We know Republicans love to consider themselves the victims whenever possible, because that imagined victimization justifies that violent, lethal responses they wish to use against those who "victimized" them: the Boogeyman versions of the "woke", Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and the people who support them that all only exist in their delusions of fear and fantasies of power. The problem is of course that in 2022, more and more Republicans are running on a platform of turning those deadly power fantasies into reality.
Days before Maryland’s July 19 primary, Michael Peroutka stood up at an Italian restaurant in Rockville and imagined how a foreign enemy might attack America.
“We would expect them to make our borders porous,” Peroutka told the crowd, which had come to hear the Republicans running for state attorney general. “We would expect them to make our cities unsafe places to live. We would expect them to try to ruin our economy.” The country was “at war,” he explained, “and the enemy has co-opted members and agencies and agents of our government.”
On Tuesday, Peroutka easily dispatched a more moderate Republican to win the nomination. State Del. Dan Cox, who won Donald Trump’s endorsement after supporting the former president’s effort to subvert the 2020 election, also dispatched a Republican endorsed by the state’s popular governor, Larry Hogan.
Both candidates described a country that was not merely in trouble, but being destroyed by leaders who despise most Americans — effectively part of a civil war. In both swing states and safe seats, many Republicans say that liberals hate them personally and may turn rioters or a police state on people who disobey them.
Referring to the coronavirus and 2020 protests over police brutality, Cox told supporters at a rally last month, “We were told 14 days to bend the curve, and yet antifa was allowed to burn our police cars in the streets.” He continued: “Do you really think, with what we’re seeing — with the riots that have happened — that we should not have something to defend our families with? This is why we have the Second Amendment.”
The rhetoric is bracing, if not entirely new. Liberal commentators made liberal use of the word “fascism” to describe Trump’s presidency. The baseless theory that President Barack Obama was undermining American power as a foreign agent was popular with some Republicans, including Trump, who succeeded Obama in the White House.
Many Democrats saw the backlash to Obama as specific to his race, and saw Biden as unlikely to inspire mass opposition to Trump in the presidential election. But many Republicans also portray Biden as a malevolent figure — a vessel for a hateful leftist campaign to weaken America.
“It’s purposeful,” said former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who is running in next month’s special election for the state’s sole House seat, in an interview with former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon. “It’s all about the fundamental transformation of America. You only fundamentally transform something for which you have disdain.”
That argument has been dramatized in ads that, for instance, show one armed candidate appearing to charge into the home of a political enemy, and another warning of “the mob” that threatens ordinary Americans. In many cases the candidates are brandishing firearms while threatening harm to liberals or other enemies.
In central Florida, U.S. Army veteran Cory Mills has run ads about his company selling tear gas that was used to quell riots in 2020. “You may have seen some of our work,” he says, introducing a montage of what are labeled “antifa,” “radical left” and “Black Lives Matter” protesters running from the gas.
In northwest Ohio, a campaign video for Republican congressional nominee J.R. Majewski shows him walking through a dilapidated factory, holding a semiautomatic weapon, warning that Democrats will “destroy our economy” with purposefully bad policies.
“Their agenda is bringing America to its knees, and I am willing to do whatever it takes,” says Majewski, who’s seeking a House seat in a district around Toledo that has been redrawn to make Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) beatable. “If I have to kick down doors, that’s just what patriots do.”
In Missouri, Republican Senate candidate Eric Greitens has issued two ads this summer in which he holds or fires weapons, vowing to go “RINO hunting” — for “Republicans in name only” — in one ad and targeting the “political establishment” in the second.
Dreading deep losses in November, some Democrats have spent money to help Republican candidates who talk this way under the theory that they will be easier to beat in November. The Democratic Governors Association spent more than $1.1 million on positive ads for Cox, as he was telling voters that they might one day have to battle antifa with their own weapons.
Candidates like Majewski, however, have won with no assistance from Democrats, aided instead by high turnout and grass-roots energy. The idea that the Biden administration’s policies are designed to fail — to raise gas prices, or increase the cost of food — is a popular campaign theme.
Pollsters have found that Americans are worried about the country sticking together; a YouGov poll released last month had a majority of both Democrats and Republicans agreeing that America would one day “cease to be a democracy.”
Republican wins since 2020, including a sweep in Virginia’s state elections and victory in a special election in June between two Hispanic candidates in South Texas, haven’t lightened the GOP mood. Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist who works with Trump-backed U.S. Senate candidates J.D. Vance in Ohio and Blake Masters in Arizona, said that last year’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large companies was a turning point in views of the Biden administration, even after it was blocked by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
“It’s the number one thing that caused people to go from ‘maybe this is incompetence’ to ‘there’s something else going on here,’ ” Surabian said. “Like, do these people actually want a Chinese-style social credit system?”
More and more Republican voters already believe we are actively in a civil war, one that needs to be fought in the streets against Democrats and their voters if Republicans don't take control of the country in November. Republicans are running on violence and fear and the message is clear:
If we don't win with ballots, we must turn to winning with bullets, and you and your family need to be ready to take action.
Confessions, projections, and warnings: this is what 2022 Republicans are saying as loudly as they can.
We need to listen, and we need to vote.