the last two weeks, Scott Jensen has promised to ban abortion for rape victims and to throw one of his political opponents in jail. Minnesotans want their leaders to focus on helping working families, but Scott Jensen is only interested in his far-right political agenda.”

In the not-too-distant past, Jensen probably wouldn’t have stood a chance, especially in a competitive state and a potentially competitive contest. But as GOP politics moves further and further to the right, the door was open to a candidate who encouraged voters to thank Mike Lindell, and Jensen took advantage of the opportunity.

I wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago about the radicalization of Republican politics at the state level, and I was pleased to receive quite a bit of feedback from readers. Most of the notes I received were similar: They effectively said, “That’s a good list, but you didn’t mention my state, where the problem is just as bad.”

And therein lies the point.

The New York Times reported over the weekend, for example, that traditional Republicans in Idaho are “raising alarm about the future of the party, warning about the growing strength of militia members, racists and the John Birch Society.”

A week earlier, the Times ran a compelling opinion piece on the Trump wings of the GOP having transformed Nebraska’s state part “into a toxic political wasteland.”

That followed a report on the radicalization of the Arizona Republican Party. Which followed a report on the radicalization of the GOP in Ohio. Which followed reporting on the radicalization of Republican politics in Michigan.

Three weeks ago, the Maine Republican Party adopted a platform that opposes, among other things, same-sex marriage. Pennsylvania will hold primaries tomorrow where comically far-right candidates are poised to win key statewide contests. The pattern continues in Wisconsin, with Sen. Ron Johnson and gubernatorial hopeful Rebecca Kleefisch pushing platforms that would’ve been considered ridiculous 20 years ago.

I don’t doubt that I’m leaving out some states — if I’ve failed to mention your home state, my apologies — but the point remains that it’s a mistake to think the radicalization of Republican politics is limited to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.