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Maryland governor’s race and the future of the GOP

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One of the stranger things in contemporary American politics is that Maryland — a state that voted for Biden by more than a two to one margin over Trump — has had a Republican governor for the last eight years. Larry Hogan sold himself as a “moderate,” which these days is a low enough bar that you can leap over it simply by not being an insurrectionist nut case.

Hogan is term limited, and the GOP primary featured some proxy warfare:

The Republican primary was viewed as a proxy battle between Trump and Hogan, who offered vastly different visions of the party’s future as they consider 2024 campaigns for the White House. Hogan, one of Trump’s most prominent GOP critics, urged the party to move on from his divisive brand of politics, while Trump spent much of his post-presidency elevating candidates who promote his lies about a stolen 2020 election.

One of those candidates was Cox, who organized busloads of protesters to Washington for the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Cox has also said President Joe Biden’s victory shouldn’t have been certified and tweeted that former Vice President Mike Pence was a “traitor.”

So of course Cox won the primary easily over Hogan’s hand-picked successor. Still, Cox is a model of reasonableness compared to the guy who won the GOP nomination for Attorney General:

Michael Peroutka thinks American leaders must “take a biblical worldview and apply it to civil law and government.”

He’s a former board member of the neo-Confederate League of the South, has said he’s “still angry” that Maryland was blocked from seceding during the Civil War.

He thinks public education is a communist plot, says laws protecting abortion and gay marriage are illegal and unenforceable because they violate God’s law, and called the concept of the separation of church and state a “great lie.”

Peroutka is facing establishment favorite and former federal prosecutor Jim Shalleck in a primary contest race that’s flown under the radar for most voters. There’s been scant public polling, but Peroutka is better-known, better-funded and GOP strategists are worried he could actually win the nomination.

His views are extreme even for the modern Republican Party, and once would be considered disqualifying for any major party nominee for statewide office. But his emergence as a serious candidate shows just how far the door has been thrown open to extremism in the Republican Party. The GOP base’s embrace of election falsehoods and anti-science COVID-19 conspiracy theories, and flirtation with white supremacist rhetoric has given once- fringe figures like Peroutka an opening to push into the political mainstream.

To be clear, Peroutka has not changed. But the party base that’s embracing him has.

“He was kind of ahead of the curve,” said Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow for People for the American Way who has monitored Peroutka for years for the liberal group’s Right Wing Watch. “Now we’re seeing that within the religious right and that wing of the Republican Party there is an increasingly overt and aggressive Christian nationalism. Peroutka was kind of out front on that.”

It should be considered journalistic malpractice to use the phrase “Christian nationalism” and not precede it with the adjective “white.”

This is the contemporary Republican party, which has no room for somebody like Hogan, even in a state where somebody like Hogan is the GOP’s only chance of winning state-wide office. But because of the Genius of Our Constitutional System there aren’t nearly enough of those states to guarantee that the whole country won’t be taken over by lunatics like Cox and Peroutka. This is all the more true because the core tenet of that lunacy is that white Christian nationalists only lose elections because of “voter fraud,” aka too many people who aren’t white Christian nationalists voting.

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