The just-ended filing week for political candidates marks the official start of campaign season. This one may be signaling something bigger: the crackup of the political parties.
The fissures are right out in the open on the Republican side.
They’re in full-on civil war in some congressional districts, between the more traditional Republicans and the Trumpists. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an incumbent draw as many challengers from within his own party — six — as U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, has, including a state legislator and a governor finalist — all for the unpardonable sin of crossing Donald Trump.
Some of the Trumpier candidates around the state are announcing their split with their own team right on the ballot.
“MAGA Republican,” is how one congressional candidate from Skagit County specified his party. “Trump Republican” is the fanboy declaration of one U.S. Senate candidate.
“America First (R)” is the brand one secretary of state candidate chose for herself. (She is suing the local election system, arguing it’s hopelessly rigged, and has lately taken to describing some more moderate Republicans as “enemies inside the line.”)
There are a slew of “stop the steal” candidates like this, who embrace Trump’s persistent delusion that he won the 2020 election.
“Cody has just released the most extensive and irrefutable evidence of election fraud in Washington State history!” announces one Republican candidate, Cody Hart, in the 2nd Congressional District north of Seattle, on his campaign webpage. Suffice to say, he has not. But in Oregon, a QAnon election denier who attended the infamous “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, Jo Rae Perkins, is in the lead in last Tuesday’s primary to represent Republicans in the race for U.S. Senate. So this mass mirage remains potent on the right.
The cracks on the left are less visible. But the rising socialist-adjacent left, which in federal races has yet to reach high enough to win much around here, is out again in force, bashing not the Republicans but their own party as too corporate and cautious.
Stephanie Gallardo, a 9th Congressional District challenger to incumbent Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, has taken to labeling him “the most powerful imperialist in the house of Congress.”
Another one in the 2nd District, Jason Call, is continuing to push “defund the police.” Yet another out in the Olympic Peninsula’s 6th District, Rebecca Parson, proposed a nationwide $30-an-hour minimum wage — and this past week called on people to simply occupy empty homes.
These “aggressive progressive” candidates presumably won’t win. But their presence reminds of what New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another Democratic Socialist, said earlier this year: “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party. But in America, we are.”
Maybe not for long?
I don’t see the Democrats splitting up right now, mostly because they’re in charge. But if they get wiped out this fall or in later elections, look out. The coalitional instinct that is the party’s core glue — and which took in the socialists in the first place — will be stress-tested like seldom before.
As for the Republicans, I don’t see how they haven’t disintegrated already. Surely not everyone wants to be in a Trump cult?
The secretary of state campaign is emblematic of what I’m highlighting here. The position, currently held by a moderate Democrat, Steve Hobbs, is in charge of state elections. So as in other states this year, the race has attracted a zoo display of GOP manias and tropes.
There are a couple of “stop the steal” fantasists. One is Tamborine Borrelli, the above-mentioned America First (R) candidate. She is a former Berniecrat turned Republican election conspiracist who has filed eight lawsuits, all of them channeling a right-wing fever dream that 400,000 fraudulent votes were added or removed here during the 2020 election. (They weren’t, and so her lawsuits are predictably being thrown out.)
Then we have Mark Miloscia, a former state senator and hardcore Christianist. He labels anyone who doesn’t agree with him a “pagan,” an “apostate,” a Satan disciple, or, his favorite, a “pervert” (this is any Democrat who supports sex ed in the schools). So he’s the religious right arm of the party, which, soullessly, still worships the amoral Trump.
Then there’s state Sen. Keith Wagoner, who is more in the old-school Republican lane. He’s a former mayor of Sedro-Woolley who at least seems to realize what state he’s living in. So for now he’s still saying reality-based things, such as that he’s “one of the people who believes we have a very solid structure in our voting system,” rather than pinwheeling off into wild deliriums about how Republicans lost so that must mean George Soros dropped fake ballots for Joe Biden and Jay Inslee from a helicopter.
How are the above people in the same group, going to the same meetings and tolerating one another at the same conventions? They don’t even live on the same planet.
The two-party system may be past its sell-by date. It’s given us stability, but lots of parliamentary, multiparty democracies seem to function OK, too. Ours is struggling just to hold on to the democracy part.
The old saw is that Democrats fall in love, while Republicans fall in line. The collection of candidates suggests the former may be cruising for a bad breakup. While the latter is in serious need of a deprogramming.