Darren Bailey, the front-runner in the Republican primary for governor of Illinois, was finishing his stump speech last week at a senior center in this Central Illinois town when a voice called out: “Can we pray for you?”
Mr. Bailey readily agreed. The speaker, a youth mentor from Lincoln named Kathy Schmidt, placed her right hand on his left shoulder while he closed his eyes and held out his hands, palms open.
“More than anything,” she prayed, “I ask for that, in this election, you raise up the righteous and strike down the wicked.”
The wicked, in this case, are the Chicago-based moderates aiming to maintain control over the Illinois Republican Party. And the righteous is Mr. Bailey, a far-right state senator who is unlike any nominee the party has put forward for governor in living memory.
A 56-year-old farmer whose Southern Illinois home is closer to Nashville than to Chicago, he wears his hair in a crew cut, speaks with a thick drawl and does not sand down his conservative credentials, as so many past leading G.O.P. candidates have done to try to appeal to suburbanites in this overwhelmingly Democratic state. On Saturday, former President Donald J. Trump endorsed Mr. Bailey at a rally near Quincy, Ill.
Mr. Bailey rose to prominence in Illinois politics by introducing legislation to kick Chicago out of the state. When the coronavirus pandemic began, he was removed from a state legislative session for refusing to wear a mask, and he sued Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, over statewide virus mitigation efforts. Painted on the door of his campaign bus is the Bible verse Ephesians 6:10-19, which calls for followers to wear God’s armor in a battle against “evil rulers.”
He is the favored candidate of the state’s anti-abortion groups, and on Friday he celebrated the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade as a “historic and welcomed moment.” He has said he opposes the practice, including in cases of rape and incest.
Mr. Bailey has upended carefully laid $50 million plans by Illinois Republican leaders to nominate Mayor Richard C. Irvin of Aurora, a moderate suburbanite with an inspiring personal story who they believed could win back the governor’s mansion in Springfield in what is widely forecast to be a winning year for Republicans.
Mr. Bailey has been aided by an unprecedented intervention from Mr. Pritzker and the Pritzker-funded Democratic Governors Association, which have spent nearly $35 million combined attacking Mr. Irvin while trying to lift Mr. Bailey. No candidate for any office is believed to have ever spent more to meddle in another party’s primary.
The Illinois governor’s race is now on track to become the most expensive campaign for a nonpresidential office in American history.
Public and private polling ahead of Tuesday’s primary shows Mr. Bailey with a lead of 15 percentage points over Mr. Irvin and four other candidates. His strength signals the broader shift in Republican politics across the country, away from urban power brokers and toward a rural base that demands fealty to a far-right agenda aligned with Mr. Trump.
For Mr. Bailey, the proposal to excise Chicago, which he called “a hellhole” during a televised debate last month, encapsulates the grievances long felt across rural Central and Southern Illinois — places culturally far afield and long resentful of the politically dominant big city.
“The rest of the 90 percent of the land mass is not real happy about how 10 percent of the land mass is directing things,” Mr. Bailey said in an interview aboard his campaign bus outside a bar in Green Valley, a village of 700 people south of Peoria. “A large amount of people outside of that 10 percent don’t have a voice, and that’s a problem.”
That pitch has resonated with the conservative voters flocking to Mr. Bailey, who seemed to compare Mr. Irvin to Satan during a Facebook Live monologue in February.
“Everything that we pay and do supports Chicago,” said Pam Page, a security analyst at State Farm Insurance from McLean, Ill., who came to see Mr. Bailey in Lincoln. “Downstate just never seems to get any of the perks or any of the kickbacks.”
Sunday, June 26, 2022
Our Sunday Long Read this week is Bill Donahue of the Washington Post Magazine taking a hard look at the toxic masculinity cocktail of racism, bigotry, fascism and religion that fuels the rage, hatred and violence of modern GOP politics in America.
If you look at the campaign ads for this year’s Senate races, the message is clear: Real men live in Missouri. In the heart of America. On the ruby red plains, where the pickups are large and the flags fly high.
In late April, Republican Senate candidate and former Missouri governor Eric Greitens posted on Twitter a rather unsubtle video that captured him visiting a shooting range with Donald Trump Jr. As the clip opens, Greitens and the former first son are already hunched over their semiautomatic rifles. One second in, we watch as the shooters fire a hail of bullets — two hails, actually — until they pulverize and then fell a body-shaped metal target. “Liberals, beware!” Greitens soon intones with a grim “Terminator”-like finality.
Greitens is, of course, taking cues from the elder Donald Trump, who gave us all a master class in unbridled machismo. Trump said of the Islamic State, “I’m gonna bomb the s--- out of them,” and when football player Colin Kaepernick took a knee, Trump pronounced, “Wouldn’t you like to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b---- off the field right now, out? He’s fired.’ ”
American politicians have almost always been obliged to display manliness to win elections, but our 45th president heightened masculinity to absurd, comic-book levels. Many have posited that Trump was old-school, taking us back to the days of John Wayne and guys-only steak dinners, but cultural critic Susan Faludi — author of “Stiffed,” “Backlash” and other books on gender — argued persuasively in a 2020 New York Times opinion piece that, no, Trump introduced us to a new, Internet-age masculinity, a “Potemkin patriarchy” specially tailored for “an image-based, sensation-saturated and very modern entertainment economy. … Contemporary manliness is increasingly defined by display — in Mr. Trump’s case, a pantomime of aggrieved aggression: the curled lip, the exaggerated snarl.”
In political races nationwide this year, Republicans are clamoring to get the snarl and the swagger just right as they seek to out-Trump one another. During the Super Bowl, Senate candidate Jim Lamon of Arizona ran an ad that was styled to look like an old western movie and starred himself as a gun-twirling sheriff firing at a sheepish actor dressed to resemble Joe Biden. In Georgia, Mike Collins, a Republican in a U.S. House race, trundled a wheelbarrow full of paper into the forest, then shot at it as viewers realized he was turning “Nancy Pelosi’s Plan for America” into a cloud of confetti and smoke.
The Senate race in Missouri has arguably emerged as ground zero for the manliness question — and Greitens isn’t the only candidate shilling his virility. Do you remember Mark McCloskey, that vigilante in St. Louis who brandished an AR-15 military-style rifle at Black Lives Matter protesters? He’s now seeking the GOP nomination for Senate, too — touring Missouri in a custom campaign vehicle, an SUV appointed with a giant photo that captures his gun-toting moment of fame. “Never back down!” reads the adjacent text.
Nationwide, all of this GOP chest-beating appears to be working, as Democrats seem poised for a thrashing in the midterms. In Missouri, though, one Democrat volleyed back early, serving up his own brand of manhood. Last June, Lucas Kunce released a Senate campaign video that showed him locking and loading an AR-15. In the ad, Kunce bends over the gun’s sight. He squints. Will he shoot?
No. Instead, Kunce smirks and says, “Forget it. ... Stunts like that? Those are for those clowns on the other side. Like that mansion man Mark McCloskey.” There’s a bounce in his voice; Kunce, who’s 39, is enjoying this caper. And he speaks with a certain authority: The guy is shredded. His pecs bulge beneath his blue T-shirt, and his implicit message — that he’s a real man and McCloskey’s a dingleberry — gains steam when we learn that Kunce is a 13-year Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kunce’s campaign isn’t about masculinity, but it certainly invokes the theme. “All they care about,” he told me, referring to Greitens and McCloskey, “is looking tough, looking strong. For me, masculinity is taking care of people — your family, your community — and making sure that you actually stand for something.”
What Kunce stands for is radical economic change. He’s a self-described populist, and for him, re-creating America is a military mission. “I’m a grenade,” he told an audience not long ago. “Pull the pin on me and throw me into the U.S. Senate so I can change things.”
There are other Democratic Senate candidates who exude some of Kunce’s brawn: for instance, John Fetterman, the 6-foot-8, heavily tattooed Pennsylvania lieutenant governor who favors hoodies over business suits. But Jackson Katz, creator of the 2020 documentary “The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics From Nixon to Trump,” is particularly excited about Kunce. “For decades,” says Katz, “the Democrats have been seen as the non-masculine party, and they’ve done nothing about it. They’ve been clueless. And now here’s a guy who can’t be written off physically or personally as soft.”
Can Kunce actually win? Can a political novice sell a revised, anti-Trump version of manhood in a once-centrist state that, in the past six presidential elections, has consistently voted Republican? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for one, is worried that the race “could end up being competitive,” as he told CNN in April, before advising Missouri Republicans: “You better nominate a fully capable, credible nominee or you’re in trouble.”
But perhaps the bigger question about the rise of an ultra-macho style in Missouri’s — and America’s — politics isn’t whether it’s effective; it’s what it all means. If this new exaggerated masculinity proves consistently appealing to voters on both the right and the left, then what does that suggest about the kinds of candidates who can, and cannot, realistically seek office in the future? About what types of issues we can debate and on what terms? About what kind of people we want to lead us — and what kind of country we want to be?
Republicans have been brutally racist in the Trump era, and while they've been racist for all my life, it's the casual fact that they no longer pretend to couch racism in dog whistles and code switching that the real result of the Trump regime. Take Illinois Republican Rep. Mary Miller, who appeared with Tang the Conqueror at a rally downstate last night.
Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) said the quiet part out loud at a Donald Trump rally Saturday night while expressing her appreciation to the former president over his role in the overturning of Roe v Wade. “President Trump, on behalf of all the MAGA patriots in America. I want to thank you for the historic victory for white life in the Supreme Court yesterday,” she said. A spokesperson for Miller, Isaiah Wartman, later told NBC News she had misread prepared remarks and intended to say “right to life.” The Trump rally comes as Miller, who already received Trump’s endorsement, looks for a turnout boast ahead of a Tuesday primary as she faces off against Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL).
Yes, she actually said "white life".
Miller: President Trump… I want to thank you for the historic victory for white life in the Supreme Court yesterday pic.twitter.com/RqxmbT8jx5— Acyn (@Acyn) June 26, 2022
She damn well meant it, too.
Republicans know the Roberts Court is their best path to overturning the entire Civil Rights era. Never forget that this is the -- increasingly stated -- goal of the Republican party.