As Donald Trump has consolidated power in the Republican Party this year, his slow-but-steady takeover has sometimes masked the overwhelming creep of extremism into every corner of the Republican Party.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's embrace of Herschel Walker this week as the establishment pick to win back Georgia's Senate seat is a perfect example.
On the one hand, McConnell's cowardly cave to Trump's chosen candidate is such a laughable outcome for a guy who's hailed as a "master tactician" and repeatedly told reporters that his only red line for candidates was electability. While Walker is potentially electable in today's Republican Party, his open struggle with mental illness and alleged history of abusing women makes him a wounded candidate right out the gate. Whatever Walker's upsides might be, he isn't who you pick if ensuring electoral success is truly your North Star.
Lurking just one layer beneath McConnell's acquiescence to Trump's demands is the unmistakable surrender of the establishment wing of the GOP to Trump. He is 100% calling the shots now about the Grand Old Party’s future, and there's no pretending otherwise.
And as the Republican establishment bows to Trump, his manifest dominance of the party has also convinced candidates running for critical seats that no amount of personal baggage is prohibitive. In fact, men with violent histories are flocking to Republican primaries, often earning Trump's endorsement. That is the case not only for Walker, but also Sean Parnell, an Army veteran running for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat. Parnell, who won Trump's early backing partly by pushing a fraudit of the Keystone State's 2020 election results, is in the middle of a contentious divorce and custody battle over his three children. Parnell's estranged wife once called 911 during a domestic dispute, and also secured two temporary protective orders against him as their marriage crumbled. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, temporary orders only require a hearing with the accuser; making them permanent would have required a judge to hear from both parties, which never happened.
But now Senate Republicans are in the position of potentially fielding two Trump acolytes, each with a mountain of personal baggage that hasn't even been fully mined, in two seats that will surely play a role in deciding the fate of the upper chamber.
Trump also might play an outsized role in mucking up the reelection of a man he despises: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. This week, we learned that former GOP Sen. David Perdue, who Trump campaigned for in the run up to the state’s January runoffs, might mount a primary challenge to Kemp. Trump would love nothing more than to knock off Kemp, who he blames for not overturning the state's 2020 election results.
Perdue's potential entrance is already radicalizing the race on the Republican side and will surely continue to do so. On Friday, Kemp announced that Georgia was suing President Joe Biden over his vaccine mandate for federal contractors. It's a clear bid to cater to Trump's fringe anti-mitigation, pro-pandemic base—setting up a telling trajectory for a Kemp-Purdue primary that could hamstring Republicans in the general election. On top of that, if Perdue does enter the gubernatorial race, he will lean heavily on the support of Trump, who will spend his every waking breath grousing about 2020 and the supposedly stolen election in Georgia. The net effect would be months of Trump constantly reminding his voters that Georgia elections aren't secure, and that their vote may not even matter in the end. That's on top of the fact that Trump voters already decided to stay home the last time Perdue was on the ballot.
Beyond Trump's impact at the federal and state level, his toxicity is also permeating local elections. Buzzfeed News reports that at least a dozen Republicans who attended Trump's Jan. 6 festivities at the Capitol are on the ballot for next week's elections. They include incumbent state lawmakers, first-time candidates for statehouses, and local officials—mostly running in New Jersey and Virginia, which have off-year elections. But that also suggests that the number of Jan. 6 participants running for office this year might just be the tip of the iceberg.
All of this information is just more evidence pointing to the fact that, whether or not Republicans take over congressional majorities next year, the party itself will be uniquely radicalized with an even more profound Trump bent following the midterms.