The best lack all conviction
While the worst are full of passionate intensity
For the GOP, especially its Trumpist wing, the moment is piled high with irony. The primary victory of Roy Moore in Alabama over the candidate for the U.S. Senate seat backed by President Trump suggests that that not even Trump himself can control the forces that he unleashed.
Moore’s win is an acid flashback to 2010, when GOP voters in Senate primaries nominated Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell in Delaware and the unelectable Sharron Angle in Nevada, who announced a 2018 campaign in March. Republicans had hoped that they had exorcised those characters after that debacle. But years of stoking a sense of perpetual outrage has created a new political dynamic that has given us Roy Moore, a perfect stew of extremism, ignorance and intolerance.
Conservatives who pride themselves on their respect for the constitutional rule of law now find themselves embracing a former judge twice removed from the bench for flouting the law. Moore has suggested criminalizing homosexuality and banning Muslims from political office. The man who may soon be the newest member of the U.S. Senate has suggested that some communities in Illinois and Indiana are under Sharia law. (They aren’t.) Moore backs Trump’s hardline on immigration, but seemed to know little about what and who the Dreamers were. The GOP nominee is an unrepentant “birther” and has suggested that the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were God’s punishment for America’s sins, including “legitimized sodomy.” (Naturally, his candidacy was embraced by Sarah Palin as well as Steve Bannon.)
Do not confuse this with any sort of coherent ideology. Representative Thomas Massie, a Republican for Kentucky, tried to diagnose the mindset of the Tea Party voters when he told the Washington Examiner, “I thought they were voting for libertarian Republicans.” Massie continued, “But after some soul-searching, I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron [Paul] and me in these primaries, they weren’t voting for libertarian ideas. They were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race. And Donald Trump won best in class.”
For decades, conservatives have struggled with containing crackpottery, most notably William F. Buckley’s famous excommunication of the John Birch Society in the 1960s. Responsible thought leaders have also pushed back against a variety of paranoid conspiracy theorists, including…