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In state after state, Republican extremism becomes unavoidable

Mainstream Republicans used to do well in Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. It’s a different GOP now.


At a recent event in Arizona, gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake called ivermectin a “wonder drug,” despite the reality that it’s ineffective in treating Covid. But then the Republican went a little further.

“It’s outrageous they kept that from us — and it was Anthony Fauci who kept that from us,” Lake declared. “I’m encouraging any lawman here, and I’m talking about sheriffs ... to issue a warrant for Anthony Fauci’s arrest out of Arizona.”

Lake, who’s also basing much of her candidacy on conspiracy theories about the 2020 elections, is not some fringe figure whom much of the Arizona GOP tries to ignore. On the contrary, she’s the apparent frontrunner for her party's gubernatorial nomination, and her odds of becoming the chief executive of the nation’s 14th largest state are quite good.

It was against this backdrop that The New York Times reported on just how radical GOP politics has become in the Grand Canyon State.

Republicans in many states have grown increasingly tired of the Stop the Steal movement and the push by [Donald] Trump to reward election deniers and punish those who accept President Biden’s victory.... But 12 weeks before its Republican primary in August, Arizona shows just how firm of a grasp Mr. Trump and his election conspiracy theories still have at every level of the party, from local activists to top statewide candidates.

The Times added “moderate and more establishment Republicans in Arizona” are afraid to speak out against the party’s far-right wing, and the late Sen. John McCain’s name “is now invoked as an insult by conservative Republicans.”

It’s tempting to think that the state GOP would want to move in the opposite direction. After all, Arizona, despite being a traditional Republican stronghold, now has two Democratic U.S. senators. What’s more, President Joe Biden narrowly won the state in 2020 — with the best performance of any Democratic presidential candidate in Arizona in over a half-century.

But in the wake of these results, Republicans in the state moved even further to the right, embraced conspiracy theories with even greater intensity, and became even more loyal to Trump.

To be sure, the Times’ report on partisan conditions in Arizona was striking on the surface, but just below the surface there was a related and unstated problem: Reports like these keep popping up from other states. The Times had this report, for example, out of Ohio last week.

Ohio used to be known for the quiet conservatism of the state’s celebrated former senator George Voinovich and its current governor, Mike DeWine; for the Merlot-swilling happy-warrior days of the former House speaker John A. Boehner; for the moderation of John Kasich, a two-term governor; and for the free-trade, free-market ideology of [Sen. Rob Portman]. Instead, affections for such Ohio leaders are now being weaponized — in broadsides from the candidates and advertisements by their allies — as evidence that rivals are paying only lip service to Mr. Trump and his angry populism.

The list keeps going. Michigan used to be known as a state that elected mainstream Republicans such as Fred Upton. Two weeks ago, however, the state GOP held a state convention in which the party officially endorsed outlandish extremists for attorney general and secretary of state. The Michigan Republican Party started tearing itself apart soon after.

Pennsylvania used to be known as a state that elected mainstream Republicans such as Arlen Specter and Tom Ridge. This year, however, the Keystone State will hold two key statewide primaries — for the U.S. Senate and the governor’s office — filled with far-right contenders. In fact, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a leading GOP gubernatorial hopeful, recently appeared at a right-wing event where attendees were told that a “global satanic blood cult” would soon be exposed and that Adolf Hitler faked his death. (The candidate was also awarded a sword by QAnon conspiracy theorists at the event.)

Minnesota used to be known as a state that elected mainstream Republicans such as Arne Carlson. This year, however, one of the top GOP gubernatorial candidates is a conspiracy theorist who apparently threatened the Minnesota’s Democratic secretary of state with imprisonment for no reason.

Biden recently said, “This ain’t your father’s Republican Party.... These guys are a different breed of cat. They’re not like what I served with for so many years.” It’s amazing to see just how many GOP candidates are eager to prove him right.

Update: Some readers have reminded me that Wisconsin could certainly be added to this list, and between Sen. Ron Johnson and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rebecca Kleefisch, that's certainly true.

The larger point, of course, is that this dynamic appears in too many states nationwide.