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On the Difficulty of Replacing an Establishment

There’s an effort afoot to replace pretty much every last Republican in Congress with other Republicans more loyal to President Donald Trump. So far, it does not bode well for the party.
Anti-establishment fervor has already cost the Republicans a much-needed Senate seat in Alabama, of all places. Republicans in the state could have picked the guy who had been a reliable vote for whatever the party wants for the year he as an appointed replace for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but he’d been appointed by an unpopular governor and was backed by an unpopular senate majority leader, and Alabamians are in the same anti-establishment they’ve been in well before the Civil War. They could have also chosen an outspoken “tea party” congressman, who’s also an outspoken critic of the party’s establishment, but apparently his incumbency tainted him as just a bit too establishment.
Instead they chose Roy Moore, an unabashed theocrat who had twice been kicked off Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying the rule of law, had all sorts of crazypants opinions about matters ranging from slavery to women’s suffrage, railed at length about illegal immigrations but was unaware in a radio interview about the “dreamers” debate, and was quite credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and hitting on numerous other underage girls when he was in his early 30s. At least he wasn’t some milquetoast Republican establishment type, which is what a plurality of Republican Alabamians apparently care about most. A big chunk of the party wasn’t quite anti-establishment enough to vote for the likes of Moore, though, and black turnout was bigger that it was for either of President Donald Trump’s campaign, the youth vote went largely for the Democrat, the white women’s vote was well below what Republicans usually draw, and the Republicans wound up losing in Alabama of all places.
The Grand Old Party can hope that by the time the mid-term votes are being cast a short-attention-span public will have long forgotten Moore, as well as Trump’s enthusiastic support of his candidacy, along with the hated Republican establishment’s eventual begrudging and more muted support. They’ll have to avoid nominating similarly flawed candidates, however, and the anti-establishment wing of the party seems chockfull of them.
Out in Arizona there’s some enthusiasm for the Senate candidacy of one Kelli Ward, who has endeared herself to the state’s anti-establishment Republicans with her frequent criticisms of the state’s two Republican senators. They were hoping he would defeat Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been a reliable vote for the party’s agenda but also a harsh critic of Trump’s rhetoric and ethics, so he’s already announced he won’t seek re-election. He freely admits he would have likely lost a primary challenge, given the current anti-establishment mood of his party, but we think he might have fared better in a general election than Ward will should she wind up the party’s nominee.
She’s an osteopath and a State Senator and unabashedly conservative, which somehow doesn’t diminish her burn-it-down anti-establishment reputation, and all the right talk radio hosts like her. She doesn’t seem so awful as Moore and isn’t likely to have any sex scandals uncovered, so she’d be a favorite in a general election, but we suspect a more boring Republican would be a more prohibitive favorite.
Ward once went on Alex Jones’ conspiracy-theory-peddling “Infowars” program, and when he warned her to “watch your back” after criticizing Republican Sen. John McCain because “that guy is just such a gangster” she admitted she had considered her friends advice to get a remote starter for her car in case of a bomb and added that “We are always very cautious and I always have people around me who are providing security, which is great.” She ran a primary campaign against McCain in 2016, railing against all the heretical votes McCain has cast over a long career, and hoped to capitalize on McCain’s lack of enthusiasm for Trump, but she lost by a 51 to 39 percent margin, and of course McCain won easily in the general election.
She’s also such a build-that-wall hard-liner on illegal immigration that she sneers at the departing Flake as an “open borders guy,” despite his impeccably Republican voting record, and she lavished Trump with praising for pardoning Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for cracking down on native born American citizens who looked a little too much like illegal immigrants. That will play well with the Trumpian plurality of Republican voters, but Arizona has a long history of voting for the sorts of establishment Republicans Ward is slightly worried are wanting to kill her, and to the extent the party is associated with her it won’t help in more closely contested states any more than Moore did.
Trump has “tweeted” favorably about Ward in the past, especially back when he she was contesting McCain, that loser who is only considered a war hero because he got captured, but after she lost the praise was less frequent, but it picked up a bit when she was a potential challenger to Flake, or “Flake Jeff Flake” as Trump always calls him in his “tweets.” Flake’s not running, though, and some more boring Republican might be more likely to keep the seat, so we weren’t surprised by The Washington Post’s report that Trump merely “exchanged pleasantries” with her she showed up at Mar-a-Lago during his Christmas vacation. If she winds up with the nomination we’re sure he’ll be right back to “tweeting” her praises, but until then even Trump seems leery of these very anti-establishment types.
The effort afoot to burn down the establishment and replace it with more Trump-like politicians largely driven by former Trump political strategist and current Breitbart.com editor Steve Bannon, who backed Moore to the bloody end is still on board with Ward, but even he’s backing off from his previous pick to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan in his Wisconsin district. Ryan was once a Tea Party darling but is now another one of those hated establishment types, in large part because he’s occasionally admitted his embarrassment about something Trump had done or said or “tweeted,” but by now Trump has to admit the House has been far more effective than the Senate in passing his bills and doing his bidding on those pesky investigations of the “Russia thing,” and we figure that an effort by businessman Paul Nehlen to unseat him in the primary would be as futile as his last attempt.
Bannon was still backing Nehlen, though, until Nehlen “tweeted” about Jewish supremacy and his own pro-white views. He’d been on “alt-right” sites long before, accusing Ryan of spending taxpayer dollars to cover up sexual deviancy and “replace American whites with Anti-white substandard foreign H1B and H2B key pushers,” and expressed various other crazypants opinions on white nationalist programs, but by now even Bannon’s had enough.
The Republicans can surely find better candidates, but they’re going to have recruit more than the usual number. Ryan is reportedly among the many incumbents who won’t be seeking re-election next year, most of whom were reliable votes for the Republican agenda but never very enthusiastic about Trump’s rhetoric and ethics, and winning an open seat is always harder than winning re-election. Harder yet if fealty to an unpopular president is a requisite for a Republican nomination, and anyone with relevant experience on a resume is regarded with suspicion.

— Bud Norman

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