They say that ultraright or left candidates frequently win primary contests because only the most hardened party followers show up to vote in primary elections. This is true for Democrats and Republicans and, I believe, was on display when candidate Larry Hogan, viewed as a moderate by most Maryland voters, beat liberal Democrats Anthony Brown in 2014 and Ben Jealous in 2018.
Maryland Republicans seem to be making the same mistake in 2022. They have nominated ultraright, Donald Trump followers for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. These candidates may be considered attractive by Republican primary voters but may be too far right for a majority of Marylanders.
Perhaps the most extreme candidate on the ticket is Michael Peroutka, Republican nominee for attorney general. His history is interesting, to say the least. For example, most Americans remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when two airplanes, hijacked by terrorists, crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City causing them to burn and collapse. A total of 2,753 people died. A third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, also hijacked by terrorists, crashed into the Pentagon. Sixty-four people on the airplane were killed along with another 125 people in the Pentagon.
While most Americans consider these indisputable facts, Peroutka thinks that these events may have been staged. The Twin Towers, he says, were possibly downed by preset explosives in a controlled demolition by some “elite bureaucrat.” Peroutka also suggested that the people who died in the plane that hit the Pentagon were killed someplace else and that it is “very plausible that a missile that looked like a plane hit the Pentagon.”
“I’ve never seen any evidence that anything like a body or a passenger or passenger’s luggage or anything consistent with the Flight 77 is in the Pentagon,” Peroutka said.
These are just some of the outlandish comments made by Peroutka in 2006 when he hosted a series of radio shows pushing the idea that the 9/11 attacks were “an inside job.”
Gov. Larry Hogan says that Peroutka’s “disgusting lies don’t belong in our party.” Hogan may wish that folks like Peroutka were not in his party, but they are. After all, Peroutka’s comments are not any crazier than Donald Trump’s declaration that he won the last presidential election. The ability to ignore reality seems to be the latest requirement to run for office in the Republican Party.
According to CNN, when Peroutka ran for president in 2004 he was endorsed by the League of the South, a Confederate organization that advocated for secession, as well as by the Council of Conservative Citizens, a self-described white-rights group. Peroutka’s website even featured a Confederate flag.
The man running at the top of the Republican ticket in Maryland also has his own interesting history. State Del. Dan Cox from Frederick County is Maryland’s Republican nominee for governor and will run against Wes Moore, nominated by Maryland’s Democrats. Cox’s running mate is Gordana Schifanelli who, I believe, would have a better chance of winning in November if she were at the top of the ticket.
Cox won the Republican nomination against several other candidates because he was endorsed by Donald Trump. A more moderate choice, with probably a better chance of winning in November, was Kelly Schulz, endorsed by Governor Hogan. But while Hogan is admired by a majority of voters across the state, he is not admired by hardcore Republican primary voters who picked Cox, instead.
Cox is noted for his tweets during the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol. He called then-Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor” for refusing to help Trump overturn the presidential election results. This, of course, made him a Trump favorite. Like Trump, Cox played down the dangers of COVID-19 and even sued Hogan to block Maryland’s efforts to reduce COVID’s spread. Cox said he wanted to “restore freedom to the Free State.”
Many people think that Cox doesn’t have a chance in November because of his ties to Trump — who lost Maryland in the 2020 presidential election by 33 points — and his ultraconservative views on issues like abortion. The Democratic Party in Maryland, sensing this to be the case, was happy to spend money on TV ads reminding voters that Cox was endorsed by Trump. This helped get Cox the Republican nomination and alerted Maryland voters to Cox’s connection to Trump.
Cox points to Republican Glenn Youngkin, who was sworn in as governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia in January, as proof that a Trump-endorsed candidate can win in a blue state. Indeed, Youngkin was also endorsed by Trump. However, he made it a point to distance himself from Trump and didn’t mention Trump’s name during his campaign. Also, Youngkin didn’t have a history of crazy statements about the 9/11 attacks or a past relationship with Confederate organizations.
Tom Zirpoli is the Laurence J. Adams Distinguished Chair in Special Education Emeritus at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears on Wednesdays. Email him at email@example.com.