Doug Wardlow; Dave Brat; Erika Harold (AP Photo)

The bad, the worse and the downright ugly: GOP candidates who out-Trump Trump

Trump grabs headlines, but the Republican slate is increasingly stocked with right-wing wackos of all stripes


Amanda Marcotte
November 1, 2018 11:00AM (UTC)

One reason Republican politicians may love Donald Trump so much: His ability to hijack the headlines on a daily basis with racist trolling and overt sadism means the national media has no attention to give the ever-more-bizarre slate of right-wing nuts and conspiracy theorists that populate the GOP ballots every election cycle.

Once upon a time, candidates like Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin or Christine "I Am Not a Witch" O'Donnell were able to grab national headlines and widespread mockery for some of their loonier beliefs and behavior, leading to their defeat in otherwise winnable races. But with Trump completely dominating headlines with his reality TV-style march to fascism, no one has time to gawk at some of the lesser lights of the Republican Party who are every bit as bizarre.

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Here at Salon, we hope to push back a little and offer this reminder that just because Trump is the loudest and the orangest doesn't mean the rest of the party has gotten any better. Taking a look across the landscape, in fact, suggests Republicans are getting even weirder and meaner than ever. Here are some examples.

Rep. Dave "Women in My Grill" Brat, Virginia

Brat has received national attention before, when he defeated Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary by running an overtly racist campaign, guided by future Trump advisers Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. He snagged headlines again in 2017 when a tape was leaked to the press, featuring Brat complaining to funders that "the women are in my grill no matter where I go" — by which he meant his constituents were bothering him with questions about his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Brat doesn't get much attention anymore, but he continues to be as bellicose as before. Last week, he appeared on Infowars — the conspiracy theory conduit hosted by Alex Jones, which has claimed that 9/11 was an inside job and that many mass shootings are "false flag" operations staged to support gun control — and praised Jones for "educating people". During the interview, some of the "educational" claims made by Jones included the idea that Barack Obama wanted to infect Americans with tuberculosis and impose "sharia law" on the U.S. Brat himself claimed that the left had somehow ended history lessons in public schools.

Brat's Democratic opponent in Tuesday's election is Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA employee running on improving health care by adding a public option to the ACA.

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Lisa "Abortion for Me, But Not for Thee" Luby Ryan, Texas

Ryan is a Texas Republican running for a seat in the state legislature; she won the nomination by being even more right wing and less reality-based than her already quite conservative primary opponent, Jason Villalba. At one point, Ryan insinuated that Villalba supported "teenage boys and girls showering together" in public schools.

Her primary victory was largely was due to support from anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists. When asked why she opposed a bill to fund research into the causes of gun violence, Ryan cited the danger of "black thugs" as the reason.

Ryan, 57, has personally had three abortions. Now that she has no need for the service, she believes abortion should be illegal. Ryan aborted for the first time when she was a senior in high school, aborted another pregnancy that resulted from an extramarital affair and then aborted a third in her 30s, when she was unmarried. Her abortions clearly allowed her to forge her own path — graduate high school, leave an unhappy marriage, date on her own terms — but apparently she found religion after all that, and doesn't think the other women should have the same chances she had.

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Ryan's Democratic opponent is John Turner, a lawyer who is running on improving the funding stream for public schools in Texas.

Doug "Biff" Wardlow, Minnesota

Wardlow, the Republican candidate for Minnesota's attorney general, has been the center of a Brett Kavanaugh-style controversy in recent days, as high school classmates of his have stepped forward to tell stories of being bullied by Wardlow in the 1990s. These stories aren't childish hijinks. One accuser, Ryan Durant, says Wardlow's daily use of slurs like "faggot" got so bad that it contributed to his 10th-grade suicide attempt.

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When Durant recovered and returned to school, he says, Wardlow taunted him about his self-harm, saying, "What, you couldn’t even get that right?"

Wardlow has denied the accusations, which have been corroborated by a woman who says he called her "slut" and "dyke," along with a former high school friend who admits joining in with Wardlow's bullying.

Durant decided to speak out because of Wardlow's adult history of homophobia, including working for a hate group that seeks to criminalize homosexuality.

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The Minnesota attorney general race is frankly ugly. Wardlow's Democratic opponent is Rep. Keith Ellison, a popular progressive and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, who is also under fire after allegations of domestic assault.

Seth "Diversity Is Crap" Grossman

The Republican nominee in New Jersey's 2nd congressional district, Seth Grossman, was caught on tape saying the "whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American," and suggesting it was "an excuse by Democrats, communists, and socialists" to foist "lesser qualified" people into colleges and the job market. 

When asked about the tape by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Grossman admitted it was him and said he was "rejecting the whole premise of diversity as a virtue."

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The comments were considered racist enough by the National Republican Congressional Committee that it actually pulled its financial support for Grossman, who is running well behind Democrat Jeff Van Drew in what appears to be a near-certain Democratic pickup.

Erika "Promiscuous Victims" Harold, Illinois

Harold is a former Miss America contestant who is now the Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general. She has made her past as an "anti-bullying" advocate a major part of her campaign, which sounds laudable. But feminist groups object to this characterization, saying Harold's comments about victims of sexual harassment and abuse are stigmatizing stereotypes.

"Many victims of sexual harassment believe what is said about them, and they become very promiscuous," she told reporters when asked her thoughts on bullying in 2002. "When they're called a whore, when they're called a slut, they think, 'That's what I want to be,' and so they engage in a pattern of self-destruction that can be very detrimental to their lives."

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She then bragged about her own commitment to sexual abstinence.

Her Democratic opponent is Kwame Raoul, who finished out Barack Obama's term in the state legislature when Obama was elected to the Senate.

Rep. Glenn "War on Men" Grothman, Wisconsin

Grothman, a Republican representing Wisconsin's 6th district, has a long history of ugly comments about both race and gender. He called the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday "an insult to all the other taxpayers" and put out a press release in 2012 denouncing people who celebrate Kwanzaa, claiming that the holiday is in opposition to Christmas (it's not) and declaring that celebrants "don't like America and seek to destroy it."

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He also has a lot of interesting opinions about men and women, such as the declaration that efforts to hire more women at companies are part of a "war on men" and claiming that women themselves "like to stay at home and have their husbands be the primary breadwinner."

In defending the repeal of a law that allows women to sue for workplace discrimination, Grothman argued that men are paid more because "money is more important for men" and women don't choose to make more. The congressman did not explain why, if women don't care about money, they would sue for fair pay in the first place.

Grothman's Democratic opponent, Dan Kohl, has outraised the Republican by highlighting the importance of protecting health care access.

There are so many more, including a congressman who read a Bible verse calling for the murder of gays during debate over an anti-discrimination bill, an Alabama judge who went to a party celebrating a founder of the Ku Klux Klan, and at least five open neo-Nazis and white supremacists running across the country.

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But the principal takeaway here is that Republican nuttiness doesn't begin or end with Donald Trump. Across the entire country, a bevy of outlandish right-wingers and conspiracy theorists are running for office — often pitted against almost painfully sensible Democrats who are desperately trying to run on the issues. So take some time out of the Trump show to pay a little attention to your local elections.

 


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. Her new book, "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself," is out now. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

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