The conventional wisdom is that so-called establishment Republican candidates by and large triumphed over Tea Party radicals this election cycle. But the truth is that those victories were the result of a party establishment that itself has moved far to the right. Even where Tea Party candidates have failed, the Tea Party movement has increasingly remade the “establishment” GOP in its own image.
It is now core doctrine in the GOP to deny the science behind climate change, endorse sweeping abortion bans and engage in anti-government rhetoric reminiscent of the John Birch Society.
As Tea Party icon Michele Bachmann put it last week, while she may be retiring from Congress, she leaves with the knowledge that “even the establishment moved toward embracing the Tea Party’s messaging.”
Here, we look at five Republican congressional candidates who could be heading to the Capitol next year. Some have been labeled “establishment,” some “Tea Party,” but all are emblematic of the party’s strong turn to the right.
1. Joni Ernst
One Iowa conservative pundit has described state Sen. Joni Ernst, now the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, as “the choice of the Republican establishment” who has “been backed by national Republican establishment figures like Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Marco Rubio.”
But in today’s Republican Party, even an “establishment” candidate like Ernst can be just as extreme as a Tea Party insurgent.
Ernst subscribes to the radical, neo-Confederate idea that states can “nullify” federal laws that they deem to be unconstitutional — and even went so far as to suggest that local law enforcement officers can arrest government officials for simply administering federal laws.
In response to a 2012 candidate survey for a group affiliated with former congressman Ron Paul, Ernst pledged to “support legislation to nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement the unconstitutional health care scheme known as ObamaCare.” In a speech to a Religious Right group the next year, she criticized Congress for passing “laws that the states are considering nullifying.”
As a state senator, Ernst backed resolutions calling on Iowa to defy federal environmental regulations and gun laws. Ernst’s campaign denies that she has ever supported nullification, despite her own statements and positions in favor of the radical ideology.
Not only does Ernst think states should simply be able to void laws they don’t like, but she also wants to abolish the federal minimum wage and eliminate federal agencies such as the Department of Education, the EPA and the IRS. She also came out in favor of a plan, known as the “Fair Tax,” that would scrap the income tax and replace it with a federal sales tax of 23 percent on nearly all goods.
Her anti-government paranoia even extends to taking on a non-binding United Nations sustainable development agreement, Agenda 21, which she warned will pave the way for the UN to remove Americans from rural lands and force them into cities. She has even disagreed with the official investigations finding that Iraq did not have WMDs at the time of the 2003 U.S. invasion.
But Ernst does support government intervention when it comes to women’s reproductive rights, sponsoring the Iowa personhood amendment, which would ban abortion in all cases along with common forms of birth control. “I think the provider should be punished, if there were a personhood amendment,” Ernst said, but has since insisted that she thinks the amendment would be purely symbolic.
As Ernst’s candidacy shows, the line dividing “establishment Republicans” from fringe right-wing zealots has become so blurred that it has effectively vanished.
2. Thom Tillis
Like Ernst, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis is widely considered the choice of the “establishment” and “mainstream” wing of the GOP, while his extremist record shows just how far to the right even the party’s “mainstream” has moved.
In 2007, Tillis blasted government policies that “have redistributed trillions of dollars of wealth,” calling them “reparations” for slavery. The same year, he opposed a resolution apologizing for an 1898 massacre of African Americans in a North Carolina city, explaining that the amendment didn’t sufficiently honor white Republicans.
Tillis supported the repeal of North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act — which allowed death-row inmates to appeal their sentences based on evidence of racial bias — and backed heavily restrictive voting laws designed to weaken the black vote. In a 2012 interview, he lamented that Democrats were gaining ground in North Carolina thanks to growing Latino and African American populations while the “traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable.”
Tillis has said he would support a Personhood Amendment banning abortion in all cases and prohibiting common forms of birth control, and believes that states have the right to ban contraceptives. In his role as state House speaker, Tillis led attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and to add abortion rights restrictions to a motorcycle safety bill. A Tillis-backed “targeted regulations of abortion providers” (TRAP) bill last year threatened to close all but one of the state’s 16 abortion clinics.
Following a federal court ruling striking down North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, Tillis attempted to preserve the ban by teaming up with the founder of one of the country’s leading anti-gay groups. At a 2011 town hall meeting, he suggested that marriage equalitywould lead to “Big Government.” Tillis is also a climate change denialist and suggested that liberals plotted to use climate science “as a Trojan horse for their energy policy.”
Tillis wants to abolish the federal minimum wage, supported the GOP-led federal government shutdown (before reversing himself) and cut jobless benefits so severely that it made North Carolina ineligible to receive federal compensation.
While cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from education spending and blocking the expansion of Medicaid under the guise of fiscal stewardship, Tillis shepherded through a massive tax break to benefit top earners and corporations while effectively raising taxes on the lower 80 percent of taxpayers.
At an event in 2011, he suggested that the government cut public spending by finding “a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance” — specifically by setting disabled people against “these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government.”
He has now pivoted his campaign to focus on addressing the menacing specter of people infected with Ebola coming to Mexico to illegally cross the southern border into the U.S.
3. Jody Hice
Jody Hice entered politics as a Religious Right activist and a conservative talk radio show host, making him part of two worlds that are at the core of the conservative movement. Now, as the frontrunner in an open Georgia House seat, currently held by outgoing far-right Rep. Paul Broun, Hice is set to bring his right-wing agenda to Congress.
Hice made his first foray into politics by trying to convince local governments to erect monuments of the Ten Commandments in public places, which were deemed unconstitutional by, in Hice’s words, “judicial terrorists .” A Christian Nationalist, Hice thinks the founding fathers would support his congressional campaign and has posted on his Facebook page numerous fake quotes from our nation’s founders about the dangers of “Big Government” and the need to mix religion and government.
Hice outlines his political beliefs and fears in his book, “It’s Now or Never: A Call to Reclaim America,” in which he claims that abortion rights make the U.S. worse than Nazi Germany; endorses the fringe “nullification” theory; argues that Islam “does not deserve First Amendment protection”; and spells out his worries about gay people trying to “sodomize” children and persecute Christians, fearing that children will be “preyed upon” by gay “recruitment” efforts until they embrace “destructive,” “militant homosexuality.”
In one episode of his radio program, Hice suggested that gay people seek therapy, lamenting that “we are enslaving and entrapping potentially hundreds of thousands of individuals in a lifestyle that frankly they are not.” During another radio commentary, Hice denied that legal discrimination towards gays and lesbains exists, before comparing homosexuality to incest. If anything, according to Hice, it is the Christian community that faces government discrimination as a result of a Satanic plot to “chip away” at “our Christian rights.”
When armed militia groups gathered at the Bundy ranch in Nevada to back a rancher and race-theorist who refused to pay grazing fees for using federal property, Hice praised the groups that were threatening violence against law enforcement officers. He has argued that individuals have the right to have “any, any, any, any weapon that our government and law enforcement possesses,” including “bazookas and missiles,” in order to give citizens a fighting chance in a potential war against the government.
This summer, as thousands of Central American children fleeing violence in their home countries reached the U.S., causing a humanitarian crisis, Hice suggested armed militia groups organize at the southern border.
The GOP nominee blamed mass shootings such as those that occurred at Virginia Tech and in Aurora, Colorado, on abortion rights, the separation of church and state, and the teaching of evolution, and said that the Sandy Hook school shooting was the result of “kicking God out of the public square” with the end of school-organized prayer.
Hice also believes that we are now living in the End Times, worrying that “we have little time” left on earth and citing the appearance of blood moons as proof of imminent cataclysmic, “world-changing events.”
While Hice is worried about the destructive consequences of blood moons, he dismissed climate change as a “propaganda” tool of the “Radical Environmental Movement” to make people of believe in an “impending environmental disaster due to ‘Global Warming.’”
His theological views also make him skeptical of women running for public office, saying a woman should only do so if she remains “within the authority of her husband.”
4. Glenn Grothman
Not one to hold back, Grothman has lambasted union activists protesting a law targeting labor rights as “slobs” and proposed doing away with the weekend and paid sick leave. So fearful of “Big Government” is Grothman that he also tried to put an end to municipal water disinfection programs.
Grothman opposes abortion rights without exceptions in cases of rape, incest and a woman’s health, even working to make it a felony offense for a doctor to perform an abortion that could save a woman’s life. Grothman successfully passed laws requiring doctors to read scripts meant to discourage women from terminating their pregnancies, which he said was necessary because oftentimes “women are looking for someone to talk them out of it.” He also sponsored a 24-hour waiting period for abortions that only exempts survivors of “forcible rape” who file a police report.
The Republican lawmaker worries that “gals” are running — and ruining — America by leading a “war on men.” He has said the U.S. “is in the process of committing suicide today” as a result of single mothers collecting public benefits and pushed a bill to declare single parenthood “a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect,” calling single parenthood a “choice” and the result of a culture that “encourages a single motherhood lifestyle.”
“I think a lot of women are adopting the single motherhood lifestyle because the government creates a situation in which it is almost preferred,” he said in a 2012 interview with Alan Colmes, adding that he believes women aren’t telling the truth about having unintended pregnancies: “I think people are trained to say that ‘this is a surprise to me,’ because there’s still enough of a stigma that they’re supposed to say this.”
In a similar vein, he defended Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to rescind a pay equity law because, according to Grothman, pay disparities are due to the fact that “money is more important for men.”
Grothman is a sponsor of the Wisconsin Personhood resolution [PDF], which would ban abortion in all cases and many forms of birth control, and his campaign has touted the support of personhood activists.
He once described Planned Parenthood as “probably the most racist organization” in the country, adding that he believes the group targets Asian Americans for abortion. In 2007, he voted against a bill that made sure hospitals provide information about emergency contraception to sexual assault survivors.
He opposes laws protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and once tried to strip a sex education bill of a nondiscrimination provision that he suspected was part of a plot to make kids gay. Grothman also demanded that his state refuse to follow a court order to recognize same-sex marriages, which he feared would “legitimiz[e] illegal and immoral marriages.”
Not content with just opposing gay rights in the U.S., Grothman also defended a Ugandan law that makes homosexuality a crime punishable by sentences including life in prison. He even suggested that “unbelievable” American criticism of Uganda’s law would prompt God to punish the United States.
Although Grothman fears that America might incur God’s wrath for standing up to state-sanctioned violence against gays and lesbians, he is less concerned about climate change, which he says “doesn’t exist.” Grothman told one interviewer: “This environmental stuff, this is the idea that is driven by this global warming thing. Global warming is not man-made and there is barely any global warming at all, there’s been no global warming for the last twelve or thirteen years. I see a shortage of Republicans stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘look, this global warming stuff is not going on.”
5. Zach Dasher
Taking advantage of his family’s new-found reality TV fame, “Duck Dynasty” cousin Zach Dasher is running for U.S. Congress in Louisiana in an election where the top two candidates advance to a runoff vote if no candidate takes over 50 percent of the vote.
Dasher cited the success of “Duck Dynasty” as one of the reasons he entered the race: “Five years ago, I didn’t see an opportunity or window of opportunity to get into this type of venture. But here recently, obviously with the family name and being able to get my message out there, I saw an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Of his uncle Phil Robertson, who came under fire for making statements in a magazine interview defending Jim Crow and demonizing gays and lesbians, Dasher gushed: “The support of the family means a lot to me. We share a very similar background and philosophy, and our spiritual beliefs are the same as well. They’re going to be a big part of the campaign. I’m going to have Phil as my PR director, since he’s so good with the media.”
Robertson also appears in commercials promoting Dasher’s candidacy, and Dasher has said he agreed with Robertson’s remarks about the gay community. Dasher’s wife wrote in a blog post that just as people should break out of addictions to alcohol and heroin, gay people can “overcome” and “come out of” homosexuality and find “healing.”
One of Dasher’s opponents, Rep. Vince McAllister, is a freshman Republican congressman who said he would retire after he was caught on video kissing a staffer who was not his wife, then changed his mind. Dasher says he is running as an even more conservative candidate than the GOP incumbent, and has received backing from Tea Party and pro-corporate groups such as the Club for Growth and Citizens United.
“My platform begins with God. That’s really what this whole thing is about. In Washington, when we look at what’s going on, we see an erosion away from that platform,” he told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “We see the ruling classes kick God out and in His place they place themselves. That scares me because we didn't send these folks to Washington, D.C. to determine our rights, we sent them there to defend our rights.”
Dasher fears that the federal government “believes that they’re God” and is intent on “gain[ing] control over every aspect of our lives” as part of a plan to create a “culture of dependency.” In a personal podcast, Dasher said the “swift drift away from God will usher in tyranny and death,” warning: “Tyranny will get its foothold — if it already doesn't have it — and in the end, there will be mass carnage and mass death. It's inevitable.”
Dasher blamed the Sandy Hook shooting on atheists, whom he also accused of “brainwashing a generation ” through rap music and ushering in “moral decay” and the erosion of liberty. He said that schools should “arm the teachers,” arguing that laws targeting gun violence actually leave people as “unarmed sitting ducks, waiting for someone to come in and shoot their schools up.” Dasher recently claimed that the Second Amendment was established to allow people to defend themselves against “a tyrannical government,” warning that government officials intend to repeal the amendment in order to eliminate all other freedoms.