By Becket Adams
When your go-to electoral strategy is to accuse all Republicans of being extremists, including even Mitt Romney and now the fleece-sporting centrist Glenn Youngkin, voters eventually tune out the warnings. That’s how actual extremists come to power, totally untouched by all the legitimate warnings regarding their actual extremism.
One of the biggest lies Democrats keep telling voters is that they just wish the Republican Party would nominate sensible, moderate candidates.
Oh, Democrats say, we yearn for the good old days of running against gentlemanly, respectable opponents.
In reality, they love it when Republicans nominate kooks, just as Republicans love it when Democrats nominate left-wing loonies. Extremists make for fantastic political attacks. Democrats, however, keep taking the “extremist” line too far. Rather than assail extremist candidates as extremists, they attach that label to all Republican opponents, even the most milquetoast Republicans.
We saw this in the 2012 presidential election when Democrats portrayed Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah as a retrograde racist. We’re seeing it now in the Virginia gubernatorial race, in which Democrats have labeled Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin, a centrist, old-school Republican, an insurrectionist election-truther.
“You’ve had the courage and wisdom to reject the very extremism that has taken over the Republican Party all across America,” President Joe Biden said this week at a rally in support of Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. “Virginia, for the sake of your families and the country, we can’t let this happen here in Virginia.”
Biden continued, spending a great deal of his address focusing on former President Donald Trump and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, even more so than on McAuliffe’s record or his own. He then tried to tie it all back to Youngkin, who has described the attack on the Capitol as “sickening and wrong.” Never mind what Youngkin actually says or believes — the point is to portray him as a dangerous, treasonous threat to the health of the commonwealth.
Biden added an all-too-familiar note: “Extremism can come in many forms. It can come in the rage of a mob driven in an assault — driven to assault the Capitol. It can come in a smile and a fleece vest.”
Biden’s final remark, the bit about a “fleece vest,” is a clear shot at Youngkin. The president is saying, Don’t vote for the Republican centrist, Virginia. He’s an extremist.
OK, but Democrats say that about all Republicans. Why start believing it now?
Remember: Virginia is the same state where Biden rather infamously told a racially mixed audience in 2012 that then-Republican nominee Mitt Romney, one of the most reasonable and decent GOP nominees in recent memory, would literally enslave black voters.
“[Romney] said in the first hundred days,” the then-vice president declared, “he’s going to let the big banks write their own rules — unchain Wall Street. They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”
It’s a dangerous game, labeling all Republican candidates as “extremists.” It dulls reactions to genuine warnings about extremism while also giving cover to actual, honest-to-goodness extremists. Aesop wrote an entire story about this.
In fact, playing fast and loose with accusations of extremism is how you get a fire-spewing demagogue such as Donald Trump (“this is how you get Trump” is a cliche, but it’s also true).
Republicans in 2012 nominated a perfectly boring and honorable candidate. They nominated a gentleman who played far, far nicer than his Democratic opponent. They nominated Romney, who lost the election after being savaged as an “extremist,” dog-abusing, cancer-causing, homophobic racist. Indeed, many Republicans recalled in 2016 how Romney had been mistreated and took it as a sign that they might as well nominate someone more controversial. Quite a few argued, in public and on social media, that if Romney could be shredded as some kind of Klansman, then accusations of racism simply don’t matter anymore and should always be ignored no matter what.
So, they nominated Trump, the anti-Romney. It’s no mystery why the pendulum swung so hard in the opposite direction.