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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Last week, primary elections in several states killed off a few ultraconservative candidates whose views flirted with nuttiness. In Georgia, for example, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun — a physician who has called evolution and the big-bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell” — drew only 9.8 percent of the vote in a crowded race to become the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate.

In the same Georgia primary contest, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, an obstetrician-gynecologist, pulled down just 10 percent of the vote. Last year, the gaffe-prone Gingrey drew national ridicule for defending former Missouri congressman Todd Akin, who had said that natural processes protect a woman from pregnancy after rape.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell easily dispatched a Republican challenger, Matt Bevin, who had suggested that legalizing gay marriage could lead to parents marrying their children.

Those results, among others, cheered the Republican establishment, which has grown tired of fielding weird candidates who cannot win general elections, and led to a round of obituaries for the Tea Party movement, which had backed several of the losers. According to the chattering classes, the election results prove that the Tea Party is on life support, a dying force in conservative politics. That goes double for the doyenne of the Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin, whose chosen candidate in the Georgia Senate primary, Karen Handel, also lost.

But that view is just wrong. Tea Partiers have already accomplished what they set out to do: move the Republican Party much further to the right. While the foot-in-mouth, reality-challenged candidates may have been swept from the stage, the Tea Party has grafted its DNA onto the GOP. The Republican Party is now a small tent of hard-right absolutists who deny science, worship the rich and detest compromise.

Ronald Reagan wouldn’t recognize his party — and wouldn’t be welcome there either, as former Florida governor Jeb Bush noted two years ago. “Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad — they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party — and I don’t — as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” he said.

Georgia’s Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat (as Senator Saxby Chambliss retires) was instructive. It was a frenzy of Obama-bashing, an unedifying contest among candidates who repeated far-right orthodoxy like a mantra. They pledged to fight Obamacare, to resist tax increases, to cut spending on social programs, to defend every citizen’s right to own a shoulder-fired rocket launcher. Each of them pledged to fight abortion, though they all want to cut the programs that help keep poor babies healthy.

When the leading candidate, millionaire businessman David Perdue, said something rational, it was denounced as a gaffe and used as fodder by his opponents. Asked by a Macon Telegraph editorial writer whether he would chose spending cuts or increased revenue to improve the economy, Perdue said “both.” His opponents jumped on the remark quickly, claiming he had given notice that he would raise taxes.

The peculiar aversion to compromise runs counter to the example set by Reagan, the patron saint of the modern conservative movement. He famously bartered with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill to arrive at a 1983 agreement to cut spending and raise taxes, which firmed up Social Security for a generation.

Yet, the Tea Party takeover of the GOP is holding strong, producing an adherence to far-right dogma. That’s what voters are likely to see in the runoff for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat, in which frontrunner Perdue will face U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston on July 22. Both candidates will feel pressure to prove themselves to the Tea Party supporters who voted for Gingrey, Broun and Handel, so they’ll engage in even more ultraconservative rhetoric and indulge even more right-wing impulses.

The Republican establishment thought that it was going to use the energy of far-right activists to win elections while remaining firmly in control. If any members of the GOP establishment — including old-line institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce — still believe that’s what happened, they are only fooling themselves.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: Hyosub/Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT

If Boss Trump is headed for defeat, he's getting his revenge early. His revenge upon his deluded supporters and the people they love, that is. Trump's re-election campaign now consists mainly of what epidemiologists call "super-spreader" events: large-scale rallies of unmasked, non-socially distanced Trumpists yelling in each other's faces while the Big Man emits a non-stop barrage of falsehoods, exaggerations, and barefaced lies.

Let me put it this way: If, say, the Rolling Stones decided to put on free concerts at airports around the country, they'd likely end up being taken into custody and deported as undesirable aliens. Of course, they'd also draw far bigger crowds than Trump, but that's not the point. The point is that Trump's actions are reckless and immoral; the peacetime equivalent of war crimes.

"Covid, covid, covid, covid, covid," he hollers. Trump claims that the United States is "turning the corner" on the pandemic, and that the accursed news media will quit reporting Covid-19 fatalities come November 4. He claims that health officials are motivated by greed because "doctors get more money and hospitals get more money" if they report that the virus was the cause of death.

Surveys have shown that more than a thousand physicians and nurses have died fighting the disease nationwide.

As ever, what he accuses others of doing is an excellent guide to the question: What would Trump do? Answer: he'd steal the silver dollars off a Covid victim's eyes and demand an investigation of Joe Biden

According to the Washington Post, the Trump campaign organization signed an agreement with officials in Duluth, Minnesota to limit attendance at a September 30 fly-in rally, in accordance with public health guidelines. Hours before the event, it became clear that no effort was being made to honor the agreement; some 2500 Trump supporters bunched up without masks on the tarmac, ten times the agreed limit.

Health Department officials' protests were simply ignored. Three days later, Trump himself was taken to Walter Reed Hospital by helicopter. Three weeks after that, the following headline appeared in the Duluth News-Tribune: "St. Louis County sees another record-breaking week of COVID-19 cases."

Any questions?

The Trump Circus subsequently performed in Janesville and Waukesha, Wisconsin in the midst of a record-setting pandemic outbreak there. "It took us 7 and a half months to reach our first 100,000 cases, & only 36 days to reach our second," the Wisconsin Department of Health tweeted. "In just two short months, the 7-day average of new confirmed cases has risen 405%."

But the show must go on. Trump regaled his Janesville audience with a veritable torrent of lies. The New York Times did a thorough fact-check of his October 17 speech. Reporters documented 130 false statements during Trump's 87 minutes onstage. Nearly three-quarters of his factual claims were untrue. The most egregious concerned Covid-19, probably because the disease represents his single greatest failure and most damaging political liability.

Another question: Does Trump count upon his supporters' invincible ignorance or simply share it? I fear it's a little of both. In Janesville, Trump made this absurd claim two minutes into his harangue: "When you look at our numbers compared to what's going on in Europe and other places," he said "we're doing well."

Any regular newspaper reader knows that this is simply nonsense. As the Times reports, "America has more cases and deaths per capita than any major country in Europe but Spain and Belgium. The United States has just 4 percent of the world's population but accounts for almost a quarter of the global deaths from Covid-19."

Germany, to choose the most striking comparison, has suffered only 122 deaths per million of its population, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has recorded more than five times as many: 686 per million. Neighboring Canada, meanwhile, is at 264 per million. Several Asian countries, have handled the pandemic even better.

It's a matter of capable leadership and public cooperation.

No wonder Trump appears to have succumbed to a case of dictator envy. "COVID, COVID, COVID is being used by [the 'Fake News' media] in total coordination" he tweeted the other day "in order to change our great early election numbers. Should be an election law violation!"

Yeah, well they all report the same World Series scores too. Furthermore, if Trump had good election numbers, he wouldn't whine so much. Has there ever been a bigger crybaby in the White House?

(In related news, Vladimir Putin has issued a mandatory mask mandate after a surge in Russian Covid infections. Go figure.)

Meanwhile, the rallies go on; a bizarre spectacle people treat as if it's normal. Trump has become Covid-19's Typhoid Mary, an Irish cook who unwittingly infected 53 people back in 1906.

But unlike Mary, he should know better. If anybody should be locked up, as his rapt admirers chant, it's the Super-Spreader in Chief.