For the most part, our major political parties define themselves by way of issues but their most concrete representation and identity occurs in the person of their candidates. Each of the major political parties brags to the voter about the size of their tent for inclusion of disparate interest groups and their particular issues. This effort of inclusion for purposes of winning votes can create a sanctuary effect affording public platforms that are destructive to political dialogue and civic culture.
In 2018, the Democratic party’s tent included 42 candidates in 20 states who publicly acknowledged themselves as Democratic Socialists. This cachet led to epithets from opponents about socialized medicine and socialized health care among others. These charges were especially acute in Florida, Georgia, and New York echoed incessantly by the media and creating a kind of “branding” of the Democratic party, a sanctuary effect. While socialism is not laissez faire capitalism, neither is it morally repugnant or criminal or even radical in the extreme. In several past articles, VoxFairfax has decried the drift of the Republican party in condoning extremism by both silence and advocacy. In one congressional race in Virginia, the state GOP published flyers alleging anti-Semitism by its Democratic opponent while its senatorial candidate cultivated white nationalism and nationalists.
The big tent of the GOP has suffered severe tears in its fabric giving rise to an astonishing number of self-described white nationalists (including a former president of the American Nazi Party) running for local, state, and national office from California to North Carolina.
Most of these candidates . . . fell far short of getting to the general election. But many far-right candidates either with ties to white supremacists or with white supremacist views of their own made it to the general election.
The good news? The most virulent white nationalists running in 2018 — from Holocaust deniers to one candidate who believes a New York children’s hospital was making kids sick on purpose — lost.
But several candidates with ties to white nationalists — including Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who faced mounting pressure for his past comments and links to far-right groups — won their races.
Self-described white supremacist and Nazi candidates who LOST:
- Arthur Jones (IL-3). Holocaust denier and former leader of the American Nazi Party. Disavowed by Illinois GOP, he received 56,000 votes–26% of the total.
- Russell Walker (NC State House 48). Argues that “God is a racist and white supremacist.” Disavowed by county and state GOP. In response to the local disavowal, he said, “I’ll put liens on your house, every goddamn car I can find and everything else.” He also said, “You don’t know where Jews come from.” He lost to an African-American Baptist minister.
- John Fitzgerald (CA-11). Running to expose the Holocaust as a “fabricated lie” and 9/11 as “part of a Jewish plot to force worldwide regime change.” Disavowed by the California GOP, he nonetheless finished second in June’s top-two primary to advance to the general election. Despite losing, he received 43,000 votes (29%).
Candidate with ties to white nationalists who LOST:
- Virginia’s Corey Stewart (VA-Senate). Stewart has long had ties to both the alt-right and white supremacist neo-Confederates in Virginia. In 2016 he claimed, “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” In 2017 he attended the “Old South Ball” in Danville, saying Virginia was the state of “Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson,” adding that the Confederate flag “is our heritage, it’s what makes us Virginia, and if you take that away, we lose our identity.” At another campaign event in 2017 hosted by an avowed secessionist who attended the disastrous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Stewart again defended the Confederacy, saying, “Virginians, we think for ourselves. … And if the established order is wrong, we rebel. We did that in the Revolution, we did it in the Civil War, and we’re doing it today. We’re doing it today because they’re trying to rob us of everything that we hold dear: our history, our heritage, our culture.” Incredibly, Stewart is a native of Minnesota. He still received 41%–1.3 million votes in the Commonwealth.
Candidate with ties to white nationalists who WON:
- Steve King (IA-4). Steve King has a long history of nativism and racism: He’s endorsed a white nationalist for mayor of Toronto . . . and attended events alongside far-right European groups with Nazi ties. In 2016 King filed an amendment to block efforts to place the image of abolitionist luminary Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, criticizing “liberal activism on the part of the president that’s trying to identify people by categories, and he’s divided us on the lines of groups.” His extremism has had real ramifications: He lost major corporate support following the recent Tree of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, and Rep. Steve Stivers, head of the House Republican delegation’s official campaign arm, condemned his tweets and statements on October 30. However, King still beat his Democratic opponent by 3% (10,500 votes).
In a different but also head-scratching category are two Republicans who were re-elected despite serious alleged criminal conduct:
Duncan Hunter (CA-50) won with 54% of the vote; his Democratic opponent, a 29-year-old Mexican-Palestinian-American and former Obama White House and Labor Department employee, garnered 46% of the vote. The difference in raw vote totals was about 12,300. CA-50 (San Diego) is a strongly conservative Republican area. Hunter ran a severely Islamaphobic campaign, charging that his opponent changed his name to “infiltrate” Congress. Hunter was indicted on charges of campaign fraud; his trial starts December 3. Even if convicted and sent to prison, however, nothing mandates that he resign his seat in Congress.
Chris Collins (NY-27) won with 49.5% of the vote in a 3-person election (his Democratic opponent received 48.4% of the vote–a difference of only 2,900 votes). He has been indicted on charges of insider trading; his trial is expected in 2020.
The sanctuary effect enveloping the big tent objectives of the political parties goes far beyond the biblical proverb “by their fruits, ye shall know them.” It gives cover to individuals who are skilled at the use of dog whistles and code languages to communicate with citizens and proselytize them. Worse, it offers a protective veneer – a secondary sanctuary effect – for morally repugnant ideologies which continue to thrive and damage the civic culture.