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MAGA Extremism Failed at the Ballot Box

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Over the last two years, Republicans have made a series of consecutive hard right turns leaving them in the cul-de-sac of extremism. The MAGA Republicans who won primaries and faced general election voters in the 2022 midterms were unable to secure the majorities to decisively claim power. MAGA extremism turned an election with conditions that were overwhelmingly tilted in Republicans’ favor into an extremely close race for Congress. Attacking abortion rights, threatening our democracy, and adopting a white nationalist posture on immigration, Republicans’ politics of fear, grievance, and division spoke to their radicalized base but alienated the majority of the electorate.  

The results from the 2022 midterm elections, which are still being counted in certain locations, provide numerous examples of MAGA extremism, (which is largely interchangeable with Republican extremism), acting as a costly liability instead of a political asset. 

While not the only reason, Republicans’ radicalization on immigration was central to MAGA extremism. As Trump cast a dominating shadow over the Republican primaries, candidates competed to show who was the most nativist in the race and thereby deserving of the base’s loyalty. By the summer of 2021, this doom loop had spiraled to the point where Republicans were echoing the same deadly white nationalist conspiracy theories as domestic terrorists – like the shooters in Buffalo and El Paso – and a leading Republican activist called for the adoption of this conspiracy as a litmus test for Republican candidates at the CPAC conference at the beginning of 2022. 

The absurd but dangerous fiction that non-white migrants seeking asylum or the American Dream constituted a literal “invasion” that would replace white people became an organizing principle for the GOP. America’s Voice found over 700 examples of Republicans amplifying this deadly, racist fiction.

However, one note of caution, while MAGA extremism failed to deliver the majorities needed to decisively claim power, the threat of this extremism will remain until the GOP reckons with this problem. The problem with white nationalism inside the Republican party and the accompanying threats to democracy are still ongoing. Maybe Republicans will heed the failures at the ballot box as a wake-up call. Maybe not. Regardless, organizing to protect the American promise of a multi-racial democracy must continue, starting today.

Summary of the races where MAGA extremism delivered a Republican defeat in competitive races: 

Federal Elections

  • AZ Senator: Blake Masters — arguably the most extreme Senate candidate in the battleground Senate races. Vocally hostile to democracy, an anti-choice extremist who also made the white nationalist “invasion” and “replacement” conspiracies a cornerstone of his campaign. 
  • IL-17: Esther Joy King — embraced the deadly white nationalist conspiracy about a so-called migrant invasion, Joy King lost this open battleground district by 4 points. 
  • OH-09: J.R. Majewski – the definition of a MAGA Republican, gestured at political violence in his opening campaign ad, echoed the deadly white nationalist conspiracy about a so-called migrant invasion, and attended the Jan. 6 rally. Majewski’s extremism turned this competitive district the GOP eyed as a top pickup opportunity into a 14-point loss. 
  • MI-03: John Gibbs — an election denier and anti-choice extremist who promoted QAnon conspiracies, who attacked women’s suffrage and working outside the home. In the primary, Gibbs beat out the sitting Republican who had previously defeated the same Democratic challenger in 2020. This cycle, Gibbs lost by 13 points. 
  • NC-01: Sandy Smith – a committed member of the hard right, Smith made election denial and invasion conspiracy theories the thrust of her campaign. In one elucidating example, Smith ran radio ads that absurdly claimed that “America is under attack by godless communists who support the invasion of our southern border” –  an abbreviated version of the replacement theory. 
  • NC-13: Bo Hines — an anti-choice extremist who sought and received endorsement from white nationalist aligned parts of the GOP, including Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. In what was a Republican-favored district, this election denier lost by 2 points. 
  • NH Senate: Don Boulc — an election denier that ran to the hard right, appeared on a QAnon podcast and campaigned on anti-LGBT conspiracies. Boulc’s extremism has been widely cited as contributing to his defeat.
  • NH-01: Karoline Leavitt — a protégé of Elise Stefanik, who, like her former boss, promoted the white nationalist “invasion” and “replacement” conspiracies in her campaign ads. An election denier, Leavitt lost this battleground district by 8 points.  
  • NM-02: Yvette Herrell — after winning the battleground seat in 2020, Herrell ran to the most extreme parts of the party. Herrell embraced the deadly “invasion” conspiracy as part of her campaign, even as her district borders El Paso, where 23 people were murdered by a terrorist echoing that same language. Herrell narrowly lost this highly competitive race.  
  • NV-04: Sam Peters — an election denier, Peters made the deadly white nationalist conspiracy about a so-called migrant invasion a prominent part of his campaign. Peters also sought and promoted an endorsement from the white nationalist-aligned Arizona congressman Paul Gosar. Peters lost his tossup battleground district by over 4 points.
  • PA Senate: Mehmet Oz — to win the primary and win Trump’s endorsement, Oz ran hard to the right. Oz also fundraised off of the white nationalist conspiracy about a so-called migrant “invasion,” echoing the terrorist who murdered people in Buffalo just two months after the attack. Oz also refused to say if Biden won the 2022 election.  
  • PA-08: Jim Bognet — an anti-immigrant zealot and protégé of Lou Barletta (a former Congressman and Mayor of Hazelton who is a celebrated anti-immigrant zealot), Bogent ran hard on nativism, convinced it would be the decisive issue in his election. Bognet employed “invasion” rhetoric and lost in this battleground district for the second time after making his extremism on immigration the centerpiece of his campaign. 
  • TX-34: Mayra Flores — won an extremely low turnout special election earlier in the year and then ran hard right. While Flores touted her immigrant roots, she also embraced the deadly white nationalist conspiracy about a so-called migrant invasion. Supported by Elise Stefanik and other GOP House leadership, Flores was defeated by more than 8 points in this battleground district. 
  • WA-03: Joe Kent – the political cost of MAGA extremism is personified by Kent, who won a surprising victory over Rep. Jemmie Herrera Beutler in the Republican primary, turning the race into a competitive one. Kent had close and prominent ties to leading white nationalists and made the deadly “invasion” conspiracy a key part of his campaign. Going into election night, Kent was supposed to have a huge advantage given the partisan lean of the district but it’s clear his extremism was a real barrier to a GOP win here.   

State Elections

  • AZ Secretary of State: Mark Finchem — is a member of the far-right Oath Keepers whose leader faces seditious conspiracy charges for his role in Jan. 6. Finchem is also a hard-core election denier, shared QAnon content and attended the January 6 rally.
  • MA Bristol County Sheriff: Thomas Hodgson – (check out this must-read backgrounder on Hodgson in Bolts) after 25 years on the job, America’s most anti-immigrant sheriff” (taking the title after the infamous Joe Arpaio was defeated in 2016 ) lost. Hodgson sits on the board of the hate group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and has helped lead their work to spread their anti-immigrant hate to sheriffs across the nation.  
  • MI Governor: Tudor Dixon – a far-right commentator for Real America’s Voice (no relation), which also hosts Steven Bannon’s War Room, before campaigning for Governor. Dixson is an election denier and peddled Jan. 6, transphobic, and a host of other conspiracies. In this battleground state, Dixon lost by more than 10 points. 
  • MI Secretary of State: Kristina Karamo – an election denier with extreme anti-choice and anti-LGBT+ views. Karamo also spoke at a QAnon conference and promoted white nationalists, including Arizona State Senator Wendy Rodgers. Karamo went on to lose her statewide race in the battleground state by 14 points.
  • MN Secretary of State: Kim Crockett – an election denier who compared the 2020 election to 9/11 and talked about killing President Biden. Throughout her campaign, Crockett repeatedly peddled anti-Semitic tropes and christian nationalist ideas. Crockett lost her race by 10 points.
  • NV Senate: As state AG, GOP Senate candidate Adam Laxalt joined Nevada onto a lawsuit challenging the expansion of DACA. During this cycle, during the contested GOP primaries, Laxalt ran radio ads in Las Vegas and Elko touting his hostility to Dreamers. Laxalt also embraced a version of the replacement theory on the campaign trail, a conspiracy with direct ties to white nationalist domestic terrorism. A leading election denier,  Laxalt tried to downplay his extremist positions in the general election, but Laxalt failed to flip one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. 
  • NV Secretary of State: Jim Marchant – a ring leader of the election deniers and a promoter of QAnon conspiracies, lost in the closely contested battleground state. Marchant also falsely claimed undocumented immigrants were registering to vote and that all NV electeds since 2006 were “installed by the deep-state cabal.” Like every other election-denying GOP Secretary of State candidate this cycle, Marchant lost.
  • PA Governor: Doug Mastriano — an election denier, christian nationalist, and QAnon adherent, Mastriano also ran a campaign rife with anti-Semitism. Mastriano’s extremism was widely publicized, and he went on to lose the battleground state by over 14 points. 
  • WI Governor: Tim Michels — an election denier who ominously claimed, “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.” Michaels, who also pushed extreme anti-LGBT rhetoric, lost this super competitive statewide race.

One additional special note: Stephen Miller, who has long been the leading white nationalist voice in the GOP, was the head cheerleader for MAGA extremism this cycle. He has long been a promoter of using vile attack ads as a political strategy. This year, he backed that up with massive spending on racist, nativist, and transphobic ads from his superPAC. It not only didn’t work, it backfired making Miller one of the biggest failures this cycle. Miller and his buddies likely spent nearly $100 million to push his ads targeting key battleground Senate candidates in Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Georgia. He lost just about everywhere. As of this writing, the Georgia Senate race is heading to run off, and Nevada looks to be going in the direction of the Democrats. In other words, Miller is a $100 million failure.