Living in Philadelphia during the Tea Party wave of 2010, I had a close view of where the Republican Party was headed. After Sen. Arlen Specter, the icon of Pennsylvania moderates, provided one of three Republican votes for President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package, the GOP right called him a RINO and put a target in his back.
When Specter realized he would lose the Republican primary to Pat Toomey, the head of the Club for Growth, he switched parties, hoping to find relief among the Democrats. Although the party establishment lined up behind him, Specter lost the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak, who lost the general election to Toomey, who took office at the forefront of the conservative right. .
Twelve years later, Toomey is not seeking a third term in the Senate. If he had, he almost certainly would have lost in the Republican primary. He too was called a RINO for not wholeheartedly kissing President Donald Trump.
And that was before he voted to convict Trump after the second impeachment. The state GOP publicly reprimanded him. Instead, Pennsylvania Republicans backed Trump-selected Dr. Oz, who is running one of the shittiest Senate campaigns in history. They also backed Doug Mastriano, another Trump-backed far-right Holocaust denier who hangs out with anti-Semites and looks likely to lose a winnable gubernatorial election in November.
It’s become a common refrain this year: Trump’s favorite candidates have dominated the Republican primaries but struggled to create mass appeal. Oz looks unhappy. In Georgia, Herschel Walker can’t string together a coherent sentence. JD Vance’s sneaky populism turns a safe bet in Ohio into a real horse race. Blake Masters, an affiliate of right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel, is Democrats’ best friend in Arizona. Even Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who blew MAGA glue like a demon, is behind it.
Republicans are beginning to recognize their vulnerability. “Having amateur candidates who have never run for office before carrying the Republican Party banner in critical Senate races is a risky move,” a Republican pollster told The Washington Post.
Last week, Mitch McConnell almost admitted that the Senate was slipping away from him. “I think there’s probably a better chance of the House rocking than the Senate,” he said. “Senate races are just different — they’re statewide, the quality of the candidates has a lot to do with the outcome.”
And Republicans can no longer count on the unpopularity of President Joe Biden who brought down his party this fall. The Supreme Court’s decision on abortion rocked not only the Democratic base, but also suburban voters and young people. Additionally, gas prices are falling and Biden has racked up a string of legislative victories, over broad Republican opposition, on issues like veterans’ health care and Medicare drug pricing that are probing into the stratosphere. . (Meanwhile, under the leadership of Senator Rick Scott, who led one of the biggest Medicare fraud schemes in American history, the Republican National Senate Committee is setting the money on fire. )
It is no coincidence that the Democrats regained the (very narrow) lead on the wildcard ballot for the first time since November.
Due to gerrymandering, this lead is probably not strong enough to keep the House in the hands of Democrats, and it could prove fleeting anyway. Biden remains less popular than Trump was at this point in his presidency, and Republicans were crushed in 2018. And the axiom that the general public only tunes in after Labor Day isn’t wrong. .
But think what ordinary people will see when they start paying attention: a crop of candidates so infected with Fox News Brain they won’t pivot to the general election. They denied the 2020 election results, pledged to ban abortion, and backed Trump like drones kowtowing to a cult leader during the primary; now they are wondering why this strategy has no mainstream appeal.
As Trump and his cronies celebrate Rep. Liz Cheney’s 37-point loss in the Wyoming primary last week, they can’t imagine what everyone is seeing: a party rejecting an apostate conservative whose only crime was favor democracy over Donald Trump. As they attack the FBI – a congressional candidate has called for the execution of Attorney General Merrick Garland – for recovering classified documents stolen from Trump’s house, they fail to realize that beyond their base, the public thinks the search of Mar-a-Lago was justified.
The Republican propaganda machine is devouring itself. Candidates who consume only right-wing media and only sit down for friendly softball interviews — a trend among Republicans this year — are confusing the passions of the few with the beliefs of the many.
Trump, for example, thinks the search for Mar-a-Lago helps him politically. In a way, it is. By playing the chief martyr, he raised a ton of money that might otherwise have gone into Jim Baker’s doomsday buckets. He also got a huge bump in the polls against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who had just campaigned in Pennsylvania for Mastriano, a curious anti-Semite.
“I don’t think being behind bars would prevent him from winning the Republican nomination,” a Republican consultant told NBC News, quite accurately.
But winning a nomination and winning an election are different things. Even in a polarized era, where most voters care more about the party than the candidate, extremists and idiots are losing votes. The more extreme and idiotic the candidate, the more votes he loses. The far-right stances and mindless warmongering required for a candidate to win a Republican nomination will cost the party seats this year.
I can’t help but wonder if Ron DeSantis and Doug Mastriano will be the Pat Toomeys of 2034, candidates who redefined extremism, for someone else to redefine it later. A party on that trajectory should struggle to compete outside of the reddest districts in the reddest states. Of course, I said the same thing in 2010.