Can someone be too MAGA for Republican voters?

On the surface, one contest for the Republican party nomination for a US Senate seat reveals a surprising level of diversity among the top three candidates who are closely tied in the polls. While one is the standard-issue rich white man (a former hedge fund CEO), the other two consist of a Muslim child of immigrants and a Black woman. The contest is taking place in Pennsylvania and the CEO is David McCormick, the Muslim child of immigrants is TV personality Mehmet Oz, and the Black woman is Kathy Barnette. Donald Trump has endorsed Oz because he is impressed by his success as a TV personality and for Trump that is a huge factor. Once you look past those differences, what you see is a very depressing image of the party because all three candidates are awful.

The Republican party is now the party of the Trump MAGA (Make America Great Again) cult that emphasizes, among other things, xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia. The question in this race is whether there is such a thing as being too MAGA for Republican voters. While all three are MAGA in some form, they can be distinguished as ‘not quite MAGA enough’ (McCormick), ‘MAGA acceptable’ (Oz), and ‘too MAGA’ (Barnette), with Donald Trump playing the role of Goldilocks and choosing Oz as having just the right level of MAGAness.

McCormick was recruited by the party establishment to run when the first Trump-endorsed candidate Sean Parnell had to withdraw from the race because of allegations of domestic violence made by his ex-wife. (I am actually surprised that this was even a disqualifying factor in the current Republican party and that Parnell was not embraced by the party faithful as a manly man who knew how to keep women in their place.) McCormick did not contribute to Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, and has expressed regret over the January 6th riot and said that Trump bears some responsibility for it.

Oz is the best known because of his TV show that he got after he was a frequent guest on Oprah Winfrey’s show and heavily praised by her. Although a successful heart surgeon, he has been criticized for promoting all manner of dubious health and weight-loss products that have no scientific basis, so you can see his appeal for Trump who is also fascinated by quack medical cures. Oz has been steadily shifting his political positions to the right, from calling himself a ‘moderate Republican’ to a ‘conservative Republican’ and even shifted his residency from New Jersey to Pennsylvania in order to qualify for this run. This recent conversion to the MAGA camp has left some MAGA voters skeptical of his bona fides despite Trump’s endorsement.

Barnette has a history of anti-Muslim and anti-gay remarks.

Surging Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Kathy Barnette has a history of anti-Muslim and anti-gay statements. In many tweets, Barnette also spread the false conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

In one speech uploaded to YouTube in 2015, Barnette forcefully argued it was OK to discriminate against Muslims and compared rejecting Islam to “… rejecting Hitler’s or Stalin’s worldviews.” In comments on her radio show, she said accepting homosexuality would lead to the accepting of incest and pedophilia. One post she wrote called a transgender person “deformed” and “demonic.”

She was a non-factor in the race until her very recent rise in the polls. Although she is ultra-MAGA, Trump did not endorse her and now has started to criticize her. Maybe she is too extreme even for Trump, though I find that hard to believe. Fox News has been relentlessly criticizing her, likely worried that if nominated she will lose the general election in November.

The race took an interesting turn yesterday when Oz criticized Barnette for her anti-Muslim remarks.

After spending much of the campaign steering clear of fellow Republican Senate contender Kathy Barnette, Oz said she was out of step with the Republican party and would be unable to win the general election in November.

In an interview, he took issue with a 2015 tweet from Barnette in which she wrote that “Pedophilia is a Cornerstone of Islam”. Oz, who would be the nation’s first Muslim senator, described the comments as “disqualifying”.

“It’s reprehensible that she would tweet out something that is defamatory to an entire religion,” Oz told the Associated Press. “This state was based on religious freedom. I’m proud as a Pennsylvanian to uphold those founding beliefs that every faith has its merits.”

Oz is mistaken. I think that Barnette is perfectly in step with the Republican party in her bigotry. She even copies Trump’s evasive tactics, first denying that she said what she is on record as saying and claiming that she is being misrepresented and being evasive about her past. I had not known that Oz is a Muslim, even though I knew of his Turkish ancestry and that that country is largely Muslim, and it is possible that most voters do not know that either.
It is not clear if the increased awareness of Oz being Muslim that this exchange reveals may harm him with the MAGA crowd when they go to the polls on Tuesday.

There are various theories as to why Trump’s endorsement of Oz did not prove fatal to his rivals, especially to Barnette, who has surged in recent days.

The operating theory of just about every Republican race in 2022 has been that Trump’s endorsement will clear the field. When his endorsement of Oz didn’t, it required new theories to explain why. One that I heard among Pennsylvania politicos is that Oz, a Muslim who has hosted television programs that have introduced, not unsympathetically, children who are committed to gender transition, is simply a terrible fit to inherit a nativist, socially conservative political movement. A second explanation is coalitional. McCormick, who, in 2018, married the Trump foreign-policy official Dina Powell, had endorsements from just about everyone else who mattered in conservative politics: evangelicals such as Ralph Reed and Mike Huckabee; foreign-policy honchos such as Mike Pompeo and Matthew Pottinger; and conservative rabble-rousers such as Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. Was it possible that their combined clout matched Trump’s? The third explanation, though, was the most intriguing: that the conservative grass roots were evolving in ways that the former President could not always direct or control. The evidence for this theory was the ascent of two obscure candidates who had endorsed one another to the front of the field in the Pennsylvania primaries: Doug Mastriano, who is leading the primary race for governor, and Barnette.

Barnette, a Black military veteran and motivational speaker, had been an even more obscure figure when she entered the Senate race. In an article this week titled “Who is Kathy Barnette?” the Washington Examiner criticized her campaign for failing to share even basic information about the candidate. The stories that political operatives in the state tell about her tend to come from a few televised debates. Still, those were often eye-catching appearances. “I am the by-product of a rape,” she said onstage, at a May 4th debate, alongside McCormick and Oz. Turning to Oz, who, in the past, has supported abortion rights, she added, “I am not just a lump of cells.”

To pollsters who have tracked the race, Oz’s failure to separate from the field has been tied up in Barnette’s rise. “The largest faction in the Republican primary are the strong Trump voters,” Berwood Yost, who directs the Franklin & Marshall College poll, told me. Although they might have been expected to follow Trump into Oz’s column, “in fact, about half are for Oz and half are for Barnette.” At the May 4th debate, when one of the moderators asked Barnette to address Trump’s endorsement of her opponent, Barnette hinted at a disconnect between the President and his followers, “maga does not belong to President Trump,” she said. “Our values never shifted to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who shifted and aligned with our values.”

Barnette thinks that “MAGA does not belong to Trump”? I don’t know about that. But I do know that when politicians fan extremist views to further their own short-term ends like Trump does, their acolytes often take it much further than they intended. The monster they create gets out of their control. ‘Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind’ just about sums it up and that is what we may be seeing in Pennsylvania with the MAGA cult.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Once the MAGA fascist buttons are installed, anybody can push them.

    Trump’s & Murdoch’s monsters will certainly outlive them.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    Today, photos came out showing Barnette was present during the march on January 6.
    As for Trump’s endorsement of Oz — I don’t think it matters to Trump what his political positions are. He’s a TV celebrity, so that means he’s a winner in Trump’s book.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Barnette thinks that “MAGA does not belong to Trump”? I don’t know about that

    The alternative is that you credit Trump himself with coming up with an original and successful slogan, rather than opportunistically jumping on a bandwagon and riding it as hard as he can while taking credit for building the thing in the first place. I think Barnette’s on the money, for the record.

  4. flex says

    There’s a quote from Shakespeare which I always think about when this type of behavior shows up; “Out-Herods Herod”. From Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2.

    I’ve seen it used when describing how the aspirants for the uncertain favor of a tyrant attempt to how more ruthless they are than their idol.

  5. flex says

    that should be “show how”

    I originally was going to use “demonstrate”, but decided that there were additional meaning to the word “demonstrate” which I wanted to avoid. Leading to my mistake.

  6. Ridana says

    Trump has several reasons to disavow Barnette: She’s Black, she’s a woman, and most important, he didn’t endorse her to begin with. That threatens his “kingmaker” status as GQP’s god, and he hates Black women. Oz being a celebrity is just more proof to him that celebrity is the main qualifying factor, after being Trump, of course.

    Gotta admit, I nearly choked reading “I’m proud as a Pennsylvanian…” seeing as he’s not actually a Pennsylvanian. I suppose one could parse that as saying, “I’m proud, as a Pennsylvanian (is proud),…” But I’m not that generous.

  7. K says

    To coin a phrase: they’re all deplorable. Barnette was there for 1/6 and her biggest claim to fame is “My mother was raped and chose to have me, therefore no woman anywhere who’s raped should have a choice.” She’s also sucking up to a man who--as was pointed out above--does not like black women since a black woman (Omarosa) outsmarted him.

  8. says

    Need to start trolling them them with parodic candidates who withdraw when revealed to be incapable of public scruitiny. Sort of like Sarah Palin or Madison Cawthorn with self-awareness.

  9. Reginald Selkirk says

    @6: … and he hates Black women.

    True, but let’s be fair: he hates everyone but himself. Ivanka will be the last one to feel the knife in her back as he goes down.

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