Beating the MAGA mob requires sharper messaging

Rep. Liz Cheney speaking about the January 6th insurrection. (Youtube screenshot.)

Is it the heat wave, or is America going mad? The Republican Party grows more fanatical the more unmoored it is from reality. With its politicians in competition to devise the harshest policies, it no longer seems constrained by consideration of what the electorate will allow. Voters’ wishes would be rendered moot by Republican “reforms” designed to lock in one shrinking population segment’s power. If the Trump-hijacked GOP succeeds, the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol will have been a mere rehearsal.

The televised hearings by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol have been well organized and compelling, with the most damning testimony coming from Republicans. Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, despite being shunned by her fellow party members, has significantly raised her political stature with her courage, outspokenness, and resolve in denouncing our seditious and megalomaniacal former president.

Trump calls Rep. Cheney a loser, which only shows that the deeply conservative Wyoming congresswoman has gotten under his skin. Trump is whistling past the graveyard: Rep. Cheney has not yet lost her primary, and in any case appears to be playing a long game (which is why I haven’t forgotten her right-wing policy views). Aside from which, what says “loser” more than someone refusing to concede an election twenty months after he lost it?

Cheney’s campaign issues, to use her phrasing, include protecting 2nd Amendment rights, protecting life, and defending the rule of law. It is unexceptional for a Republican to be pro-gun and anti-abortion. What stands out is that she is her party’s most prominent defender of the Constitution. For this she lost her leadership post among Republicans in the House and is being challenged by a Trumpist fanatic in her August primary. Her best chance to pull out a victory is for Wyoming Democrats to cross over and vote for her.

Speaking of Democratic tactics, there is controversy over Democrats helping Republican extremists win primaries in several states to scare voters into supporting Democratic nominees. It is understandable to want the weakest possible opponent, but this could backfire.

In the Maryland Republican gubernatorial primary, for example, the Democratic Governors Association ran ads boosting Trumpist election denier Dan Cox. He defeated moderate Kelly Schulz, who was endorsed by term-limited Governor Larry Hogan. Democratic nominee Wes Moore, a bestselling author, will likely become Maryland’s first black governor given Cox’s extremism and Democrats’ voter registration advantage in the state. One hopes Moore hires good people if he wins, since he lacks prior elective office. But shouldn’t Democrats focus on promoting their own values instead of their opponents’? Let’s have more persuasion and less clever scheming.

During the January 6 committee’s prime time hearing on July 21, homophobic and transphobic Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s election victory hours after the Capitol was ransacked by a violent mob, was made a laughingstock by visual evidence of his actions on that fateful day: early on he gave the rioters a raised fist of solidarity from behind police barricades, then was shown running away from them down a Capitol hallway.

Hawley’s upcoming book on rescuing American manhood will not save him from the exposure of his cowardly incitements. As Michael Harriot of TheGrio writes of him, “He is a terrified terrorist in a tailored suit; a white supremacist who knows whiteness is not supreme… He is hollow. He is easily broken.”

Elie Mystal in The Nation — confronting another aspect of the frightening escalation of right-wing extremism — describes the threat of what he calls “Fugitive Uterus Laws” by which conservative states seek to criminalize women residents who travel out-of-state for abortion care: “Doctors, even the ones in free states, will have to keep an eye out for the uterus catchers eager to claim a bounty on their patients.”

The threat of brutal state laws pales beside that of national laws that Republicans will eagerly pass if given the chance. With the stakes so high and disinformation aggressively promoted, Democrats cannot rely solely upon their party base. They must employ bolder, more vivid messaging to awaken voters to the urgency of participating in the midterm elections.

If normally cautious Democrats do not give sharper competition to scribes like Harriot and Mystal in the coming months, their campaigns will be like parents politely urging their undisciplined children to stop tearing around a busy restaurant. The resulting crash will be much worse than dishes hitting the floor.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at [email protected].

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