When Governor Nelson Rockefeller rose to speak at the 1964 Republican Convention, asking for a Grand Old Party platform plank denouncing the Ku Klux Klan and John Birch Society, he was drowned out by booing and chanting from galleries packed with supporters of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.
“You may not like to hear it, ladies and gentlemen, but it’s the truth,” Rocky told the rabid right-wingers (one of whom was heard to chant You lousy lover).
The extremism displayed at the Cow Palace in San Francisco angered my conservative mother and tipped the votes of Bellingham neighbors across the street. They stuck with Republican Dan Evans for Governor, but voted to dump incumbent U.S. Representative Jack Westland for young Democratic challenger Lloyd Meeds.
Voters like them created a Congress that had the votes to pass Great Society bills.
Westland was a Goldwater man, author of a letter that predicted substantial Republican House gains if Barry were the presidential nominee. Instead, Republicans lost more than forty seats, Westland’s among them. The House newbies, Meeds among them, gave us Medicare and federal aid to education.
We are at a point, to swipe Yogi Berra’s famous phrase, of déjà vu all over again. Extremism has again infected the Republican Party.
It goes far beyond the cult of personality around Trump.
Leaders of Patriot Prayer were front and center when Clark County Republicans voted to censure Representative Jamie Herrera Beutler for her pro-impeachment vote. They were also at the Oregon State Capitol for a December break-in.
The far right has taken over the Oregon Republican Party to the point where its 2018 gubernatorial nominee has re-registered as an independent.
In this state, a party which once gave us competent statewide officeholders got behind an absolute kook, Loren Culp, for governor.
The Republican Party’s 2016 gubernatorial standard bearer, Bill Bryant, gave lectures on his heroes Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Culp, meanwhile, believed police chiefs and sheriffs should interpret the Constitution.
The majority of Republicans in Congress became fellow travelers of a would-be strongman – “enablers” is actually the better phrase – when they signed onto Texas’ lawsuit to vacate results of the 2020 election, and when they voted in the House against accepting electoral votes. Senator Lindsey Graham, R‑South Carolina, appeared to interfere with the vote count in Georgia.
What to do about these people?
Yellow dog Democrats — who in this state have been on an anti-extremism kick for nearly four years — would say, What dilemma? Show ’em the door! They have long proudly voted (D) from the top of their ballots to the bottom.
We received an early introduction to insurrectionists on the right in the person of State Representative Matt Shea. He was booted out of the House Republican Caucus, but they would not expel him from the Legislature.
But plenty of Washington voters have long exhibited an independent, ticket-splitting streak. We’ve elected Governors and Senators of one party when a candidate from the other was winning Washington’s Electoral College votes.
I’ve been a ticket splitter from my first vote, which went to Democratic challenger George McGovern for President, Republican Dan Evans for Governor, and Republican Representative Joel Pritchard for Congress.
The obvious point: Folks like Evans, Pritchard and Bill Bryant aren’t much in evidence anymore. The Republican base has become the hard right. The credible figures within the party get to say a few words at Lincoln Day dinners before yielding the floor to a screechy talk radio host who serves up red meat.
Bipartisan causes are becoming history. Evans, Pritchard, and Representatives John Miller and Sid Morrison were instrumental in preserving Cascade wilderness and creating the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.
When the House voted recently on wilderness legislation, including Representatives Derek Kilmer’s 126,000-acre Wild Olympics plan, all three of Washington’s Republican House members voted nay.
Then United States Representatives Doc Hastings even denounced President Obama for designating the San Juan Islands National Monument.
So, there are new rules of behavior for this old ticket splitter.
First: No truck nor trade with extremists’ fellow travelers/enablers.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers can deliver saccharine Tweets about restoring civility to politics, but incendiary tweets smearing of Planned Parenthood came just before arsonists attacked the nonprofit’s clinic in Pullman.
Second: Beware the pretense of being reasonable.
The late Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy once joked: “A moderate Republican is someone who, if he sees you drowning fifty feet offshore, will throw you a thirty foot pole… and declare he’s gone more than halfway.”
An example: The Mitt Romney-Tom Cotton plan that would ramp up the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10 by the year 2025. The $10 target is lower than the existing minimum wage in Cotton’s home state of Arkansas.
Obama’s team wasted nearly a year while Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, tried to negotiate with Senate Republicans on health care reform. John McCain and Lindsey Graham bailed on cap-and-trade climate action legislation once the rabid right (e.g. Sarah Palin) began railing against it.
A third rule: Consider only those Republicans who explicitly denounce the Oath Keepers/Proud Boys/Patriot Prayer and other neofascist forces in the ranks, or had the moxie to decry Trump’s bid to overturn the 2020 election.
It’s not enough to be shocked – shocked!! – at the U.S. Capitol insurrection when you refused to accept Biden’s win and signed onto a legal challenge.
The genuinely shocked Republicans should support a probe of their House colleagues who seeded and encouraged the insurrection.
The bar is set pretty high, but public service entails risk taking.
I recently read Senator Margaret Chase Smith’s 1950 “Declaration of Conscience” against her Republican Senate colleague Joe McCarthy.
Then-Attorney General Slade Gorton, who would go on to represent the state in the United States Senate, called in 1973 for Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Bill Bryant repudiated Trump in the midst of his 2016 campaign for Governor.
Gorton — a giant in state Republican politics — also wrote a Seattle Times op-ed endorsing grounds for the first bid to impeach Trump.
If they cannot free the Republican Party from racist extremists, perhaps the time has come for a new center-right political party rooted in conservative values.
As to the moment, as in the wake of the 1964 Goldwater debacle, the progressive agenda is front-and-center. Bucket list items have the chance to become law.
My mother was so happy for her years-ago vote that helped put Lloyd Meeds in Congress. An early green, she watched him helped shape the North Cascades National Park and Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.
“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” said Barry Goldwater.
Words to both recoil and rally progressives, to this day.