Republicans are officially the “Stop the Steal” party now

By Frank Bruni, New York Times Contributing Opinion Writer, May 19, 2022.
I keep flashing back to Ronald Reagan’s preternaturally smiley face.
That’s not because I yearn for his presidency. It’s because his signature expression — his glow — provides such a clear counterpoint to the Republican mien of the moment, equal parts scowl and sneer. Reagan’s disposition was fundamentally hopeful. The Republicans in the foreground today are foundationally resentful. Recrimination, rage: Those are the fuels they run on. Those are the emotions they till.
The Republican primaries on Tuesday were harvest time.
Oh, sure, they offered a few consolations, at least by the debased standards of this chilling era. Kathy Barnette, an anti-gay, anti-Muslim conspiracist, came in third in the primary in Pennsylvania for a Senate seat, despite the late-breaking fervor for her. In a House primary in North Carolina, voters rejected Representative Madison Cawthorn, suggesting that there’s some limit to the party’s current appetite for bratty and kooky. Donald Trump’s preferred candidate for governor of Idaho, Janice McGeachin, bumped up against it, losing her race by more than 20 percentage points.
But don’t uncork the champagne. Republicans in North Carolina also chose Representative Ted Budd, who voted to nullify the results of the 2020 election, over Pat McCrory, the state’s former governor, to be their candidate in the pivotal Senate race there. Budd beat McCrory by more than 30 percentage points.
And as Pennsylvania Republicans rejected Barnette, they tightly embraced her kindred spirit Doug Mastriano as their nominee for governor: According to incomplete results, he won about 44 percent of the votes in a three-way race. Mastriano has made the idea that the 2020 presidential election was an act of Democratic theft — and that conservative Christians are waging a battle of good against evil — the center of his political identity. He has cozied up to QAnon adherents and called for mask-burning parties to protest Covid-related restrictions. He’s as apt a poster boy for the 2022 midterm elections as anyone.
Not all Republicans on the ballot in November will precisely mirror his positions or exactly parrot his words. But most will echo his anger. They’ll emulate his sense of grievance. That’s clear not only from the results of the primary contests thus far but also from the talking points and battle cries beyond them — from, for example, the governor’s mansion in Florida, where Ron DeSantis plots and executes his plan for emerging as the new leader of the Republican Party. The core of that strategy seems to be the naming and slaying of liberal monsters, be they outside the homes of Supreme Court justicesin the classroom or in the Magic Kingdom. His isn’t a morning-in-America approach. It’s a pledge to keep the darkness at bay.
More and more Republicans are “Stop the Steal” politicians even if they never attended or endorsed a “Stop the Steal” rally, because that scowling, sneering phrase taps into and touches on more than vote counts. It encourages a rebellion against cultural dynamics that offend some traditionalists. It blesses a revolt against the sorts of demographic trends that have given the “great replacement” theory such traction. It validates the complaint that some elite cabal is making decisions and hoarding riches at the expense of other Americans. It’s about all these things that are being taken away, all these things that must be taken back.
It indulges fictions that abet that mind-set, which explains a good deal of the popularity of Fox News. A week ago, one of the network’s pugnacious nighttime hosts, Sean Hannity, railed about photographs that he said showed “pallets and pallets of baby formula for illegal immigrants and their families” even as “hardworking American families” went without this vital resource. But as Alex Koppelman of CNN later noted in the Reliable Sources newsletter, the photos were instead of powdered milk, intended for children over a year old. “Outrage Creation” was the headline on Koppelman’s report.
The Republican politicians who don’t specialize in outrage creation do too little to counter it. That’s the case with the two Pennsylvania candidates, Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick, who performed better than Barnette in the Senate race and are essentially locked in a tie, with a recount in the offing. Neither stood up forcefully to the “Stop the Steal” caucus because neither felt that he could afford to alienate it.
Both saw that indignation animates the Republican Party now. A candidate can choose not to stoke it, but he can’t buck it.

 Image Credits: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder