In an apparent effort to destroy what is left of the Republican Party’s barely-remaining credibility, Arizona primary voters are apparently split between recently-pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, state Senator Kelli Ward, and Rep. Martha McSally. McSally is a retired Air Force Colonel who recently joined the House; she’s voted with President Trump 100% of the time, as well as with the Republican Party 96% of the time. She’s pro-life, she’s hawkish on foreign policy, and she has a good record of gaining co-sponsors from the other side of the aisle. Her drawback for primary voters: she didn’t openly endorse Trump in 2016.
Now, here are her opponents.
Arpaio was recently pardoned by President Trump after being convicted of ignoring a court order to stop racially profiling. If you think that sentence was unjust, there’s plenty more to dislike about Arpaio’s candidacy, as Jon Gabriel points out: his office failed to investigate hundreds of sex crimes, had journalists arrested, tried to charge political opponents, burned down a house and killed a dog in a search for illegal weapons that weren’t found, and wasted hundreds of millions of dollars. There’s a reason Arpaio lost his last sheriff’s race in the same election Trump won the state. He’s also a birther, for good measure.
Then there’s Ward. While Ward has been slandered as a chemtrail conspiracy theorist (not true), she did get herself in hot water last year for suggesting that John McCain would die after his cancer announcement, and that he should therefore should step down from his seat in her favor; she also said that McCain was “directly responsible for the rise of ISIS.” She’s got her support for Trump going for her — she’s tied herself to Trump in nearly every appearance. She was a Steve Bannon project until his career implosion. She ran against McCain in a primary in 2016 and lost to him by some 11 points. A poll last month shows her losing to Democrat Krysten Sinema by 7 points.
So, based on these descriptions, you’d figure that McSally would lead the race, followed by Ward, followed by Arpaio. Instead, the three are in a statistical dead heat, with McSally at 31%, Arpaio at 29%, and Ward at 25%.
After the humiliation of the Roy Moore and the nearly-impossible accomplishment of handing an Alabama Senate seat to Democrats, doing the same with Arpaio should be unthinkable.
Perhaps it’s not because we’ve reached the point in American politics where distrust in institutions means that populism wins the day — not in terms of policy, but in terms of style. Voters, particularly on the Republican side, are so angry with the “elitism” and “establishmentarianism” of Republican politicians that they’re trending toward non-elite anti-establishment types. That would be fine if those types were merely political outsiders and anti-elitists — meaning that they weren’t interested in cutting cozy Washington, D.C. deals and didn’t believe that power should be centralized in the federal government.
But the populist style has nothing to do with policy stalwartness and decentralization. It has to do with being “anti-establishment,” meaning contrary on an attitudinal level, and “non-elite,” meaning “not qualified.” The populist style elevates people who are actually kooky, because they’re not embraced by the “elites.” In this game, personality disorders become a recommendation: they’re no better than we are, so at least they don’t look down their noses at us!
This is idiotic. As consumers, we tend to pick experts for jobs, from established brands. In our politicians, we do the opposite. That makes fringy mediocrity a calling card.
Enough is enough. I’m a Tea Partier down to the bone — I want power out of Washington, D.C. and the federal government slashed down to minimal size. But I agree with the founders that we need elites — people who are better than we are at the business of politics — in the business of politics. By all means, oppose elitism. But we must stop conflating elitism with being elite. You wouldn’t want a non-elite plumber. You shouldn’t want a non-elite politician.
I’m anti-establishment, too — I don’t think that Republicans who are interested in cutting bipartisan deals for the sake of “making government run” are doing us any service. But if by establishment, we just mean “people who have worked in D.C. for awhile” or “people who know how to write a bill,” that’s not disqualifying. Those should be basic job prerequisites. Incompetence can defeat conservatism just as surely as malice.
Politics is about more than attitude. It’s about the people electing the best people to be representatives. That’s what separates republican government from democratic government. Unfortunately, we may be beyond seeing our politicians as political proxies rather than emotional avatars. If so, look for more fringe candidates and more rotten races.