The Republican pivot to “embrace the crazy” started with the deep ignorance, frat-boy arrogance and corporate servility of George W. Bush.
In the 1990s, the sharp-witted Texan and renowned progressive writer Molly Ivins regaled (and appalled) readers with her reports on the tragicomic awfulness of George W. Bush’s two terms as the Lone Star State’s governor. His tenure was notable for his deep ignorance, frat-boy arrogance and flagrant servility to corporate interests. But those very qualities made America’s moneyed powers decide that — Wow! — wouldn’t he make a dandy president? Molly warned the general public about the folly of that choice, but in the 2000 race, W’s patrons stuffed him with money, buffed him up with a glossy coat of PR Shinola, pulled off a flagrant post-election political heist in Florida … and squeegeed him, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and that whole regime of horrors into office. This is when the GOP began to embrace the crazy.
Many Americans soon began expressing astonishment at how shallow, imperious, and dangerous Bush & Co. were proving to be, leading Molly to say with a heavy sigh: “Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.”
Don’t look now, but another Texas gubernatorial goober, named Greg Abbott, is coming at you, insisting that he should be your next president. Sadly, Molly is gone, but I knew her well enough that I think I can speak for her on this matter of national import: “Oh, hell no!”
Excuse the redundancy here, but right-wing extremism has become extremely extreme, and Abbott is vying to be the “extremiest” of all. A clue to his loopiness is his vituperative anti-abortion absolutism, forcing victims of rape to give birth to their rapists’ spawn. Not a problem, proclaimed Abbott, for he’s the Lone Star Wizard. He declared that he intends to go out and arrest all rapists — get this — before they rape anyone!
Abbott, a governor with no talent for governing, has run up a record noted for spectacular program failures, corporate bootlicking, widening inequality, corruption, political buffoonery… and so awful much more. If that’s your idea of a president, there he is.
Perhaps you remember Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP’s fringy, far-right-wing 1964 presidential nominee who famously said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Today, however, the core of the Republican Party has gone so far beyond the fringe that they would boo Goldwater’s right-wingism as insufficiently rabid. Instead, their new rallying cry is: “Nuttiness in the defense of extremism is no vice.”
The GOP as a whole has mutated from a conservative party with some extremist factions to effectively proclaiming itself the Party of Extremism. Its mainline officialdom (governors, congressional leaders, state reps, judges, party chairs, et al.) are no longer just winking at such antidemocratic, far-right groups as neo-Confederates, paranoid “replacement” theorists, secessionists and QAnon cultists — they are openly embracing the crazy. Hoping to enlist the raw political fervor of dogmatic rightists, local, state and national Republican establishments are mainstreaming the extreme: Parroting many of those groups’ wilder claims, adopting their code words and endorsing their adherents for elected and appointed offices. And, of course, all of this fanatical horsepower is quietly being hitched to the party’s true purpose of entrenching the supremacy of corporate and moneyed elites.
Now, this embrace the crazy extremism is about to erupt in the GOP’s presidential primary, for a whole covey of these cooing right-wingers have fantasies of taking the groups’ radical agenda to the White House. All of them are trying to out-extreme each other with raw meat bigotry and autocratic posturing, but two wannabes have emerged as both the most bullish and bullying: Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida.
For months, these big state governors have been locked in a far-right kook-off including outlawing free speech, banning books, viciously attacking immigrants, preempting local elections and governments and denying health care to poor people. Bear in mind that Abbott and DeSantis are not merely pontificating, posturing and promising what they might do in the White House; as governors they’re actually practicing it right now!
I don’t know if Abbott and DeSantis are the worst that the GOP will try to put in the Oval Office in 2024, but please pay attention now, for today’s Republican elites intend to pull our democracy down into the plutocratic, autocratic and theocratic maelstrom they are creating.