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Editorial

Maryland GOP goes down the right-wing rabbit hole | COMMENTARY

Supporters R.J. Lambie, center, of Bel Air, his wife Jamie, right, and Shekinah Hollingsworth, left, cheer as Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox declares victory over his opponents at his campaign party on primary election night at Vigilant Hose Company Event Hall in Emmitsburg. July 19, 2022. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun).

While the dust isn’t quite settled from Maryland’s primary election, at least one outcome is abundantly clear: Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland’s two-term Republican governor and an aspiring presidential candidate who continues to poll exceptionally well in his home state, just got thoroughly repudiated by voters from his own party.

In the governor’s race, they rejected Mr. Hogan’s hand-picked successor, former Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, in favor of Dan Cox, the Donald Trump-backed, one-term delegate from Frederick County who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection. GOP voters also gave the nod to Michael Peroutka as their nominee to be Maryland’s next attorney general, demonstrating a taste for right-wing extremism and conspiracy theories beyond the state’s top spot.

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It’s surely left Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, the former state senator and uncontested Republican candidate for comptroller, in an awkward position: Campaign this summer with the two fanatics seeking statewide office? Or stick to his moderate, pragmatic brand, which his party just renounced?

For anyone not paying attention, Delegate Cox and Mr. Peroutka are not exactly conventional candidates for such important posts in Maryland. Their anti-abortion, anti-public health precautions and pro-gun stances are certainly in line with Republicans elsewhere. But aligning yourself closely with Mr. Trump is beyond the pale by our state’s standards. Mr. Cox has embraced the “stop the steal” lies, and Mr. Peroutka, who could not even get reelected after one term on the Anne Arundel County Council in 2018, once ran as a Constitution Party candidate and has been previously linked to the white nationalist, neo-Confederate League of the South. Picking these two in the primary sets the party up for having no shot in the general election. After all, Mr. Trump received only 32.2% of the vote in Maryland last year, which was even worse than the 33.9% he received four years earlier.

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Here’s how Doug Mayer, a senior aide to Ms. Schulz and former communications director for Governor Hogan, summed up the primary results: “The Maryland Republican Party got together and committed ritualized mass suicide. The only thing that was missing was Jim Jones and a cup of Kool-Aid.”

Party regulars like Mr. Hogan and Ms. Schulz, may look back and blame her loss on the attack ad from the Democratic Governors Association that, in singling out Mr. Cox for criticism, may have boosted his standing with Republican voters — just as the DGA undoubtedly hoped. But that hardly explains Mr. Peroutka’s triumph. There was no DGA attack ad in his race against the more conventional candidate, former federal prosecutor Jim Shalleck. Yet Mr. Peroutka’s 58% to 42% lead appeared insurmountable before the first absentee ballot was counted on Thursday.

There’s something else clearly going on here. The polarization of party politics so evident on the national stage has now infected Maryland to the degree that an incumbent’s enormous approval ratings — 71% among Republicans, according to a Goucher Poll in March — are irrelevant. Republicans would rather antagonize Democrats than win in November.

Of course, Democrats should not be crowing about this. While it surely improves the chance that their own candidates will win in the fall (likely author Wes Moore for governor and U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown for attorney general, as of the most recent ballot count), nothing is certain — particularly if the economy worsens and the Democratic brand suffers, as it’s already shown some signs of doing.

There is also a larger concern that probably doesn’t interest Democratic Party honchos but should concern the rest of us: What happens if Republicans make themselves irrelevant on the state level? What check or balance to one-party decision-making or political corruption (which is not exactly unknown to this state) is there, if the only alternative is a bunch of right-wing radicals?

Too theoretical? Here’s an immediate worry: It appears now that Messrs. Cox and Peroutka have just won themselves a megaphone for repeating all sorts of QAnon-style conspiracy theories and far-right-wing views. And it’s inevitable that they will find a larger audience.

Are the days of Republicans like Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Larry Hogan long gone, at least on the second floor of the State House? Are they to be replaced by extremists screaming about how climate change is a liberal canard even as wildfires rage, record temperatures are recorded, storms worsen and sea levels rise?

That may put Maryland state government firmly in the hands of Democrats in 2022, but at what price in the years to come?

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Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.


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