It made me happy to see GOP nominee for the US Senate, Blake Masters, change his stated stance on abortion to appeal to more voters.
And it was fun to watch Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs do a Republican-style ad featuring two border sheriffs supporting her, cementing a border security policy gap.
Call these movements flip flops if you will, or deceptive, or lies. No matter. What I liked was that these two candidates were acknowledging the majority view on two burning issues – border security and abortion rights – and trying to reassure voters that they had dominant positions. Voters can decide whether they believe them.
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It’s an old-fashioned “turn to the center”, a tactic politicians used to adopt after winning their primary elections by appealing to their party’s base. It’s far preferable to the politics we’ve seen too much of this year – existential catastrophizing over the election stakes.
Talk of saving the country from deliberate destruction by Democrats has become a mainstream Republican talking point after Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and blamed fraud. It also triggered Democratic existential warnings, meaning many politicians are predicting disaster if their side doesn’t win.
Among the other candidates, Kari Lake, the GOP candidate for governor, has repeatedly phrased her candidacy in existential terms. She said it this way, at the Conservative Political Action Conference on August 6:
“I know they want us to think this is a battle between left and right, but it’s really a battle between those who want to save America and those who want to destroy it.”
At a Sept. 3 rally in Mesa, she encouraged attendees to stand with her against “the forces of evil that are trying to bring this great nation to its knees — the globalists, the Marxists, the cartels here in Arizona, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), and frankly, the biggest threat just might be the corrupt career politicians in our own government.”
Masters made similar comments. At a July 22 “Save America” rally with Trump in Prescott Valley, he reflected on what Hillary Clinton’s six years as president would have meant.
“I think that literally would have been the end of this republic, and Donald J. Trump saved us from that fate,” Masters said.
Of course, in 2020, Democrats were saying much the same thing about democracy vanishing if Trump were re-elected.
“A political war”
The idea that the country’s existence is at stake is a common topic of discussion on the right, and obviously false. Anyone who knows Democrats or Liberals – and I know my part – knows that’s wrong, because the people they know aren’t trying to destroy the country. But Republicans, similarly, see themselves as protecting our political system, not destroying it.
When you talk about your opposition as a whole or in the abstract, it’s easy to demonize them. For months, fundraising appeals by a GOP candidate for State House, Cory McGarr, have caught my attention for this very reason.
McGarr, who won the GOP primary in LD17 with Rachel Jones, called the opposing party “radical socialists” and “Marxist Democrats” while slamming supposed “RINOs” into his party.
It’s common jargon among those immersed in the conservative media – Steve Bannon asserts that “we’re in a political and ideological war” – but it’s incomprehensible to those of us who aren’t part of it.
And interestingly, during the Clean Elections Commission debate on September 14, McGarr was conservative in his views but did not demonize the opposition, as he did in his emails. It is more difficult to demonize individuals in front of you than an aggregation of supposed political enemies.
Biden demonizes the GOP
Now, it’s easy for me to see through the ridiculous existential threats raised by Republican politicians, because I myself lean politically to the left and I know, for example, that neither I nor the people I know are Marxist-Communist-pedophile satanists. It’s ridiculous, actually.
But when I see how ridiculous these demonizing labels are, I have to, in good faith, also look at the existential rhetoric coming from the left and question it. This rhetoric is not hard to find.
The main existential warning from Democrats of late has focused on the threats to our democratic system, although the overthrow of Roe v. Wade and climate threats also come into play. And on the left, the demonizing rhetoric comes from the top.
“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” President Joe Biden said in a Sept. 1 speech. “MAGA Republicans don’t respect the Constitution. They don’t believe in the rule of law. They don’t recognize the will of the people.”
This rhetoric also carries over to state and local politics. In the LD17 debate, one of McGarr’s Democratic opponents, Dana Allmond, began her opening statement this way: “On November 8, Arizonans will elect lawmakers who will save our democracy and our dignity.”
Now, I think the Democrats’ fears about damage to democracy have more merit than the Republicans’ warnings about the Marxists’ destruction of the republic. That’s because the past two years have been filled with real efforts to overthrow the will of the people in the 2020 election, particularly here in Arizona, but punctuated by the January 6, 2021 effort to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
Undemocratic authoritarianism has a real grip on some conservatives, thanks to the disastrous rhetoric of the likes of Trump and Bannon.
Yet I worry about the social impacts of the political catastrophizing and demonization of Democrats and Republicans alike. In Tucson, we saw several instances of political violence during the 2020 election week, including one murder. Another man fired at cars in an elementary school parking lot because he believed the election was stolen from Trump.
This week, Republicans argued that Biden inspired a murder in North Dakota, by a man who killed a teenager he called a member of an “extremist Republican group”, echoing the rhetoric ” extremist” from Biden in the September 1 speech. However, investigators aren’t sure politics was the real motive.
We are not a crowd
What seems to lead to hatred and fear is the widespread demonization of political opposition as an existential threat. When Biden attempted to separate “MAGA Republicans” from other Republicans in his comments about their threat to democracy, it failed, as MAGA Republicans make up the bulk of the GOP. He basically demonized all political opposition.
What politicians should do is what I saw happen when the candidates faced off in the LD17 debate. They talked about themselves and the issues, disagreeing forcefully, if at times awkwardly. In person, ad hominem reviews were few.
This is telling, as this is how we naturally relate as people, rather than as an aggregated crowd such as “The Left” or “MAGA Republicans”.
We’ll have tough politics, of course, and we should, especially after rulings like Friday’s that returned Arizona to a pre-state abortion ban.
But it is more constructive to attack an opponent, for example to change his position on abortion or border security, than to consider him as part of a perverse movement which poses an existential threat to our system. We still have to live with each other, after all.
Contact Opinion Columnist Tim Steller at email@example.com or 520-807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter