Over half a century ago, Arizona’s native son, Barry Goldwater became the Republican nominee for President, launching a campaign that presaged the modern conservative movement. Every subsequent Republican nominee used elements of Goldwater’s campaign – the disdain for government; the racism and the willingness to abandon the Constitution to enforce it; the mantra that poverty is just a state of mind; the belief that liberal elites were betraying the country. But none of those candidates was as consistently extreme as Goldwater, until Trump.
It was Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, his unflinching support of states’ rights, and his focus on criminal justice to “keep the streets safe from bullies and marauders”, code for “keeping those uppity Blacks down”, that created the opening for the GOP’s Southern Strategy. Over the next few decades, American politics saw the great migration of racists of all stripes over to the Republican party.
Like Trump, Goldwater rallies were celebrations of overt racism. As Richard Rovere reported at the time, “These were not really political rallies—they were revels, they were pageants, they were celebrations. The aim of the revellers was not so much to advance a candidacy or a cause as to dramatize a mood, and the mood was a kind of joyful defiance, or defiant joy. By coming South, Barry Goldwater had made it possible for great numbers of unapologetic white supremacists to hold great carnivals of white supremacy”.
Similarly, law and order was solely a tool to keep those “uppity Blacks” under control, while the restraints of the Constitution could be ignored if they stood in the way of Republican goals and power. As Rovere noted, Goldwater promised to get “offenders off the streets and behind bars. When the law got in the way of prosecutors, the law should be either revised or overlooked. ‘Something must be done, and done immediately, to swing away from this obsessive concern for the rights of the criminal defendant’, Goldwater said. He gave some examples of this ‘obsessive concern,’ all of which were Supreme Court rulings intended to assure the observance of the ‘due-process’ clause and the rights set forth in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution.” Goldwater supported a “Constitutional amendment to ‘give back to the states those powers absolutely needed for fair and efficient administration of criminal law’. If the amendment were to embody his present view of what ‘powers’ the states need, it would effectively repeal about half the Bill of Rights”.
The memorable lines from Goldwater’s nomination acceptance speech pretty much reflects the maximalism that defines where the Republican party is today. He declared, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”. That extremism, and the fear that Goldwater would actually use nuclear weapons in its pursuit, resulted in Goldwater getting trounced by LBJ in 1964 election, winning just 56 electoral votes from five Deep South states plus his home state of Arizona and under 39% of the popular vote. But Goldwater was just a man 50 years ahead of his party and his time.
Today the Republican party is an extremist far right party that looks at moderation and compromise as capitulation and views almost any action as valid in defense of its own view of liberty. As Luke Mogelson writes about the thinking of the Trump-inspired insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol, because Democrats are an “existential menace – … because they want to incrementally enslave humanity”, or “because they want to make whites a demographic minority – their fight transcends partisan politics. The same is true for the many evangelicals who have exalted Trump as a Messianic figure divinely empowered to deliver the country from satanic influences. Right-wing Catholics, for their part, have mobilized around the ‘church militant’…which puts Trump at the forefront of a worldwide clash between Western civilization and Islamic ‘barbarity’…Under Trump, Republicans throughout the country have consistently situated American politics in the context of an eternal, cosmic struggle between good and evil. In doing so, they have rendered constitutional principles of representation, pluralism, and the separation of powers less inviolable, given the magnitude of what is at stake”.
Perhaps the whole gamut of Republican extremism can best be illustrated by some of Arizona’s current political figures. The Republican state representative Shawnna Bolick, who currently heads the Ways & Means Committee, has introduced a bill that would essentially allow the state legislature to void the results of any future presidential election in that state. The bill would give the state legislature, which currently has a small Republican majority, the ability to block the Secretary of State’s certification of Electors right up until the time the President-elect is sworn in. Presumably the legislature could then certify a different slate of Electors that they would choose. As Laurie Roberts at AZCentral notes, “Apparently, that whole democracy thing didn’t work as Bolick would have liked in 2020 so now she wants to take it back…Oh, you could still vote. It just wouldn’t count”. Bobick’s disdain of democracy and the law is further illustrated by the fact that the Arizona Supreme Court ruled last year that she had violated election law by not providing her actual home address in her required electoral filings.
Bobick joined with fellow Arizonan and two-time Republican Senate primary loser Kelli Ward in claiming widespread fraud in the presidential election, with Ward becoming an important voice in the “Stop the Steal” movement. Last week, Ward was re-elected chair of the Arizona GOP by a razor thin margin, just 42 votes. But now her challenger in that election is asking for a recount, his suspicions fueled by another race within the state party where the announced winner was subsequently declared to have lost. Ward is now refusing to do that recount, claiming “We don’t have the structure to be able to do an audit”. The rank hypocrisy is not lost on her challenger who says, “It shouldn’t be a big deal. If her core No. 1 issue is election integrity, then it should be a nonissue”. More importantly, it speaks to the attitude within the Trump base of the Republican party that elections are only valid when they ratify the base’s candidate.
Two other Arizona state representatives actually travelled to Washington to deliver their message to Congress that their own state’s electors should be thrown out, nullifying the democratic decision of their own constituents. The two claim they did not participate in the insurrection riot that stormed the Capitol but refused to turn over their phone messages as requested under Arizona’s public records laws. The two not only claim that they were acting as private citizens and therefore their messages are not subject to public records laws but also rather incriminatingly add, “the threat of criminal prosecution gives rise to certain Constitutional rights that may overcome the duty to disclose otherwise public documents under Arizona’s public records law”.
One Arizonan who clearly did participate in the assault on the Capitol and admits it is the notorious “QAnon Shaman”, Jacob Chansley. Chansley, shirtless with his horned fur hat and his spear used as a flagpole for an American flag, was one of those who broke into the Senate chamber and then left a note for Vice President Pence on the dais saying, “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming”. When finally arrested, Chansley was clear that “he came [to DC] as a part of a group effort, with other ‘patriots’ from Arizona, at the request of the President that all ‘patriots’ come to D.C. on January 6, 2021”. The judge denied Chansley bail because he had no confidence that he would appear for trial and indirect evidence that he intended to capture and kill members of Congress. Now in jail, Chansley apparently feels betrayed by Trump because he did not receive a pardon and is willing to testify against the former President in the upcoming impeachment trial.
There were two other Arizonans, current Republican House Representatives Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, who apparently helped organize the January 6th insurrection rally. According to Ali Alexander, he, Gosar, Biggs, and another current GOP Representative, Mo Brooks, all organized the rally with the intention of interfering with the certification vote. Apparently, they all knew the plan was to march on the Capitol from the beginning. Gosar has been described by his own family, who have denounced him, as being “twisted up so tight with the Oath Keepers it’s not even funny”. When the leader of the Oath Keepers militia in Arizona asked Gosar if the country was headed for civil war, Gosar reportedly replied, “We’re in it, we just haven’t started shooting yet”.
The idea that we are already in a civil war is now close to being a mainstream position in the core of the Republican base, backed by the usual GOP propaganda outfits. Tucker Carlson said this only a few days ago, “Democrats then declared war on their rival political party. Not, by the way, a metaphorical war, but an actual one, with soldiers and paramilitary law enforcement, and the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies. They denounced Republicans — even fairly moderate establishment figures who pose really no conceivable threat to anyone. They denounced them as dangerous terrorists. They likened them to ISIS and Al-Qaeda. And anyone who complained about this or fought back in any way was threatened with expulsion from Congress. In other words, it doesn’t matter what voters decided in November. In the name of democracy, you can no longer serve in the Congress, that’s what they said”.
My point here is not that Arizona is a hotbed of extremists, although it has produced its fair share of them. It’s that these examples show just how deeply embedded inside the GOP is the belief that Democratic governance is an existential threat not just to the Republican party but to the republic itself, and that virtually any measure to prevent such a demise, including having to end democracy or resort to violence, is a patriotic act similar to the those of the Founders. Yes, there are plenty of Republican politicians who know better and are using these fears for their own political gain, such as Hawley and Cruz and especially Trump; and there are those who know better but are now intimidated and threatened both politically and physically by the monster they have created. But the vast majority of the GOP base believes that they are fighting for a just cause, a belief that is continually fed by the GOP’s vast propaganda system, as Carlson’s monologue well illustrates. When Biden says that he is engaged in a “battle for the soul of the nation”, the Republican base actually agrees with the sentiment but believes he is the enemy in that fight. As Luke Mogelson points out in describing those protesting the lockdown measures in Michigan, “the mostly white participants saw themselves as upholding the tradition of the civil-rights movement. Whitmer’s public-health measures were condemned as oppressive infringements on sacrosanct liberties, and those who defied them compared themselves to Rosa Parks. The equivalency became even more bizarre after George Floyd was killed and anti-lockdown activists in Michigan adopted Trump’s law-and-order rhetoric. Yet I never had the impression that those Republican activists were disingenuous”.
It’s hard to see how even a successful Biden presidency can mitigate this situation to any degree, especially now that the GOP is doubling down suppressing democracy and members of Congress feel physically threatened by other members. As in the 1850s, there are two irreconcilable views of the nation. Each side believes that they are in the right and true to the often mythical ideals of the Founders and the country. Each side, to one degree or another, believes the other poses an existential threat to their way of life. And one side has shown itself entirely willing to engage in violence to achieve its political ends. As in the 1860s, the end result is likely to be catastrophic. The Georgia Voting Systems Implementation Manager, Gabriel Sterling, warned of back in early December, “Someone’s gonna get shot. Someone’s gonna get killed”. He has already been proven right and I fear his words will sound prophetic for many years to come.