In the runup to Jan. 6, Senate Republican leaders invested time and energy into keeping their members together on certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. By Jan. 2, those intra-party efforts were unraveling.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) got the ball rolling, announcing his plan to contest the election results he doesn't like, and a group of Republicans, eager to prove their own hostility toward democracy, soon followed. By Jan. 4, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was leading a contingent of 11 GOP senators who wanted a commission to "audit" the election results, rather than certify them.
Two days later -- exactly six months ago today -- a violent mob of Donald Trump supporters launched an insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol in the hopes of derailing the certification process. As the dust settled and the Capitol was secured, lawmakers returned to complete the process. Most of the Senate Republicans who said they'd refuse to honor the election results followed through on their undemocratic commitment.
Six months later, that's apparently become a political problem for the conservative Sooner State senator. The Tulsa World reported this morning:
In addition to challengers in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate next year, incumbent Sen. James Lankford said he is contending with opposition from a high-ranking member of his own party. John Bennett, who was elected Oklahoma Republican Party chairman April 10, spoke later at the OKC Freedom Rally organized by Lankford's Republican challenger, Jackson Lahmeyer, and is supporting him in his challenge to Lankford.
According to a report in The Oklahoman, Bennett said 10 days ago that Lankford's vote on certifying the results of the U.S. presidential election was proof that the senator couldn't keep promises made to constituents. The state GOP chair added that merely being a Republican doesn't necessarily make someone "the right pick."
In case this isn't obvious, this isn't a normal political dynamic. In nearly every instance, state party chairs -- in either party -- will either endorse incumbent senators or remain neutral. For a state party chair to endorse a primary rival, largely because the incumbent changed his mind about trying to undermine his own country's democracy, is, as Lankford put it, "unheard of."
As a practical matter, the implications of such a move are likely to be limited. Lankford cruised to a landslide victory in 2016; he's raised plenty of money; and the odds of him winning the 2022 primary and general election are very good.
But whether Oklahoma Republican Party chair's position affects the outcome or not, his position is emblematic of a larger truth: this is what's become of GOP politics in 2021. There's a growing number of single-issue Republican voters, and their sole focus is on a ridiculous election conspiracy theory.
Oklahoma is hardly unique. A Washington Post report noted over the holiday weekend, "Across the country, as campaigns gear up for a handful of key races this year and the pivotal 2022 midterms, Republican candidates for state and federal offices are increasingly focused on the last election — running on the falsehood spread by Trump and his allies that the 2020 race was stolen from him."
That way madness lies.