Opinion The problem with GOP extremists isn’t what they thought in college


HR King
May 29, 2001
By Paul Waldman
September 7, 2022 at 3:03 p.m. EDT

In political campaigns, we decide who will make decisions on extraordinarily important matters with far-reaching consequences, and we do this by focusing in large part on an endless stream of triviality, micro-controversy and faux outrage.
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So whenever you learn some juicy new piece of information about a candidate, you have to ask: Does this matter? What does it really tell us?
Those are the questions to ask about a newly released trove of emails written by Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters, which were obtained by the HuffPost and Mother Jones. Masters’s campaign has not commented on their veracity.
They reportedly come from Masters’s time as a college student, when he was writing to fellow residents in a vegan co-op about a number of political controversies. The emails show he expressed skepticism about the official story of 9/11, declared “the United States government is fascist” and railed angrily against a health inspector’s negative report on the co-op’s facilities (to which another resident replied, “I suggest we cut the public yipping and go clean the kitchen”).
That last exchange could be a good summary of Masters’s one-time libertarian philosophy — as convinced of its own righteousness as it is eager to escape the responsibilities of living in a society with other human beings. But the larger point is this: While it may be interesting to see what candidates were like in their youth as a way of understanding their evolution, we can’t let it distract us from the more important question of who they are today.
Masters is only 36 years old, so college wasn’t all that long ago for him. And this isn’t the first time something embarrassing from those days has come to light. Over the summer, a hodgepodge of his online comments about the World Wars, al-Qaeda and immigration became public, causing him momentary embarrassment.
Were you writing a biography of Masters, these might provide some valuable insight into his personal and intellectual journey. But it’s also problematic to believe that when we come upon information that is 1) heretofore unknown or secret, and 2) contradicts in some way what the candidate is saying now, then we’ve gotten closer to discovering who they really are.
That is driven by an assumption that what candidates say on the campaign trail is all artifice and ruse, meant to deceive and manipulate the electorate. Once they win office, that hidden self will supposedly emerge.
The biggest problem with that assumption — and it’s one that guides much of political coverage — is that it can distract you from what’s really important, which is often right in front of your face.
So let’s consider the actual, contemporary Blake Masters. He’s a radical extremist who says “Trump won in 2020”; propagates the racist “great replacement” theory that says Democrats are importing non-White immigrants to “change the demographics of this country”; and supports fetal “personhood,” which would legally make every abortion an act of murder.
Masters’s rhetoric is saturated with fantasies of violence, not only the violence that he alleges liberals are planning to inflict on conservatives, but also the violence conservatives may need to carry out to defend themselves. In one ad, Masters proudly shows off one of his guns, and says: “It wasn’t designed for hunting. This is designed to kill people.”
And who knows, conservatives might have to do just that to defend their freedom. Asked about the problem of gun violence, Masters put the blame on “people in Chicago, St. Louis shooting each other. Very often, you know, Black people, frankly.” Though Masters says he does not like Nazis, Nazis seem to like him.
As a politician, Masters is essentially the creation of controversial billionaire Peter Thiel. As a law student at Stanford, Masters sat in on a class Thiel was teaching, and it changed his life. He became Thiel’s protégé, co-authoring a book of Thiel’s deep thoughts and taking posts atop Thiel’s hedge fund and foundation. Thiel bankrolled his Senate run with millions of dollars.
Like Thiel, Masters has moved away from the libertarianism of his youth and now embraces aggressive government action to serve the interest of favored groups and punish those he sees as enemies. Along with Thiel’s other electoral project, J.D. Vance of Ohio, Masters is at the forefront of a new kind of conservatism that is intensely combative and populist (at least in targeting the particular “elites” it dislikes) and barely conceals its contempt for democracy.
He’s also one example of a common species among Republicans today that can be hard to figure out. While there is no shortage of clowns and halfwits among the party’s candidates and elected officials, there are also a good number like Masters: well educated, clearly intelligent, yet eager to propagate laughable conspiracy theories and encourage the party’s most deranged extremists.
Do figures such as Masters or Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) believe the things they say? That’s the kind of question that revelations of years-old emails are supposed to help answer. But it’s the wrong question. That’s impossible to determine definitively, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
We don’t have to go searching for the hidden Blake Masters, because the actual Blake Masters is right in front of us. And it’s more than scary enough.


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