This summer, Matt Gaetz remains a rising star in the GOP House caucus while Liz Cheney sits in the corner and colors. We know Gaetz is a liar; he is on the road continuously pounding the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential election, despite a seven million popular vote loss and a resounding electoral vote loss. Gaetz may also be a sex trafficker of underage girls. He charmingly tested his I-might-be-indicted-as-a-sex-trafficker message on prime-time TV this winter, when not even Tucker Carlson could tolerate it. But the GOP House caucus could. Because Gaetz is a willing liar for the party, he is more highly valued than Cheney. This is the one truth of my Republican Party in 2021.
Last week, Senate Republicans quietly killed a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The reaction among Democrats and the press was largely uniform: Republicans don’t want to risk having the events leading up to January 6 rehashed before the 2022 elections.
Well, no kidding. It’s especially rough on the House Republicans. They have to meet constituents, go to committees (unless you’re Marjorie Taylor Greene), vote, fundraise 30 hours a week, and get home to their districts every weekend for more of the same. There is no break from campaigning. They. Don’t. Have. Time. For. This.
And what with the fact that a good number of House Republicans are in office precisely because of the division and discord we saw on January 6 since this is precisely how they campaigned for their seats, the notion of blowing the whole thing up on C-SPAN and the major networks is not only time-consuming, but campaign-killing.
GOP candidate campaigns have grown increasingly combative in the last four election cycles. The 2020 cycle was the nastiest, meanest, most bare-knuckled any voter alive today can remember. And that was just the primary. Campaign platforms offered no ideas except opposition and fear mongering. Primary opponents aren’t competitors; they are branded as dangerous enemies.
In this current lowest-common-denominator campaign style, the individual opponent does not matter because the script remains the same. “My opponent, Candidate X, will allow the government to take your guns, is soft on abortion, won’t protect your freedom.” From Oregon to Ohio, candidates repeat the same angry lines. Just fill in your name and you have a campaign. Local issues and actual policy have all but disappeared.
This shift from thoughtful conservative ideas and policy to populist and bombastic statements about “freedom,” does not, to paraphrase Minority Leader McCarthy, “widen the tent” but instead echoes something darker. Darker like populist slogans and speeches from authoritarian dictators who took power through democratic elections and then never left. Ideas unite us. Populism is dangerous and divisive. Populism encourages the worst fringe elements and dangerous actions, and even incites insurrection. January 6th happened for a reason. My party should remember this.
But these tactics keep seats, the GOP powers-that-be argue. Doesn’t that matter? Yes and no. It keeps safe seats and makes them more extremist (See: Lauren Boebert and the current QAnon prom queen, Marjorie Taylor Greene). It doesn’t flip them. It doesn’t help moderates. Ask Mark Moores.
A few things are pretty obvious about this week’s CD1 election. First, it was not a priority for the RNC. Second, the state GOP has no idea what is going on north of Socorro. Finally, The Script—of anger, bitterness and divisiveness—did not impress CD1 voters.
Moores’ first ads, showing his voice and personality, were terrific. We got to know him. Once the GOP “professionals” got involved in his campaign, though, the tone turned. Stansbury was the enemy. Dangerous. Socialist. The same angry script with Moores’ name pasted in. Albuquerque has been resistant to this angry populist rhetoric in the last three election cycles; state legislative Republican seats there have dwindled to almost zero.
As an incumbent state Senator, Moores knows this district and should have been given the chance to align the campaign to the district. Melanie Stansbury, a perfectly likable yet unremarkable candidate, wiped the floor with Moores. Her 2-1 victory with completely forgettable messages and a formidable get-out-the-vote effort should be a wake-up call to the state party and the NRCC.
Fortunately, Moores will keep his state Senate seat, where his sensible voice and willingness to work across the aisle will continue to benefit New Mexicans. And he won’t have to face a daily dilemma on whether to pick Team Gaetz or Team Cheney. Because it was going to come up. Like, tomorrow.
Make no mistake, Congressional Republicans fear one enemy more than any other in 2022: a primary opponent meaner, louder and more shameless with the evergreen campaign tropes of guns, abortion and voter fraud than they are. And it seems Republican leadership is so bent on retaking the House in 2022 it is turning a blind eye (at its own peril) to the basic values that have underscored its platform for decades. And don’t tell me the Democrats are worse. I don’t care. I want my party to be better than a grade school production of “Lord of the Flies.” And right now, it isn’t.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on New Radio KKOB. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.