Is a Republican candidate who's crime-free, too PC?
Not quite. Not yet. But today's Republican voters love their bad boys. I mean their really, really bad, sometimes shockingly bad boys. It's happened too often lately to be happening by chance. It's a growing trend. Criminal behavior isn't a bug for this year's Republican candidates, it's a feature. Making a Wanted Poster into a Campaign Poster is turning into a calculated political move.
Look at the GOP's latest criminal, Don Blankenship, one of three Republicans running for Senate in West Virginia. Blankenship was CEO of Massey Energy, known for running some of the most dangerous mines in the state. In 2010, 29 men died due to an explosion in one of his mines, the result of putting profits over miner safety. He served a year in prison, a ridiculously light sentence given his role in the disaster.
In a rational world, Blankenship wouldn't consider running for office, especially in the same state where his negligence was responsible for 29 deaths. And if he was idiotic enough to run, in a rational world he should get maybe 10 votes. Yet, as of Tuesday, on the day of the primary, Blankenship is looking like he just might win. Trump begged people to vote for one of the other candidates. Blankenship's retort: "I'm Trumpier than Trump."
Go back five months to the Senate election in Alabama and candidate Roy Moore, accused by multiple women of dating some of them and stalking others when they were underage and he was in his thirties. Only the statute of limitations saved him from trial and possible conviction. He should have quit the race when the accusations began flying. He didn't. Trump begged voters to choose the other Republican in the primary. They didn't. Jones won the primary. He lost the general by less than two percentage points. In Alabama. In the Bible Belt.
Right here in Arizona, we have our own beloved-by-many, convicted criminal Joe Arpaio. If the conviction isn't enough reason for him to remove himself from the glare of public scrutiny, he should hide because he's the reason Maricopa county has to pay out $70 million and counting for his department's racial profiling. Fiscally conservative voters should be coming after him with pitchforks. Instead he's holding his own against two high profile, credible Republican candidates in the race for Jeff Flake's Senate seat.
This time, Trump isn't running away from the criminal candidate. Trump pardoned Arpaio. And last week during a stop in Tempe, Mike Pence showered the outlaw sheriff with praise.
In January, 2016, Trump said at a campaign rally, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters." That may have been an understatement. The murder may have gained him some voters, especially if he stood his ground, waving the smoking gun over his head on live television.
Why? Why are so many Republican voters applauding law breakers? I can only offer a partial, tentative explanation. I have a sense this is a complex and dangerous cultural phenomenon which is still playing itself out.
For lots of today's Republicans, every part of our political and legal process is broken. That's what Trump told them on the campaign trail. Trump said, government is a swamp awash in stupidity and corruption, and only he knows how to drain it. Throw away the old guard and the old rules, he said, and start over. Millions of people liked what they heard. They voted for him.
Trump continued using the same campaign rhetoric when he stepped into the White House. The Trumpian world view is, the only good Republican office holders are ones who are willing to throw away the rule book—if necessary, the law book—throw away tradition and follow him. Same for judges and the FBI and the CIA. They either do his bidding or get blown away by an unending tweet storm.
Trump's version of "A pox on all houses of government" is, in many ways, Tea Party 2.0. What we're witnessing in the most extreme among this year's Republican candidates is Trump 2.0. Sure, Trump was a rebel, he violated all the norms. But following him, if you really want to be transgressive, take a step beyond rebellion. Be an outlaw. What better way to flip off the establishment than to commit a crime and get caught? How better to show you won't be about business as usual when you're in office?
Don Blankenship was right. He, and Roy Moore, and Joe Arpaio, are Trumpier than Trump. If our president is the monster created by Dr. Tea Party Frankenstein, Blankenship, et al, are the monsters created by Trump.
The Republican Party used to call itself the party of Law and Order. We're watching it transform into the party of Outlaws and Disorder.