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    Will Trump and Biden Gang Up on DeSantis?

    If President Biden sometimes sounded a lot like Donald Trump during his State of the Union address, boasting about a record of economic nationalism, the imitation may soon run the other way. Biden’s attacks on congressional Republicans for being allegedly eager to cut Medicare and Social Security were a clear preview of how he hopes to run against the G.O.P. in 2024. But they were also a possible preview of how Trump may try to reclaim his own party’s nomination — by reprising his 2016 campaign’s rejection of Tea Party austerity and attacking potential rivals (which means, primarily, Ron DeSantis) as libertarian dogmatists who don’t care about the middle class.That strategy was previewed a bit recently by Joseph Zeballos-Roig and Shelby Talcott in Semafor. Their subject was the so-called Fair Tax, a longstanding fascination for certain right-wing activists that proposes to replace the U.S. tax code with a sales tax. This would yield certain advantages in economic efficiency; it would also result in a dramatic tax increase on the middle class.In the heyday of the Tea Party, when implausible policy proposals were all the rage, the Fair Tax was endorsed by many of today’s 2024 hopefuls: by Nikki Haley, Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo and, yes, by DeSantis himself. Which gives Trump a license to accuse all these potential rivals of supporting a middle-class tax hike — and the Semafor writers quote a Trumpworld source basically promising an attack along those lines, to force Trump’s rivals to “answer for what they supported and what they’ve advocated in the past.”That same quote could easily apply to the proposed entitlement changes that many Republicans (again, including DeSantis) embraced in the same era, under the influence of Paul Ryan’s budget blueprints. Those proposals were serious rather than crankish, if ill-timed for a moment when there was more fiscal space than deficit hawks believed. But they were also seriously unpopular, and Trump’s discarding of them was crucial to his success in 2016. And having discarded them then, he’s well positioned to go after DeSantis and others now — in imitation of not only his prior campaign but also, as National Review’s Philip Klein points out, the strategy pursued by Mitt Romney in the 2012 primaries, when he sank Rick Perry’s candidacy in part by blasting Perry for calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.”This means that the non-Trump G.O.P. can expect to spend the looming presidential race facing similar attacks from the Biden White House and the Trump campaign. Making the similarity too obvious could backfire on Trump. But the peril for the G.O.P. is that even if Trump can’t beat DeSantis by harping on his past positions, he will still be reinforcing for swing voters the liberal narrative that (non-Trump) Republicans care only about the rich.In one sense that narrative shouldn’t be too hard for DeSantis to counteract, since his record as governor of Florida is more moderate than libertarian — with increases in teacher pay, support for environmental protection and so on — and it’s not clear that voters care that much about long-ago votes if they aren’t tied to specific policy proposals now.But the question is what exactly DeSantis’s more of-the-moment policy proposals would be, in a fiscal landscape constrained by inflation for the first time in decades. There’s certainly a scenario in which he abjures austerity and embraces pro-family and industrial-policy spending, maybe even finds a few modest tax increases that own the professional-class liberals, and thereby evades the Trump-Biden pincer.But it won’t be easy to pull off. Especially because part of Trump’s strength has always been that he doesn’t need the Republican Party’s donor class in the way that normal politicians do, while DeSantis will need to rally that class if he’s going to dethrone the former president. And the price of their support will be, most likely, something that isn’t particularly popular: not an idea from the fringes like Fair Tax or a big entitlement overhaul proposal, necessarily, but at the very least a budget-eating tax cut that probably won’t be populist in any way.Again, 2012 is an interesting precedent. Part of what killed Romney in that general election was that even though he championed Social Security against Perry and declined to embrace any crankish tax proposals, he still ended up saddled with a tax overhaul plan that donors and activists liked but that was easy for the Democrats to attack.It’s not hard to imagine a DeSantis candidacy that rallies the establishment and defeats Trump only to end up in a similar general‌-‌election position. Which suggests one way in which Trump’s populist attacks on other Republicans could actually be helpful to the party’s chances. They’ll leave no doubt, for DeSantis or any other figure, about the political weaknesses of traditional right-wing policymaking. And they might force an early adaptation that otherwise could come, like Romney’s attempted pivots in 2012, as too little and too late.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTOpinion) and Instagram. More

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    Whatever the outcome of midterms, don’t expect Republicans to return to ‘normal’ | Cas Mudde

    Whatever the outcome of the midterms, don’t expect Republicans to return to ‘normal’Cas MuddeAnyone hoping a poor election showing might pull the party back from extremism doesn’t see the unfortunate truth: Trump and his radicals now represent Republican values In 2010, the then conservative Canadian-American commentator David Frum feared that the conservative Tea Party movement would radicalize the Republican party, which would bring it short-term gain but long-term loss. Two years later, after some unconventional Tea Party candidates had defeated establishment “Republicans in name only” in primaries to then lose in the general elections – like Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell in Delaware or Richard “God intended your rape child” Mourdock in Indiana – the Republican establishment successfully blamed the Tea Party movement for the party’s electoral defeats and regained control, albeit, as it turned out in 2015, for just a few years.Recently, some commentators have argued that radical outsiders once again endanger Republican success in the midterms. While this might be the case, don’t expect this to seriously change the far-right direction of the party.Trump 2024 campaign seeks to recruit man who smeared John Kerry – reportsRead moreMost of the media attention has gone to a group of radical outsiders, endorsed by Trump, who unexpectedly won their primaries but have struggled in the polls for the coming US Senate elections. The most important are former Georgia running back Herschel Walker, whose campaign consists of cosplaying as a law enforcement officer and dodging debates with his opponents; New Jersey resident and quack TV doctor Mehmet Oz, running for a seat in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, whose social media team seems to hate him so much that his opponent, John Fetterman, simply has to retweet his tweets; and “venture capitalist” JD Vance, in Ohio, whose campaign is as entertaining as the movie based on his autobiography and is barely kept afloat by the largesse of Silicon Valley’s resident Trumpist, Peter Thiel.To be fair, these three are just the tip of the iceberg. There are several extremists contending for governor races, such as former news anchor Kari Lake, in Arizona, a Sarah Palin 2.0, or Christian nationalist Doug Mastriano, in Pennsylvania, who cosplayed as a Confederate soldier and is surrounded by a team of antisemites and self-proclaimed prophets.This is to say nothing of the House races, in which a host of candidates are trying to make Marjorie “Jewish space lasers” Taylor Greene look normal. There is a host of conspiracy thinkers running, including a large number of QAnon supporters, such as Sam Peters in Nevada and Ron Watkins in Arizona. And I am not even touching on Republicans running for legislative positions at the state level.To be clear, it is not even certain that most of these people will actually lose their election. Many are polling close to or even ahead of their actually normal Democratic opponents. But even should they lose – preventing Republican control of the Senate, and losing the party some governorships – there is no indication that this will substantially change the direction of the party.The architect of the anti-Tea Party counter-coup, Karl Rove, is as irrelevant in today’s Republican party as James Carville is in the current Democratic party. And the main contenders, real or illusionary, to lead a “post-Trump” Republican party are almost as, or even more, Trumpian than the former president.Most notably, the only Republican to potentially challenge, and even match, Trump’s popularity among the base is the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis. He tries to compensate for his lack of charisma with a relentless string of culture war attacks, which are not just red meat for the Republican base but also create liberal outrage, the lifeblood of the American far right.Some Republicans hope that the Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, could help the party “shake off” Trump. True, there is bad blood between Trump and Kemp, and the latter handsomely defeated the former’s handpicked opponent, former Georgia senator David Perdue, but the problems between the two are personal rather than ideological. After all, Kemp won the governorship with a Trumpian campaign steeped in vote manipulation and has been as radical as Trump on abortion, guns and immigration. The only thing that sets him apart from Trump, really, is his acceptance of the 2020 election results (in Georgia).In the same article in which Frum expressed fear that Tea Party radicalization would marginalize the Republican party, more than a decade ago, he also argued that “a party must champion the values of the voters it already has”. He didn’t see what has by now become crystal clear: Trump and his radical outsiders do represent the values of Republican voters. In the end, the Tea Party has won after all.
    Cas Mudde is a Guardian US columnist and the Stanley Wade Shelton UGAF professor in the school of public and international affairs at the University of Georgia
    TopicsUS politicsOpinionRepublicansDonald TrumpQAnonTea Party movementcommentReuse this content More

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    How a Spreader of Voter Fraud Conspiracy Theories Became a Star

    In 2011, Catherine Engelbrecht appeared at a Tea Party Patriots convention in Phoenix to deliver a dire warning.While volunteering at her local polls in the Houston area two years earlier, she claimed, she witnessed voter fraud so rampant that it made her heart stop. People cast ballots without proof of registration or eligibility, she said. Corrupt election judges marked votes for their preferred candidates on the ballots of unwitting citizens, she added.Local authorities found no evidence of the election tampering she described, but Ms. Engelbrecht was undeterred. “Once you see something like that, you can’t forget it,” the suburban Texas mom turned election-fraud warrior told the audience of 2,000. “You certainly can’t abide by it.”Ms. Engelbrecht was ahead of her time. Many people point to the 2020 presidential election as the beginning of a misleading belief that widespread voter fraud exists. But more than a decade before Donald J. Trump popularized those claims, Ms. Engelbrecht had started planting seeds of doubt over the electoral process, becoming one of the earliest and most enthusiastic spreaders of ballot conspiracy theories.From those roots, she created a nonprofit advocacy group, True the Vote, to advance her contentions, for which she provided little proof. She went on to build a large network of supporters, forged alliances with prominent conservatives and positioned herself as the leading campaigner of cleaning up the voting system.Now Ms. Engelbrecht, 52, who is riding a wave of electoral skepticism fueled by Mr. Trump, has seized the moment. She has become a sought-after speaker at Republican organizations, regularly appears on right-wing media and was the star of the recent film “2,000 Mules,” which claimed mass voter fraud in the 2020 election and has been debunked.She has also been active in the far-right’s battle for November’s midterm elections, rallying election officials, law enforcement and lawmakers to tighten voter restrictions and investigate the 2020 results.Ms. Engelbrecht, center, has claimed that she witnessed rampant voter fraud, while providing little evidence.Michael F. McElroy for The New York Times“We’ve got to be ready,” Ms. Engelbrecht said in an interview last month with a conservative show, GraceTimeTV, which was posted on the video-sharing site Rumble. “There have been no substantive improvements to change anything that happened in 2020 to prevent it from happening in 2022.”Her journey into the limelight illustrates how deeply embedded the idea of voter fraud has become, aided by a highly partisan climate and social media. Even though such fraud is rare, Mr. Trump and his allies have repeatedly amplified Ms. Engelbrecht’s hashtag-friendly claims of “ballot trafficking” and “ballot mules” on platforms such as Truth Social, Gab and Rumble.The State of the 2022 Midterm ElectionsWith the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the general election on Nov. 8.A Fierce Primary Season Ends: Democrats are entering the final sprint to November with more optimism, especially in the Senate. But Republicans are confident they can gain a House majority.Midterm Data: Could the 2020 polling miss repeat itself? Will this election cycle really be different? Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, looks at the data in his new newsletter.Republicans’ Abortion Struggles: Senator Lindsey Graham’s proposed nationwide 15-week abortion ban was intended to unite the G.O.P. before the November elections. But it has only exposed the party’s divisions.Democrats’ Dilemma: The party’s candidates have been trying to signal their independence from the White House, while not distancing themselves from President Biden’s base or agenda.Misleading memes about ballot boxes have soared. The term “ballot mules,” which refers to individuals paid to transport absentee ballots to ballot boxes, has surfaced 326,000 times on Twitter since January, up from 329 times between November 2020 and this January, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company.In some places, suspicions of vote tampering have led people to set up stakeouts to prevent illegal stuffing of ballot boxes. Officials overseeing elections are ramping up security at polling places.Voting rights groups said they were increasingly concerned by Ms. Engelbrecht.She has “taken the power of rhetoric to a new place,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, the acting director of voting rights at the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan think tank. “It’s having a real impact on the way lawmakers and states are governing elections and on the concerns we have on what may happen in the upcoming elections.”Some of Ms. Engelbrecht’s former allies have cut ties with her. Rick Wilson, a Republican operative and Trump critic, ran public relations for Ms. Engelbrecht in 2014 but quit after a few months. He said she had declined to turn over data to back her voting fraud claims.“She never had the juice in terms of evidence,” Mr. Wilson said. “But now that doesn’t matter. She’s having her uplift moment.”Cleta Mitchell, Ms. Engelbrecht’s former attorney and now a lawyer for Mr. Trump, and John Fund, a conservative journalist, told Republican donors in August 2020 that they could no longer support Ms. Engelbrecht. They said that her early questions on voting were important but that they were confounded by her recent activities, according to a video of the donor meeting obtained by The New York Times. They did not elaborate on why.“Catherine started out and was terrific,” said Ms. Mitchell, who herself claims the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump. “But she got off on other things. I don’t really know what she’s doing now.”Mr. Fund added, “I would not give her a penny.”Others said the questions that Ms. Engelbrecht raised in “2,000 Mules” about the abuse of ballot drop boxes had moved them. In July, Richard Mack, the founder of a national sheriff’s organization, appeared with her in Las Vegas to announce a partnership to scrutinize voting during the midterms.“The most important right the American people have is to choose our own public officials,” said Mr. Mack, a former sheriff of Graham County, Ariz. “Anybody trying to steal that right needs to be prosecuted and arrested.”Richard Mack, the founder of a national sheriff’s organization, has announced a partnership with Ms. Engelbrecht.Adam Amengual for The New York TimesMs. Engelbrecht, who has said she carries a Bible and a pocket Constitution as reminders of her cause, has scoffed at critics and said the only misinformation was coming from the political left. She said she had evidence of voting fraud in 2020 and had shared some of it with law enforcement.“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been through this exercise and how my words get twisted and turned,” she said in a phone interview.Ms. Engelbrecht has said she was just a P.T.A. volunteer and small-business owner with no interest in politics until the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. Concerned about the country’s direction, she volunteered at the polls. Her critique of the voting system caught the attention of the Tea Party, which disdains government bureaucracy.In 2009, Ms. Engelbrecht created the nonprofit King Street Patriots, named after the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre, which fueled colonial tensions that would erupt again with the Tea Party uprising three years later. She also formed True the Vote. The idea behind the nonprofits was to promote “freedom, capitalism, American exceptionalism,” according to a tax filing, and to train poll watchers.Conservatives embraced Ms. Engelbrecht. Mr. Fund, who wrote for The Wall Street Journal, helped her obtain grants. Steve Bannon, then chief executive of the right-wing media outlet Breitbart News, and Andrew Breitbart, the publication’s founder, spoke at her conferences.True the Vote’s volunteers scrutinized registration rolls, watched polling stations and wrote highly speculative reports. In 2010, a volunteer in San Diego reported seeing a bus offloading people at a polling station “who did not appear to be from this country.”Civil rights groups described the activities as voter suppression. In 2010, Ms. Engelbrecht told supporters that Houston Votes, a nonprofit that registered voters in diverse communities of Harris County, Texas, was connected to the “New Black Panthers.” She showed a video of an unrelated New Black Panther member in Philadelphia who called for the extermination of white people. Houston Votes was subsequently investigated by state officials, and law enforcement raided its office.“It was a lie and racist to the core,” said Fred Lewis, head of Houston Votes, who sued True the Vote for defamation. He said he had dropped the suit after reaching “an understanding” that True the Vote would stop making accusations. Ms. Engelbrecht said she didn’t recall such an agreement.“It was a lie and racist to the core,” Fred Lewis, head of Houston Votes, said of Ms. Engelbrecht’s comments of the group.Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York TimesHer profile rose. In 2012, Politico named her one of the 50 political figures to watch. In 2014, she became a right-wing hero after revelations that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative nonprofits, including True the Vote.Around that time, Ms. Engelbrecht began working with Gregg Phillips, a former Texas public official also focused on voting fraud. They remained largely outside the mainstream, known mostly in far-right circles, until the 2020 election.After Mr. Trump’s defeat, they mobilized. Ms. Engelbrecht campaigned to raise $7 million to investigate the election’s results in dozens of counties in Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona, according to a lawsuit by a donor.The donor was Fred Eshelman, a North Carolina-based drug company founder, who gave True the Vote $2.5 million in late 2020. Within 12 days, he asked for a refund and sued in federal court. His lawyer said that True the Vote hadn’t provided evidence for its election fraud claims and that much of Mr. Eshelman’s money had gone to businesses connected with Ms. Engelbrecht.Mr. Eshelman, who withdrew the suit and then filed another that was dismissed in April 2021, did not respond to requests for comment. Ms. Engelbrecht has denied his claims.In mid-2021, “2,000 Mules” was hatched after Ms. Engelbrecht and Mr. Phillips met with Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative provocateur and filmmaker. They told him that they could detect cases of ballot box stuffing based on two terabytes of cellphone geolocation data that they had bought and matched with video surveillance footage of ballot drop boxes.Salem Media Group, the conservative media conglomerate, and Mr. D’Souza agreed to create and fund a film. The “2,000 Mules” title was meant to evoke the image of cartels that pay people to carry illegal drugs into the United States.In May, Mr. Trump hosted the film’s premiere at Mar-a-Lago, bringing attention to Ms. Engelbrecht. Senator Mike Lee, a Republican of Utah, said after seeing the film that it raised “significant questions” about the 2020 election results; 17 state legislators in Michigan also called for an investigation into election results there based on the film’s accusations.In Arizona, the attorney general’s office asked True the Vote between April and June for data about some of the claims in “2,000 Mules.” The contentions related to Maricopa and Yuma Counties, where Ms. Engelbrecht said people had illegally submitted ballots and had used “stash houses” to store fraudulent ballots.According to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, a True the Vote official said Mr. Phillips had turned over a hard drive with the data. The attorney general’s office said early this month that it hadn’t received it.Last month, Ms. Engelbrecht and Mr. Phillips hosted an invitation-only gathering of about 150 supporters in Queen Creek, Ariz., which was streamed online. For weeks beforehand, they promised to reveal the addresses of ballot “stash houses” and footage of voter fraud.Ms. Engelbrecht did not divulge the data at the event. Instead, she implored the audience to look to the midterm elections, which she warned were the next great threat to voter integrity.“The past is prologue,” she said. Alexandra Berzon More

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    The Arizona Republican Party’s Anti-Democracy Experiment

    Listen to This ArticleAudio Recording by AudmTo hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.R​​ose Sperry, a state committeewoman for Arizona’s G.O.P., answered immediately when I asked her to name the first Republican leader she admired. “I grew up during the time that Joe McCarthy was doing his talking,” Sperry, an energetic 81-year-old, said of the Wisconsin senator who in the 1950s infamously claimed Communists had infiltrated the federal government. “I was young, but I was listening. If he were here today, I would say, ‘Get him in there as president!’”Sperry is part of a grass-roots movement that has pushed her state’s party far to the right in less than a decade. She had driven 37 miles the morning of July 16, from her home in the Northern Arizona town Cottonwood to the outskirts of Prescott, to attend the monthly meeting of a local conservative group called the Lions of Liberty, who, according to the group’s website, “are determined to correct the course of our country, which has been hijacked and undermined by global elites, communists, leftists, deep state bureaucrats and fake news.” That dismal view of America today was echoed by nearly every other conservative voter and group I encountered across the state over the past year.Arizona has become a bellwether for the rest of the nation, and not just because of its new status as a swing state and the first of these to be called for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. It was and has continued to be the nexus of efforts by former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies to overturn the 2020 election results. At the same time, party figures from Trump down to Rose Sperry have sought to blacklist every Arizona G.O.P. official who maintained that the election was fairly won — from Gov. Doug Ducey to Rusty Bowers, speaker of the state’s House of Representatives. Such leaders have been condemned as RINOs, or Republicans in name only, today’s equivalent of the McCarthy era’s “fellow travelers.”The aggressive takeover of the Arizona G.O.P. by its far-right wing was made manifest on primary night earlier this month, when a slate of Trump-endorsed candidates — the gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, the U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters, the state attorney general candidate Abraham Hamadeh and the secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem — all prevailed. As a group, they maintain that the 2020 election was stolen, have promoted conspiracy theories about Covid and have vowed to protect Arizona’s schools from gender ideology, critical race theory and what McCarthyites denounced 70 years ago as “godless communism.” They have cast the 2022 election as not just history-defining but potentially civilization-ending. As Lake told a large crowd in downtown Phoenix the night before the primary: “It is not just a battle between Republicans and Democrats. This is a battle between freedom and tyranny, between authoritarianism and liberty and between good and evil.” A week later, in response to the F.B.I.’s executing a search warrant at Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, Lake posted a statement on Twitter: “These tyrants will stop at nothing to silence the Patriots who are working hard to save America.” She added, “America — dark days lie ahead for us.” Far from offering an outlier’s view, Lake was articulating the dire stance shared by numerous other Republicans on the primary ballot and by the reactionary grass-roots activists who have swept them into power.Whether that viewpoint is politically viable in a swing state is another question. Arizona’s two U.S. senators, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, are both Democrats. The tissue-thin Republican majorities in Arizona’s State Legislature — 31 to 29 in the House, 16 to 14 in the Senate — are the most precarious the G.O.P. has experienced in over a quarter-century as the ruling party. And, of course, Trump lost Arizona in 2020, in large part by alienating the college-educated suburbanites who have relocated to the Phoenix metropolitan area of Maricopa County in increasing numbers.Arizona has thus become what the state’s well-regarded pollster Mike Noble characterizes as “magenta, the lightest state of red.” In the face of this shift, the state’s G.O.P. has aggressively declined to moderate itself. Instead, it has endeavored to cast out some of its best-known political figures. Last year, it censured its sitting governor, Doug Ducey; its former U.S. senator Jeff Flake; and Cindy McCain, the widow of the U.S. senator and 2008 G.O.P. presidential nominee John McCain, arguably the state party’s second-most-famous elected official, after Barry Goldwater.In the weeks leading up to its Aug. 2 primary, and now as it turns toward the general election in November, Arizona has presented an American case study in how backlash to demographic and social change can cause a political party to turn on itself, even at its own electoral peril. “The fact that so much energy is being spent RINO-slaying and not beating Democrats is not a healthy place for our party to be in the long run,” one political consultant who works in multiple Western states including Arizona (and who requested anonymity to not alienate current and potential clients) observed fretfully.When I recently spoke by phone with the state G.O.P.’s chairwoman, Kelli Ward, and shared this consultant’s concern, she offered a defiant laugh. “That’s the same argument that they’ve been making again and again and again, decade after decade,” Ward told me. “And they deliver us these spineless weaklings who cave in like rusty lawn chairs at the snap of a Democrat’s finger. I’m sick of it, and the people are sick of it.” A day after we spoke, Ward announced on Twitter that party officials had voted to censure yet another of their own: Bowers, the sitting House speaker, one of the few state Republican leaders who had remained steadfast in publicly saying that Trump lost Arizona fair and square, and had recently testified to the Jan. 6 House committee that vengeful opponents had driven a van through his neighborhood with a video screen calling him a pedophile. Bowers, Ward proclaimed in her tweet, “is no longer a Republican in good standing & we call on Republicans to replace him at the ballot box in the August primary.” (Bowers was defeated.)But there is more at stake than the health of the Republican Party when its core activists, as well as a growing number of officials and those campaigning for governmental positions, openly espouse hostility not just to democratic principles but, increasingly, to the word “democracy” itself. It has long been a talking point on the right — from a chant at the 1964 Republican convention where Goldwater became the G.O.P. nominee to a set of tweets in 2020 by Senator Mike Lee of Utah — that the United States is a republic, not a democracy. The idea, embodied by the Electoral College’s primacy over the popular vote in presidential elections, is that the founders specifically rejected direct popular sovereignty in favor of a representative system in which the governing authorities are states and districts, not individual voters. But until very recently, democracy has been championed on the right: President George W. Bush, a subject of two books I’ve written, famously promoted democracy worldwide (albeit through military aggression that arguably undermined his cause). For that matter, in Trump’s speech at the rally on Jan. 6, he invoked the word “democracy” no fewer than four times, framing the attempt to overturn the 2020 election as a last-ditch effort to “save our democracy.”What is different now is the use of “democracy” as a kind of shorthand and even a slur for Democrats themselves, for the left and all the positions espoused by the left, for hordes of would-be but surely unqualified or even illegal voters who are fundamentally anti-American and must be opposed and stopped at all costs. That anti-democracy and anti-“democracy” sentiment, repeatedly voiced over the course of my travels through Arizona, is distinct from anything I have encountered in over two decades of covering conservative politics.It’s the failure to reinstall a legitimately defeated president, under the misguided belief that victory was stolen from him, that seems to have ushered in the view among Arizona Republicans — and many more across the nation — that democracy itself was at fault and had been weaponized by the political left, or the “enemies from within,” as McCarthy once put it. As it happened, Rose Sperry wasn’t the first person to invoke the Wisconsin senator at the Lions of Liberty event. “I had a weird dream last night about Joseph McCarthy,” said one of the morning’s featured speakers, Jim Arroyo, the head of Arizona’s biggest chapter of the Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary group made up largely of current and former members of the armed forces and law enforcement. McCarthy, he said, “was not only right — he understated the seriousness of it.” Arroyo’s eschatological rhetoric was echoed by the down-ballot Republican candidates who spoke to the group. One of them was Selina Bliss, a precinct committeewoman and nursing teacher at Yavapai College who was running for a State House seat. (On Aug. 2, she was defeated by the G.O.P. incumbent, Quang Nguyen, who earlier this year authored legislation, later signed into law, requiring that Arizona high school students receive anti-Communist civics instruction.) Bliss reminded her friends and neighbors that they belonged to a thriving activist movement: “We Republicans, we conservatives, we’re the grass roots, we come from the bottom up.” Blake Masters, in white shirt, outside a campaign rally in Tucson, Ariz., in July.Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York TimesBut after the seeming paean to political participation, she took a turn. “I want to address something that’s bugging me for a long time,” Bliss said. “And that’s the history and the sacredness of our Constitution and what our founding fathers meant.” She then said: “We are a constitutional republic. We are not a democracy. Nowhere in the Constitution does it use the word ‘democracy.’ When I hear the word ‘democracy,’ I think of the democracy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That’s not us.”It once would have been jarring to hear a candidate for state legislative office ignore the usual parochial issues — property taxes, water access, state funding for universities — and instead repudiate the very idea of democracy in America. But Bliss’s view was hardly out of place here. Sperry, the activist sitting in the audience, had posted on Facebook a few months before: “Please strike the word democracy from your vocabulary! WE ARE A REPUBLIC!!!” The Republican activities across Arizona before its primary could have been mistaken, at first glance, for a collective celebration of democracy rather than a threat to it. Rows of yard signs, nearly all of them for G.O.P. candidates, stretched along highways from Maricopa County to the northern conservative strongholds of Mohave and Yavapai Counties. Candidate meet-and-greets, held in coffee shops and strip malls and V.F.W. halls, were hosted by activist groups like the Granite Mountain Republican Women and United Patriots AZ. Among the candidates, the closest thing to an entrenched party war horse was two six-term congressmen from the 2010 Tea Party class, Paul Gosar and David Schweikert, each of whom were now, because of redistricting, having to sell themselves to voters in newly drawn but still red districts. (Both incumbents won.) Otherwise, the field was replete with political novices, suggestive of what Selina Bliss, at the Lions of Liberty meeting, referred to as a seeming “bottom up” democratization of the Republican Party.But most of the G.O.P. candidates seemed to share Bliss’s fears of majority rule as well as a desire to inflict harsh punishment on those they perceive as threats, deviants and un-American. Possibly the most notorious Arizona Republican to appear on the primary ballot was State Senator Wendy Rogers. She was censured in March by her fellow state senators for telling a white-nationalist group, referring to state and federal officials who had enacted Covid vaccine mandates, “If we try some of these high-level criminals, convict them and use a newly built set of gallows, it’ll make an example of these traitors who betrayed our country.” Yet Rogers would go on to win her primary, easily defeating a fellow G.O.P. state senator, Kelly Townsend, whose communications with Trump lawyers have been subpoenaed by the F.B.I., presumably for information she might have about the plot by Trump allies to replace Arizona’s legitimate electors with fake ones. No moderate herself, Townsend recently vowed that vigilantes at primary polling stations would monitor voters they deemed suspicious: “We’re going to have people parked out there watching you, and they’re going to follow you to your car and get your license plate.”The leading name in this new Republican wave is that of Lake, the gubernatorial candidate, who was a well-known personality on Phoenix’s Fox affiliate for over two decades. At a Trump rally in Arizona I attended in January, she called for the arrest of illegal border-crossers and also of Dr. Anthony Fauci for unspecified Covid-related offenses, as well as unspecified conspirators “in that corrupt, shady, shoddy election of 2020.” To this litany of suspected criminals, Lake has also added teachers. “Put cameras in the classroom,” she told the Arizona conservative talk-radio host Garret Lewis last November, arguing that parents should have access to video evidence of “something being taught in the classroom” that they might deem objectionable.Lake neatly if hyperbolically described the Arizona G.O.P.’s us-versus-them outlook on Twitter in June: “They kicked God out of schools and welcomed the Drag Queens. They took down our Flag and replaced it with a rainbow. They seek to disarm Americans and militarize our Enemies. Let’s bring back the basics: God, Guns & Glory.” On her campaign website, Lake describes the media — her former profession — as “corrupt” and “the enemy of the people.” A campaign video displays her bashing televisions to bits with a sledgehammer and a baseball bat. At a rally the night before the primary, she directed her audience to turn around and “show these bastards” — referring to the camera crews positioned on a riser — their disapproval, which they proceeded to do with loud jeers.Lake has said she decided to leave journalism in 2021 because of disenchantment with the news media’s liberal bias. In fact, Lake herself donated to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. A decade later, Lake’s preference had changed. She visited the White House in June 2019 to do a story for the local Fox affiliate on Stephanie Grisham, who years before served as the press secretary for the Arizona House Majority Caucus and who had just been named communications director for the first lady, Melania Trump. “What got me was how much of a fangirl for Donald Trump she was,” Grisham told me. “When she got there, she was absolutely gushing about him. I remember thinking, Even for Fox, this is a bit much.”Trump endorsed Lake last September, a few hours after she wrote on Twitter that the likeness of the former president should be chiseled into Mount Rushmore. Trump also endorsed Blake Masters, now the Arizona Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent Democrat, Mark Kelly. Masters, the 36-year-old former C.O.O. of Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm, embraces the “great replacement” conspiracy theory. “If you say as a candidate, ‘Obviously, the Democrats, they hope to just change the demographics of our country, they hope to import an entirely new electorate,’ they call you a bigot,” he told Rob Hephner, who goes by Birdman, on the “Patriot Edition” podcast in April. Such views are in alignment with those of Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, who gave Masters his “forceful endorsement.” (Masters rejected the endorsement.) The campaign yard signs for Masters that I saw festooning Arizona’s highways bore pledges like “Blake Masters Will Prosecute Fauci” and “Blake Masters Won’t Ask Your Pronouns.”Trump’s interest in Arizona officeseekers like Masters and Lake is anything but casual. For nearly two years running, he has repeatedly cited both his continuing desire to overturn the 2020 presidential election and Arizona’s centrality to that effort. At a rally in Prescott Valley on July 22, Trump spoke glowingly of the G.O.P. state chairwoman, Kelli Ward — “she’s winning so much.” Ward has championed the State Senate’s election audit of Maricopa County, calling it “America’s Audit.” (Arizona election officials had already conducted a succession of recounts and audits before this one by an outfit called Cyber Ninjas, headed by a conservative election denier named Doug Logan, which found in the end that Biden had won 99 more votes and Trump 261 fewer than originally recorded.) A primary eve rally in Phoenix, in August.Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York TimesThe most telling among Trump’s Arizona endorsements is that of the secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, whom Trump has described in an official statement as “a true warrior” who took an “incredibly powerful stance on the Massive Voter Fraud that took place in the 2020 Presidential Election Scam.” Indeed, Finchem, as a state representative, was one of Arizona’s first public officials to baselessly claim that the state’s voting machines had been corrupted in Biden’s favor. At a candidate forum I attended in mid-July, Finchem disclosed to the audience that he had charged $5,000 to his personal American Express card to rent out a Phoenix hotel conference room where, on Nov. 30, 2020, he and Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani staged a multihour presentation to Finchem’s fellow state legislators of supposed fraud in Arizona, even as state officials were certifying the election for Biden a few miles away. As secretary of state, Finchem would be Arizona’s top election official during a potential rematch of Trump and Biden in 2024 and could work to invalidate the results, which the current secretary of state, the Democrat Katie Hobbs, now running for governor, refused to do in 2020.The enmeshment of Finchem and other Arizona Republicans in the tumultuous final weeks of Trump’s presidency is remarkable in its depth and complexity. On Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the election, Representative Paul Gosar conceived the first protest of the results anywhere in the United States, marching to the Maricopa County recorder’s office in Phoenix, where the ballots were still being tallied. Joining Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell in a postelection lawsuit seeking to invalidate Arizona’s results, on the factually unsupported grounds that “old-fashioned 19th-century ballot stuffing” had occurred there, was the Phoenix lawyer Alexander Kolodin, who on primary night won a seat in the State Legislature (no Democrat will oppose him in the general election). As the flurry of Arizona lawsuits failed one by one, the state’s G.O.P. chairwoman, Ward — who had also filed an unsuccessful election lawsuit — maintained a weekslong pressure campaign against the Republican-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to throw out the results, saying in one ominous text message (among many that were obtained by The Arizona Republic), “I know you don’t want to be remembered as the guy who led the charge to certify a fraudulent election.”Two weeks after the Nov. 30 election-fraud hearing convened by Finchem and Giuliani, while state officials were certifying the Arizona results, the official state G.O.P. Twitter account posted a video of Ward and 10 other Republicans signing documents falsely proclaiming themselves to be the state’s electors and declaring the election results illegitimate. Among the phony electors were three Republicans who would later appear on the 2022 primary ballot: the U.S. Senate candidate Jim Lamon and the State Senate candidates Anthony Kern and Jake Hoffman. (Lamon was defeated by Masters; Kern and Hoffman won.) This fake-elector scheme had been in the works for over a month and involved Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who in emails obtained by The Washington Post urged two Arizona lawmakers, Speaker Rusty Bowers and State Representative Shawnna Bolick, to “take action to ensure that a clean slate of electors is chosen.”When that maneuver also failed to bear fruit, several Arizona Republicans joined with Trump in attempting a final desperate postelection measure. On Dec. 21, 2020, Gosar and his fellow Arizona congressman Andy Biggs, then the head of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, were among a group of G.O.P. House members who met with Trump in the White House to discuss actions including calling on Vice President Mike Pence to decertify the election results unilaterally. Two weeks later, on Jan. 5, 2021, 16 Arizona legislators — Bolick, Kern and Finchem among them — signed a letter to Pence that was also signed by Republican legislators in four other contested states, urging him to delay certifying the election results for 10 days. Pence refused to do so, and on Jan. 6, Kern and Finchem were among the Arizonans who descended on the Capitol. Finchem photographed the riotous mob and posted it on Twitter with the caption, “What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.”As a result of their involvement in Trump’s efforts to steal back the presidency, Finchem, Ward, Biggs and other Arizona Republicans have been issued subpoenas by the Jan. 6 committee. (Though Ward taunted Democrats last year for their resistance to the State Senate audit in Arizona — “What are they hiding?” she demanded at the time — she has since sued to block the committee from obtaining her cellphone records.) Back home in Arizona, however, they have faced no reprisals within their party. Far from it: Their willingness to assist Trump in overturning the 2020 election was rewarded across the boards on primary night.There was no mystery as to why. According to a state survey of Arizona voters last year, 61 percent of Republicans believed the 2020 election “was stolen from President Trump.” Perhaps not by coincidence, the G.O.P. primary candidates who spoke the most vociferously about fraud in the 2020 elections were those like Kari Lake and Blake Masters, who were not in Trump’s trenches back then and now had to work overtime to prove themselves fit for combat against the enemy.“We are a Wild West state,” Lake proudly declared to a cheering audience at the Trump rally I attended in January. She was saluting her state’s undomesticated spirit and distinguishing it from what she termed the “socialist garbage” prevalent in California. Much like Texans, residents of the last contiguous state to enter the Union have long evinced a certain pride in their nearly uninhabitable territory, insofar as doing so confers a toughness that their effete neighbors to the west may lack. Lake was no doubt also nodding to the worrisome demographic reality that some 60,000 Californians relocated to Arizona in 2020. What some activists on the right derisively refer to as the looming “Californication” of Arizona — high taxes, increased gun restrictions and liberalization of social values — ranks high on the list of existential anxieties among the state’s conservatives. “They don’t win with their ideas,” Lake said of progressives to her supporters the night before the primary, “because their ideas are what sunk California.”Roughly 39 percent of Arizona’s land is federally owned. The local hostility to government control, combined with the sense of rough-hewn independence fostered by its desert climate, has meant that conservatism in Arizona has long possessed an extremist underbelly. One former longtime state G.O.P. operative brought up the congressional district long represented by Gosar, which includes most of Mohave and Yavapai Counties, two of the two most conservative in Arizona. (The home page for the Mohave County G.O.P. contains the banner headline, “Protecting Our Republic … One Voter at a Time.” The Yavapai County G.O.P.’s website includes links to the former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast as well as to the Gateway Pundit website, which has been banned on Twitter and demonetized by Google for promoting ludicrous conspiracy theories.) “These are the ranchers of the West,” the former operative told me. “They literally will meet you with a gun at their door if you try to say hello. It makes canvassing very difficult.” This person noted that Kingman, a town in Mohave County, was where Timothy McVeigh spent several months discussing with fellow extremists his plans to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. As the former operative told me, “This is the part of the country where they believe Timothy McVeigh was right.”Other political observers in Arizona point to Gov. Evan Mecham, elected in 1986 and impeached and removed from office only 15 months into his term (for obstruction of justice and misusing public funds to prop up his ailing auto dealership), as an early sign of a far-right base that Trump would later exploit. Mecham, who rescinded the state holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while blaming America’s high divorce rate on women’s entering the labor force, vowed to his death that his political career had been undone by a vast conspiracy. The bridge between Mecham and Trump would prove to be Joe Arpaio, who took office as Maricopa County sheriff in 1993, five years after Mecham’s removal, and stepped down in 2017 after losing his latest re-election bid. Styling himself as “America’s toughest sheriff,” Arpaio achieved notoriety for his barbaric attitude toward county inmates before later refashioning himself as Arizona’s foremost proponent of strict border-enforcement measures and, later still, as a pioneer of the “birther” conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born outside the United States. Arpaio became an early spokesman for candidate Trump, who as president would pardon Arpaio after he was found guilty of contempt of court. Arpaio, now 90, was also on the ballot for the Aug. 2 primary, barely losing a campaign to be mayor of Fountain Hills, an affluent town in Maricopa County with a population of some 24,000.Of course, Arizona’s dominant modern-day political figures — the Democrats Carl Hayden and Morris Udall, the Republicans Goldwater and McCain — have shaped the state and its national standing in ways that Arpaio and Mecham never could. But it’s also the case that McCain, the state’s most powerful Republican for the past quarter-century, commanded as much distrust as he did allegiance from the grass roots. Conservative Christians in Arizona did not readily forgive McCain for denouncing Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance” during his first presidential run in 2000. McCain’s partnership with the Democrat Ted Kennedy to reform the nation’s immigration system in 2006 further alienated his conservative constituents. Another grudge was the senator’s opposition to a 2014 Arizona bill that would permit businesses to deny service to gay customers on religious grounds, insisting that in Arizona, “We welcome all people of all persuasions.”That year, despite McCain’s status as a war hero, the Arizona G.O.P. censured him “for his continued disservice to our state and nation,” in essence accusing its best-known Republican — and the 2008 G.O.P. presidential candidate — of being a RINO. Following the censure, several McCain associates set up a political action committee called Arizona Grassroots Action and aggressively filled vacant precinct committee seats with loyalists, who in turn voted for like-minded party chairs.Among the precinct committeemen who continued to view McCain with disfavor was a libertarian-leaning engineering technology professor at Mesa Community College named Joe Neglia. In 2012, Neglia attended the state party convention and watched with chagrin as the Republican establishment used delay tactics to deprive Ron Paul of any delegates and ensure victory for the presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “It was a day that really changed my life,” he told me in mid-July over breakfast in Tempe. “Because I thought: This can’t possibly be right. This can’t possibly happen.”Neglia began to catalog the means by which the party establishment maintained the upper hand: how, in 2015, they brought in busloads of McCain supporters to a party meeting so that the senator would not be greeted entirely by boos; how, in 2016, they invoked an obscure rule to shut down an “Endorse Anyone but McCain” resolution. “That’s when I started studying to become a parliamentarian,” Neglia told me. “Now I’ve got the RINOs running scared, because every meeting I go to, they see me, and they know they can’t get away with anything anymore.”A former Maricopa County G.O.P. chairwoman, Rae Chornenky, ruefully described to me how Neglia turned the tables at the state party meeting in January 2019. “We were deciding who the next state chairman would be, and Neglia threw a bomb in the middle of it,” she said. “He insisted on a roll-call vote, so that people would have to say out loud who they voted for. In politics, you don’t always want to have to do that. It’s because of that procedure that many people feel she was able to eke out her win.”A Republican precinct committeeman outside his home in Tempe, Ariz., in July.Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times“She” was Kelli Ward, an osteopathic physician, Tea Party activist and state senator who unsuccessfully challenged McCain in the 2016 Senate primary and subsequently failed to win a Senate primary in 2018. (Ward would later suggest in one of her books that her loss to McCain may have been due to fraud.) “McCain was like a Mafia don,” Ward told me, “whose henchmen were willing to take out people who wouldn’t kiss his ring. That’s why it’s so painful now for his cronies, because they’re used to being rewarded for their loyalty, just like in the mob. And we are seeing a resurgence or a surge of populist grass-roots people who understand how our country was founded and are tired of that kind of machinery controlling the Republican Party.”Ward’s evocation of mobster fealty in McCain’s circle might strike some as ironic, given her unyielding fidelity to Donald Trump, whom she first met at Mar-a-Lago in December 2017, tweeting seven months later, “Every day I thank God for @realDonaldTrump & the amazing job he is doing to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain both here at home & across the world.” In February, Ward self-published a book about the State Senate audit titled “Justified: The Story of America’s Audit” and dedicated it “to President Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America, who should still be president today.” Though the audit failed to achieve the objective of demonstrating fraud, the taxpayer-funded exercise counted as a huge win for Ward’s party organization, which raised over a million dollars during the time of the audit, far more than it did the previous year. As the G.O.P. consultant who works in Western states told me, “The audit was a tremendous windfall for the party, it was good business, the small dollar donations went through the roof.”Ward now sits atop the state G.O.P. hierarchy, which has made her an object of carping from the grass roots, who wonder whether she is drifting away from their ideals. “Even she will violate the rules that we have,” Neglia told me, and he then went on to describe how Ward defied “Robert’s Rules of Order” in abruptly shutting down a party meeting this past January just as Neglia was trying to argue for a transparency measure. Still, Neglia remains an ally of Ward’s — “She’s definitely not a RINO,” he said — and now shares with her the view that widespread fraud tainted the 2020 election. What persuaded Neglia, he said, was the stolen-election film polemic “2000 Mules,” directed by Dinesh D’Souza, whom Trump pardoned four years ago after D’Souza pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions. Neglia told me that he met D’Souza in May at the Maricopa County G.O.P.’s annual Lincoln Day lunch. “Very nice, reasonable guy,” he said. “I don’t think he has a dishonest bone in his body.”“So I was in the movie ‘2000 Mules,’ and I’ve been on that issue nonstop,” said Charlie Kirk as he stood before a gathering of fellow Republicans at a restaurant in the Maricopa County town Goodyear on a Thursday night in July. Kirk, 28, is the leader of the Phoenix-based conservative youth organization Turning Point USA, arguably the nation’s most high-profile Trump-adjacent activist group. He was there to raise campaign funds on behalf of his Turning Point lieutenant Austin Smith, who was running in a State House primary, which he would go on to win on Aug. 2. (Smith, in his brief stump speech that night, paid tribute to Trump announcing his presidential bid in 2015 as “a guy with golden hair coming down a golden escalator to save our country.”) But after a few perfunctory words of support for Smith, Kirk — an accomplished orator who combines earnestness, comic timing and doomful soothsaying in one smooth and youthful package — proceeded to describe, unhinged from the fact-based world, how America in general and Arizona in particular rested on a knife edge of anarchy.“We’ve taught our kids to hate themselves, hate the country and believe there is no God,” Kirk told the audience. “And we wonder why our country’s falling apart.” Kirk told the crowd he knew who was responsible: the Democrats. “They want 7,000 illegals across the border to come into our country every day. They want C.R.T. They want this graphic transgenderism in our schools.” As with Kari Lake’s good-versus-evil formulation, Kirk went on to describe the stakes in zero-sum terms: “There’s no compromise when you want to teach 8-year-olds transgender sexual education. I’m sorry, there’s no bargaining. There’s no compromise here. I’m just going to have to get more votes than you, and we’re going to have to defeat you.”Kirk helped start Turning Point USA in 2012. His organization did not take long to become one of the nation’s leading promoters of political disinformation. During the 2016 presidential election, a study conducted for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found, memes created by Kirk’s group were amplified by the Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency as part of Russia’s effort to aid Trump’s candidacy. Two years later, according to an investigation by The Guardian, Kirk’s organization contracted an Arizona digital marketing firm, Rally Forge, to promote deceptive messages on Facebook with the apparent objective of persuading some Democratic voters to peel away and side with Green Party candidates, as was the case in 2016, when Jill Stein’s vote totals in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin exceeded Trump’s margin of victory in those three swing states. ‘In my lifetime, I never imagined this attack on democracy. I’ve been asking myself: Will this movement die out with Trump? Or are we the ones that will die out?’In 2020, The Washington Post reported that Turning Point Action (an affiliate of Turning Point USA) commissioned Rally Forge to churn out disinformation about Covid and election security, using a Phoenix-based campaign likened to a troll farm that included teenagers as employees. That same year, Rally Forge’s chief executive, Jake Hoffman, was banned from Twitter. He was also elected to Arizona’s Legislature and was among the group of Arizona Republicans who, with Kelli Ward, proclaimed themselves to be electors in seeking to overturn Trump’s defeat. Hoffman is now vice-chairman of the state’s House Committee on Government and Elections and on primary night became a G.O.P. nominee for the State Senate.The effect of disinformation on the growing extremism of Arizona’s conservative activist community was described to me by a former state Republican operative who asked not to be named so that he could speak candidly about a trend he found to be disturbing. He told me that he frequently received emails from several of the state’s conservative precinct committeepersons. “I’ve never known a group of people, many of whom I genuinely liked, to be so misinformed,” the former operative told me. “I wish I could send you a file of memes that I’ve seen from them over the years. They’re lies or half-truths designed to incite rage. So, what ends up happening is you start to get all these clustered groups that start to spread disinformation, but they’re also the same people that are the root source of power in Arizona’s political system, which is the local precinct committee.”Arizona, the former operative said, is particularly susceptible to the churn of disinformation, owing to its large population of retirees. “These are all folks that have traded in their suit pants for sweatpants,” he said. “They’re on the golf course, or they’re in hobby mode. They have more than enough time on their hands. They’re digesting six to 10 hours of Fox News a day. They’re reading on Facebook. They’re meeting with each other to talk about those headlines. And they’re outraged that, ‘Can you believe that the government is lying to us about this?’”At the event held in Prescott by the Lions of Liberty, I asked Rose Sperry, the G.O.P. state committeewoman, which information outlet she most trusted. She immediately replied, “OAN” — One America News, the Trump-touting network that provided daily coverage of “America’s Audit” in Arizona even as one of its show hosts, Christina Bobb, was helping to raise funds for and directly coordinate the operation between the Trump team and state officials. One guest on OAN’s heavy rotation over the past year has been the secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, who appeared on a broadcast last September to discuss the State Senate audit of the 2020 election, accompanied by a chyron that read, “Exposing the Crime of the Century.” In July, I drove to Fountain Hills, where Finchem was speaking at a candidate forum hosted by the Republican Women of the Hills. Finchem sidled up to the microphone with a pistol conspicuously strapped to his right hip. After describing his work history in law enforcement, the private sector and Arizona politics, he then offered a different sort of qualification. With a grin, Finchem said, “The Atlantic put out a piece yesterday: I’m the most dangerous person to democracy in America.”The article Finchem was referring to did not designate him “the most dangerous person” — but rather as one of “dozens” of election-denying candidates who “present the most significant threat to American democracy in decades.” Regardless, the notion of Arizona’s G.O.P. secretary of state front-runner as a threat to democracy was received rapturously. Several women in the audience yelled out “Whooo!” and applauded.Throughout Arizona’s 2022 political season, the proactive denigration of democracy among Republicans became a chorus that was impossible to ignore in meetings, speeches and rallies across the state. “By the way,” Charlie Kirk made a point of saying at the fund-raiser in Goodyear, “we don’t have a democracy. OK? Just to fact check. We’re a republic.” At a gathering in Mesa that I attended in July, held by the conservative group United Patriots AZ, the evening’s host, Jeffrey Crane, asked the audience, “Are we a democracy?” They responded loudly: “Nooooo! Republic!”In each case, the very notion of democracy was raised not so much to win a scholarly point but rather to shine a spotlight on it as an offending object. When I mentioned this emerging antagonism to McCain’s longtime state director, Bettina Nava, she was genuinely stunned. Reflecting on her former boss’s brand of conservatism, Nava told me: “At the root of it all was his deep belief in the experiment of democracy. When I was his state director, we met with everybody. And there were times when it was perfectly friendly and others where it was contentious. But he never shied away from it, because disagreement didn’t equal hate.” Nava feared for the Republican Party she once served. “In my lifetime, I never imagined this attack on democracy,” she said. “I’ve been asking myself: Will this movement die out with Trump? Or are we the ones that will die out? Are we the Whigs?”Nava was describing a democracy reliant on a notion of comity that was no longer in evidence. As McCain’s grip on Arizona waned, Arizona conservatives began gradually to part ways with his beloved democratic experiment. That experiment had worked in the past, so long as the democratic principles in question redounded to the benefit of the state’s ruling conservative base. Arizona Republican legislators led the way three decades ago in championing early voting, and Republican voters overwhelmingly chose to cast their ballots by mail, at least until the 2020 election. But by Primary Day in August, many Arizona Republicans had come to view such conveniences, against all evidence, as a trap laid by a wily leftist conspiracy bent on engineering Democratic victories.I spent that morning visiting about a dozen voting centers throughout deeply conservative Yavapai County, from Black Canyon City to Yarnell to Congress. Outside the Cottonwood Bible Church, a young bearded man in a camouflage shirt politely greeted every voter with a fistful of ballpoint pens he had purchased for the occasion. “I know they were passing out the felt-tip pens last election and not all the votes counted,” the young man said, referring to the disproved claim that election workers in Maricopa County sought to invalidate Republican ballots in 2020 by forcing voters to use Sharpies. “I just wanted to do my part.”At a voting center in Clarkdale, three senior citizens, all G.O.P. precinct committeepersons, sat in folding chairs directly in front of the town’s only voting drop box a few yards away. When a car idled up, they craned their necks to see whether the driver was trying to stuff the box with multiple ballots, which “2,000 Mules” claimed was a frequent tactic. Two hours into their vigil, there had been no suspicious activity.In Maricopa County, increasing numbers of college-educated suburbanites have helped turn Arizona “magenta, the lightest state of red,” in the words of one pollster.Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York TimesOne of them, a woman named Sandy Jenocovich, led me to a nearby booth they had set up. It included leaflets for the conservative candidates they favored, as well as free copies of the Constitution, “in case anybody wants one, not that the Democrats go by it, because they certainly don’t,” she snorted. I asked Jenocovich about the hostility toward democracy I had heard voiced throughout Arizona. Nodding, she replied: “Well to me, what a democracy is, is like 51 percent of the people can decide that they want my property, and they can take it. Where a constitutional republic is: No, you can’t do that.” The three precinct committeepersons agreed that Republicans needed to “take it back” in 2022, lest critical race theory become embedded in school curriculums and children be urged to change their gender on a whim. That evening, at Lake’s election-watch party in Scottsdale, the ebullient gathering — many of the attendees young and wearing date-night attire — grew restive as her opponent, Karrin Taylor Robson, held onto a commanding lead for several hours. Having been told for the past two years that early voting was rife with corruption, Lake’s supporters had mostly cast their ballots on Primary Day, and the totals were slow to come in. The candidate finally emerged onstage at close to 11 to assure the crowd that Primary Day’s voters were breaking her way — adding, “There is no path to victory for my opponent.”Then Lake’s speech took a conspiratorial turn. “This is how they do it. They want to try to take you down in this movement. They don’t want you to celebrate.”It wasn’t clear who “they” were in Lake’s scenario. By that point, there were news reports of widespread problems in Republican-dominated Pinal County, just to the south of Maricopa County. A miscalculation by election officials there had resulted in a shortage of ballots in several precincts, with some 750 voters being turned away (though most if not all were given the opportunity to vote later that day). “What in the hell is going on?” Lake exclaimed. To many in the audience, the question itself was enough and did not require an answer. Any glitch or ambiguity on voting day would be sufficient to dispute any future election results that did not emphatically produce the outcome desired by the ascendant reactionary right.“That’s a compromised election,” Mark Finchem, the secretary of state candidate, said to me of Pinal County. “These are people who were disenfranchised.” He had arrived at Lake’s party after his own victory was all but assured. I approached him after he finished an interview with a reporter for the far-right outlet Real America’s Voice. Finchem told me that he had spent part of the day monitoring a voting center. I said that I had encountered other such monitors north of here. Given their prevalence, I asked him, was there any reason at all to suspect anything more devious than human error in Pinal County? Finchem thought for a second as beads of sweat rolled down from underneath his cowboy hat. Then, grimly, he answered.“Everything is suspect right now.”Robert Draper is a contributing writer for the magazine. He is the author of several books, most recently “To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq,” which was excerpted in the magazine. Peter van Agtmael is a Magnum photographer. His latest book, “Sorry for the War,” is about the American disconnect with war. More

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    The Long Crusade of Clarence and Ginni Thomas

    Listen to This ArticleAudio Recording by AudmTo hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.The call to action was titled “Election Results and Legal Battles: What Now?” Shared in the days after the 2020 presidential election, it urged the members of an influential if secretive right-wing group to contact legislators in three of the swing states that tipped the balance for Joe Biden — Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. The aim was audacious: Keep President Donald J. Trump in power.The group, the Council for National Policy, brings together old-school Republican luminaries, Christian conservatives, Tea Party activists and MAGA operatives, with more than 400 members who include leaders of organizations like the Federalist Society, the National Rifle Association and the Family Research Council. Founded in 1981 as a counterweight to liberalism, the group was hailed by President Ronald Reagan as seeking the “return of righteousness, justice and truth” to America.As Trump insisted, without evidence, that fraud had cheated him of victory, conservative groups rushed to rally behind him. The council stood out, however, not only because of its pedigree but also because one of its newest leaders was Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas and a longtime activist in right-wing circles. She had taken on a prominent role at the council during the Trump years and by 2019 had joined the nine-member board of C.N.P. Action, an arm of the council organized as a 501(c)4 under a provision of the tax code that allows for direct political advocacy. It was C.N.P. Action that circulated the November “action steps” document, the existence of which has not been previously reported. It instructed members to pressure Republican lawmakers into challenging the election results and appointing alternate slates of electors: “Demand that they not abandon their Constitutional responsibilities during a time such as this.”Such a plan, if carried out successfully, would have almost certainly landed before the Supreme Court — and Ginni Thomas’s husband. In fact, Trump was already calling for that to happen. In a Dec. 2 speech at the White House, the president falsely claimed that “millions of votes were cast illegally in swing states alone” and said he hoped “the Supreme Court of the United States will see it” and “will do what’s right for our country, because our country cannot live with this kind of an election.”The Thomases have long posed a unique quandary in Washington. Because Supreme Court justices do not want to be perceived as partisan, they tend to avoid political events and entanglements, and their spouses often keep low profiles. But the Thomases have defied such norms. Since the founding of the nation, no spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice has been as overt a political activist as Ginni Thomas. In addition to her perch at the Council for National Policy, she founded a group called Groundswell with the support of Stephen K. Bannon, the hard-line nationalist and former Trump adviser. It holds a weekly meeting of influential conservatives, many of whom work directly on issues that have come before the court.Ginni Thomas insists, in her council biography, that she and her husband operate in “separate professional lanes,” but those lanes in fact merge with notable frequency. For the three decades he has sat on the Supreme Court, they have worked in tandem from the bench and the political trenches to take aim at targets like Roe v. Wade and affirmative action. Together they believe that “America is in a vicious battle for its founding principles,” as Ginni Thomas has put it. Her views, once seen as on the fringe, have come to dominate the Republican Party. And with Trump’s three appointments reshaping the Supreme Court, her husband finds himself at the center of a new conservative majority poised to shake the foundations of settled law. In a nation freighted with division and upheaval, the Thomases have found their moment.This article draws on hours of recordings and internal documents from groups affiliated with the Thomases; dozens of interviews with the Thomases’ classmates, friends, colleagues and critics, as well as more than a dozen Trump White House aides and supporters and some of Justice Thomas’s former clerks; and an archive of Council for National Policy videos and internal documents provided by an academic researcher in Australia, Brent Allpress.The reporting uncovered new details on the Thomases’ ascent: how Trump courted Justice Thomas; how Ginni Thomas used that courtship to gain access to the Oval Office, where her insistent policy and personnel suggestions so aggravated aides that one called her a “wrecking ball” while others put together an opposition-research-style report on her that was obtained by The Times; and the extent to which Justice Thomas flouted judicial-ethics guidance by participating in events hosted by conservative organizations with matters before the court. Those organizations showered the couple with accolades and, in at least one case, used their appearances to attract event fees, donations and new members.New reporting also shows just how blurred the lines between the couple’s interests became during the effort to overturn the 2020 election, which culminated in the rally held at the Ellipse, just outside the White House grounds, aimed at stopping Congress from certifying the state votes that gave Joe Biden his victory. Many of the rally organizers and those advising Trump had connections to the Thomases, but little has been known about what role, if any, Ginni Thomas played, beyond the fact that on the morning of the March to Save America, as the rally was called, she urged her Facebook followers to watch how the day unfolded. “LOVE MAGA people!!!!” she posted before the march turned violent. “GOD BLESS EACH OF YOU STANDING UP or PRAYING!”President Donald J. Trump greeting Justice Thomas during Trump’s inauguration ceremony in 2017. Alex Wong/Getty ImagesBut her role went deeper, and beyond C.N.P. Action. Dustin Stockton, an organizer who worked with Women for America First, which held the permit for the Ellipse rally, said he was told that Ginni Thomas played a peacemaking role between feuding factions of rally organizers “so that there wouldn’t be any division around January 6.”“The way it was presented to me was that Ginni was uniting these different factions around a singular mission on January 6,” said Stockton, who previously worked for Bannon. “That Ginni was involved made sense — she’s pretty neutral, and she doesn’t have a lot of enemies in the movement.”Ginni Thomas, who turns 65 on Feb. 23, did not respond to requests for comment, and Justice Thomas, who is 73, declined to comment through a court spokesperson. In a posting on a private Facebook group for her high school classmates, Ginni Thomas wrote that “a NYT reporter” might have “contacted you looking for stories, etc on me. This reporter seems to have been told to write a hit piece” and “has knocked on many doors and written many emails. They all contact me and are not responding. 😁” she wrote. “Whatever. 🤷‍♀️” (The message was forwarded by one of those classmates to the reporter in question.)In the weeks that followed Jan. 6, as public condemnation of the insurrection grew to include some Republican leaders like Senator Mitch McConnell, the Council for National Policy circulated in its newsletter another previously unreported memo, written by one of its members, that outlined strategies to make the Capitol riot seem more palatable. “Drive the narrative that it was mostly peaceful protests,” a leading member of the group advised, according to a copy reviewed by The Times. “Amplify the concerns of the protestors and give them legitimacy.”In the year since the insurrection, a number of friends and allies of the Thomases, and even a former Thomas clerk, have received subpoenas from the congressional committee investigating the events of Jan. 6. Ginni Thomas co-signed a letter in December calling for House Republicans to expel Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger from their conference for joining the Jan. 6 committee. Thomas and her co-authors said the investigation “brings disrespect to our country’s rule of law” and “legal harassment to private citizens who have done nothing wrong,” adding that they would begin “a nationwide movement to add citizens’ voices to this effort.”A few weeks later, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 to allow the release of records from the Trump White House related to the Jan. 6 attack. Justice Thomas was the sole dissenter.Nearly 10 months after the dramatic events at the Capitol, Ginni Thomas ventured out onto a small balcony inside the Heritage Foundation, the conservative redoubt that stands on Massachusetts Avenue a few blocks from the Capitol. In a bright red dress, she beamed and waved to friends in the crowd who gathered last October to celebrate her husband’s three decades on the Supreme Court. Beyond a sweeping bank of windows, the sun had sunk to just above the horizon, next to the Washington Monument.The attendees represented the cream of Washington’s Republican legal establishment, “really a who’s who of all-stars,” as one of them, Donald F. McGahn II, the first White House counsel under Trump, would say when the speeches started. Many had clerked for Justice Thomas, including a number of Trump-appointed judges who are themselves touchstones on the right, like Neomi Rao and James Ho. Others were activists who had worked alongside Ginni Thomas, a Tea Party veteran.Though efforts to overturn the election had failed and Joe Biden was deep into his first year as president, the mood in the room was buoyant, even triumphal. Justice Thomas, who for years labored at the margins of the court, now found himself with a new 6-to-3 conservative majority. At the Heritage tribute, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, called Thomas “a legal titan” and “the brightest possible north star.” Playing to the crowd of nearly 250 of his party’s elite, he dryly asked: “What could I, Mitch McConnell, possibly know about a notable leader who is parsimonious with his public statements? Who shuns the performative aspect of public life? And who is viewed as a boogeyman by the radical left? What would I know about that?” Among the crowd’s laughter, Thomas’s deep baritone was most audible.‘He has charted a very radical approach to judging — it’s surprising, actually, how far the court has moved in his direction.’Much has changed since Thomas joined the court in 1991, when the judicial orthodoxy of the right had little traction — including the belief that Roe v. Wade, which established a right to abortion, relied on a phantom “right to privacy” that isn’t explicit in the Constitution, or that there was “no device more destructive to the notion of equality” than affirmative action and racial quotas, as former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist once wrote in a dissenting opinion. During his first decade on the court, Thomas was often characterized by his critics as a cipher who almost never asked questions from the bench and was an underwhelming understudy to Justice Antonin Scalia.But on the right, Thomas has come to be regarded as an epochal justice. The man who succeeded Thurgood Marshall, becoming the second Black justice, may end up with a legacy just as consequential. Trump’s conservative appointments have tipped the balance of the Supreme Court toward Thomas and his originalist philosophy, which purports to interpret the Constitution as it would have been in the era in which it was written, transforming him into a shadow chief justice. When the consensus-seeking justice who formally holds that title, John G. Roberts Jr., sides with the court’s shrunken liberal wing, as is increasingly the case, it falls to Thomas, who has served the longest on the court, to assign who will write the majority opinion.Three decades into his lifetime term, Thomas has not built his reputation by writing landmark majority rulings. Instead, he has been setting the stage for a shift in influence, writing solo opinions on issues like free speech, guns and abortion that are now poised to become majority opinions. “Take his jurisprudence on unborn life,” McConnell told the Heritage Foundation crowd. “Every time, without fail, Justice Thomas writes a separate, concise opinion to cut through the 50-year tangle of made-up tests and shifting standards and calmly reminds everybody that the whole house of cards lacks a constitutional foundation.”“Justice Thomas does not break, or bend, or bow,” he said. “We need a federal judiciary full of men and women who are as bright as Justice Thomas, as expertly trained as Justice Thomas, but most importantly, most importantly, as committed to total unflinching judicial independence.” But in Thomas’s own remarks, he alluded to the shared purpose of those gathered. “It is a joy, an absolute joy, to be able to stand here and celebrate this moment,” he said, “not because of me but because of you all and what we’re trying to defend in this great country.”If Thomas has been laying the groundwork for a conservative revolution, so has his wife, who once worked at Heritage herself. Groundswell, the group she founded, plotted what it called a “30-front war” on hot-button issues and seeded talking points throughout the right-wing media, including with Bannon’s own publication at the time, Breitbart News. “She’s an operator; she stays behind the scenes,” Bannon said in an interview. “Unlike a lot of people who just talk, she gets shit done.”The Thomases have long emphasized how little distance there is between them. As Justice Thomas once wrote, his searing 1991 confirmation, buffeted by sexual-harassment allegations, brought them closer together: “The fiery trial through which we passed had the effect of melding us into one being — an amalgam, as we like to say.” At the Heritage Foundation celebration, he made it clear that bruised feelings about the “very, very dark time” of his confirmation have lingered, thanking “the senators who voted for me, all 52 of them.” He named supporters who had stuck by him, including Heritage’s president at the time, Kay Coles James, who he said was “among my prayer partners 30 years ago.” And he called his wife “the rock of my life.”The Thomases during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991.Doug Mills/AP Photo While no one suggests that Thomas is writing his opinions to please his wife, he does speak of a shared Thomas philosophy. And his wife has advocated hard-line positions on many of the cultural and political issues that come before the justices, presenting an unprecedented conundrum for the Supreme Court. Orin Kerr, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said that while there are no clear-cut rules outlining when justices need to recuse themselves, there are appearance concerns. “I’m sure there are justices’ spouses who have had strong opinions about politics,” Kerr said. “What’s unusual here is that Justice Thomas’s wife is an activist in politics. Historically, this is the first example of something like this that I can think of at the Supreme Court.”Justice Thomas has flipped such criticisms on their head, saying that those who raise such issues were “bent on undermining” the court. And he defended “my bride” in a 2011 speech at an event sponsored by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, as reported by Politico at the time. He said she worked “24/7 every day in defense of liberty,” adding, “We are equally yoked, and we love being with each other because we love the same things.” If the Thomases are at the height of their powers, the question, now, is how they will use that power in the years to come.“He has charted a very radical approach to judging — it’s surprising, actually, how far the court has moved in his direction,” John Yoo, a law professor at U.C.-Berkeley and former Thomas clerk known for drafting some of the “torture memos” under President George W. Bush, said during a discussion at the Heritage event. (Yoo also advised former Vice President Mike Pence that he did not have the authority to reject electoral votes on Jan. 6.) “What do you think is going to happen in the next 10 years when he might have a workable majority of originalists? I think we’re going to see the fruition of the last 30 years in the next 10.”The founders saw the courts as the guardians of the Constitution. In Federalist No. 78, which laid out the role of American courts, Alexander Hamilton wrote that they “were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature” and “keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority.” But at the same time, he wrote, the judiciary would be the weakest of the new government’s three branches. While the executive “holds the sword” and the legislature “commands the purse,” the judiciary “will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them.”The Supreme Court must rely on public acceptance of its decisions. For decades, the desire to shield the court from charges of partisanship has given rise to institutionalist justices who uphold certain norms. They avoid opinions that get too far out ahead of public opinion or too blithely overturn precedents. Instead they adhere to the doctrine of stare decisis, for the most part treating prior decisions as settled law, and prefer to rule in ways that win broad support. They also steer clear of attending openly partisan events.But as the court has taken a hard right turn with Trump’s appointments, it is also increasingly seen as composed of clashing ideologues, both liberal and conservative, rather than independent jurists. Even the court’s newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, is sensitive to the charge. “My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” she said during a speech last year, accompanying Mitch McConnell at a center named for him at the University of Louisville. And as the court signals an appetite to take up cases that may well overturn settled law, including Roe v. Wade, more Americans view it as increasingly politicized, with a steep decline over the past year to a 40 percent approval rating, a new low in Gallup polling.Justice Thomas administering the Constitutional Oath to the newest Supreme Court justice, Amy Coney Barrett, on Oct. 26, 2020, as her husband, Jesse Barrett, and President Trump looked on.Oliver Contreras/Redux, for The New York TimesThis dynamic has left Chief Justice John Roberts in an increasingly isolated position as the Supreme Court’s leading institutionalist. He refrains from attending partisan legal forums, like those at the Federalist Society. And his wife, Jane, stepped down as a litigator at her law firm after his appointment. Justice Thomas, however, “believes that human beings have free will to chart our own course,” said Helgi Walker, a former Thomas clerk and a partner at Gibson Dunn. “And I have no doubt that applies, perhaps especially so, to his wife.” That said, she added, he “takes direction from no one but the law.”Thomas has also rejected the institutionalist approach when it comes to the doctrine of stare decisis. “When faced with a demonstrably erroneous precedent, my rule is simple,” he wrote in a 2019 opinion. “We should not follow it.” When he has cited Federalist No.78, he has underscored Hamilton’s comment that judges “would require an uncommon portion of fortitude” to defend constitutional principles when they are unpopular. “The trait that Hamilton singles out — fortitude — is fundamental to my philosophy of life,” Thomas said in a 2001 speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute.He has said the route to safeguarding the Supreme Court is simply through stricter adherence to the Constitution, and he warned at a recent speech at the University of Notre Dame that judges have been exceeding their authority. “There’s always a temptation, I think, to go beyond,” he said, adding that when judges “begin to venture into political, legislative or executive-branch lanes,” they “are asking for trouble.” He laid out the consequences: “I think the court was thought to be the least dangerous branch, and we may have become the most dangerous.”But more than any other sitting justice, Thomas has stoked concerns of a hyperpartisan court. He has frequently appeared at highly political events hosted by advocates hoping to sway the court. He and his wife sometimes appear together at such events, and their appeal is apparent: He fulfills the hard right’s longing for a judge — and especially a Black judge — oblivious to the howls of the left, while she serves up the red meat the base wants to hear in her speeches. They often portray themselves as standing in the breach amid a crumbling society. “It’s very exciting,” Ginni Thomas said during a 2018 Council for National Policy meeting, “the fact that there’s a resistance on our side to their side.”Her role became increasingly public in the Trump era, when she started emceeing an annual awards ceremony celebrating some of the best-known Trump allies. The awards are handed out in conjunction with United in Purpose, a group created by Bill Dallas, an evangelical political activist. Some recipients lead organizations that have business before the Supreme Court.“When the Batphone rings and it’s Commissioner Ginni Gordon, otherwise known as Ginni Thomas, of course you have to show up,” said Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent turned popular pro-Trump radio host, after receiving one of Thomas’s Impact Awards in 2017. “I can’t say enough about Ginni,” Bongino told the audience at the event, which included the Fox News pundit Sean Hannity and Ed Meese, a Reagan administration attorney general. “I idolize her husband — he’s an icon to me,” Bongino said, but added that it was Ginni Thomas who connected him with right-wing leaders when he was making several unsuccessful congressional bids. “I think in the long run, when you look at the impact on the conservative movement and the principles we hold dear, I think her and her husband stand toe to toe.”The federal judicial code of conduct, adopted in 1973, restricts judges from being “a speaker, a guest of honor or featured on the program” at fund-raising events. While the code doesn’t officially apply to the nine justices, Roberts said in a 2011 report that the justices “do in fact consult” it when “assessing their ethical obligations” — a statement reiterated by a spokeswoman for the court when we asked for comment. But according to documents and recordings of such events reviewed by The Times, Justice Thomas has at least twice headlined annual conferences at the Eagle Forum, a conservative grass-roots group opposed to abortion and modern feminism. The first was in 1996 when he received an Eagle award. “He’s better than Rehnquist, he’s better than Scalia, he’s just wonderful,” Phyllis Schlafly, the founder of the Eagle Forum and one of the most influential conservative activists of her generation, told the audience, according to a cassette recording of the speech. She even recited a poem in his honor, which began: “No high court justice shows such promise/As our favorite, Clarence Thomas/You’re a jurist for the ages/Who sends liberals into rages.”The couple returned to the Eagle Forum years later, in 2017; this time his wife received the Eagle award. It was the year after Schlafly died, and the organization, which is dependent on member and conference fees, was struggling. They were featured on the event program, and documents show that Ginni Thomas urged attendees to come hear her and “my amazing husband” in a personal letter that was part of the event’s promotional materials, adding, “God can use such an occasion for encouragement and insights!” (Full registration for the group’s annual conference cost $350 as of 2019.) Afterward, the organization tweeted a promotional video aimed at prospective members that included footage of the couple’s appearance.The Thomases at an Eagle Forum event in 2017.Twitter In 2008, Justice Thomas delivered a keynote speech to donors to the Manhattan Institute and spoke at a secretive political retreat hosted by the billionaire Charles Koch. And he has had a long relationship with the Heritage Foundation, which employed his wife as a liaison to the George W. Bush White House. The group once invoked Justice Thomas’s speech at one of its Leadership for America fund-raisers in a direct appeal that it sent to Philip Morris seeking a $50,000 contribution. And in 2020, he objected to an ethics proposal circulated by the policymaking body of the federal court system that would have barred judges from membership in ideological legal groups like the Federalist Society, while he was speaking at the group’s convention. “I think they’re about to silence the Federalist Society,” he said. “So I guess I can’t come back.”Perhaps most important in understanding the couple’s far-reaching philosophy and project is their long relationship with the Council for National Policy, aspects of which have not been previously reported. Justice Thomas headlined an event for the group in 2002, and in 2008 he attended one of its meetings and was photographed with a gavel behind a lectern bearing the group’s name.Justice Thomas at a Council for National Policy meeting in 2008.Just over a decade later, Ginni Thomas would join the board of the council’s action arm. During a presentation in 2019, she warned that “conservatives and Republicans are tired of being the oppressed minority,” adding that they were being “falsely vilified, slandered and defamed as extremists and bigots and haters.” The left, she said, was “making it justifiable and normalized to fight us, to hurt us, to kill us even.” For her, this was a fight decades in the making.Before introducing Justice Thomas at the Eagle Forum in 1996, Schlafly spoke about his mother-in-law. “Now, first I want to present the wife of our distinguished speaker, Ginni Thomas, and I want to tell you that she is, I’m very proud to say, a second-generation Eagle,” she said. “It was back in 1973 that a little group in Omaha, Nebraska, decided that they would rescind Nebraska’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and it was just about half a dozen of them, but Ginni’s mother was in that group,” she added, calling it “a real turning point in our long battle” against the amendment, which the forum said would not “celebrate womanhood” but “erase it.”“And then later on,” Schlafly continued, “after the feminists moved on to another goal, after we beat them on E.R.A., they took up the goal of comparable worth” — a reference to a largely unsuccessful movement in the 1980s to require equal pay for men and women, which Schlafly called “an effort to give us wage and price control.”“Ginni was then with the Chamber of Commerce, and she was a great help in that, and now she is a major assistant for our good friend Dick Armey,” Schlafly said, referring to the Republican congressman from Texas who was then the House majority leader. “So, Ginni, stand up. We appreciate your being with us tonight.”Virginia Thomas is the daughter of a president of a Nebraska architecture firm; the well-to-do family had two houses, one in Omaha and one in a nearby lakeside development called Ginger Cove that her father built. Ginni Lamp, as she was known then, was on a cheer squad for taller girls known as the Squires, brandishing a sword and a shield before football games. “She would march in front with that; she loved doing that,” said Sue Norby, a classmate. “My other friends were on the pompom squad because they were so short, but Ginni was on a different squad because she was tall, with other tall girls. She was the warrior woman.”Ginni’s mother, Marjorie Lamp, was an outspoken Republican activist and became a towering figure in her daughter’s life. When Schlafly lost a bid to become president of the National Federation of Republican Women in 1967, Marjorie Lamp withdrew from the organization and called the voting “rigged.” She ran unsuccessfully for the Nebraska Legislature in 1972 and was a 1976 Reagan delegate, railing against Gerald Ford’s lack of leadership; “Reagan people are more hard-core,” she once said. She warned in a local paper that if Jimmy Carter was elected, “we’d be heading toward socialism.” Democrats, she wrote in a 1983 letter to The Lincoln Journal Star, “almost brought our great country to its knees with their wild spending policies.”Ginni Thomas has underscored her parents’ resolve in her own remarks. “Our family didn’t believe Nixon did anything wrong in Watergate until way after he admitted guilt,” she once said. “We believed any Republican until all the evidence was in, and then a little more.” She joined her high school’s Republican club in 1974, the year it started, and she and her mother attended the 1976 Republican National Convention together. It was her mother, she would later say, who “modeled conservative political feminism for her daughters.” She attended Creighton University in Omaha and earned her law degree there while working for a Nebraska congressman, Hal Daub, the first of a string of political jobs that took her far from Omaha.Clarence Thomas’s journey to Washington was far different. He grew up in poverty, first in Pin Point, Ga., a tiny enclave, now part of Savannah, that was established by formerly enslaved Black people after the Civil War. He and his mother and brother then moved to Savannah itself — his father left the family when he was 2 — and he was largely raised by an exceedingly strict and temperamental grandfather.For the future justice, conservatism was part of an ideological journey, much of it forged at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where he was among a small group of Black men that did the difficult work of integrating the institution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He and other students, including the prominent defense attorney Ted Wells, started a Black Student Union, and for a time Thomas protested the Vietnam War. A pivotal moment came after a demonstration in Cambridge, Mass., turned into “a full-scale riot,” he wrote in his memoir. “Horrified,” he rejected what he saw as a posture of anger and resentment and threw himself into his studies.“Just about every evening, a few minutes after 11, there Clarence would be coming through the door from the library, every single evening,” recalled Edward P. Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer known for his work chronicling Black lives in Washington, who lived down the hall from Thomas as a sophomore. “There was a fierce determination I sensed from him, that he was going to get as much as he could and get as far, ultimately, as he could.”Thomas got his law degree from Yale but stuck a 15-cent cigar sticker to the frame of his diploma after failing to get a big law job — such firms, he would write, attributed his academic pedigree to preferential treatment. Instead, he took the only job offer he received and went to work for Missouri’s Republican attorney general, John Danforth, and discovered the writings of the Black conservative Thomas Sowell, who assailed affirmative action as undercutting self-reliance; Thomas wrote that he “felt like a thirsty man gulping down a glass of cool water” to see his own beliefs articulated. A few years later, after he was appointed by Reagan to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he would complain that Black civil rights leaders “bitch, bitch, bitch, moan and moan, whine and whine.”President Ronald Reagan and Clarence Thomas in the Oval Office in 1986.Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryThomas venerated his grandfather, Myers Anderson, who was as influential in his life as his wife’s mother was in hers, and titled his memoir “My Grandfather’s Son.” But the relationship was often fractious. Anderson, who donated to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, “wasn’t happy with his grandson’s choices,” Kevin Merida, now the executive editor of The Los Angeles Times, and Michael A. Fletcher wrote in a 2007 biography, “Supreme Discomfort.” The authors quoted Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Black former clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer whom Biden is now considering for the vacancy being created by Breyer’s retirement. She remembered sitting across from Thomas at lunch and thinking: “ ‘I don’t understand you. You sound like my parents. You sound like people I grew up with.’ But the lessons he tended to draw from the experiences of the segregated South seemed to be different than those of everybody I know.”Clarence and Ginni met in 1986 at a conference on affirmative action, which they both opposed. After a stint at the civil rights office of the Education Department, he was running the E.E.O.C.; she was an attorney at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and mused that year to Good Housekeeping about someday running for Congress. She had extracted herself from a New Age-y self-help group called Lifespring, which she would denounce as a cult, but was still attending meetings held by a cult-deprogramming organization, and she took him along to one. He would describe her as a “gift from God,” and they married in 1987 at a Methodist church in Omaha; it was her first marriage, his second. “There’s no other way to politely say this, but the fact she married a Black man must’ve caused an uproar in that family, I can’t even imagine,” said Scott Bange, who dated Ginni in high school. In 1991, one of Ginni Thomas’s aunts told The Washington Post that the future justice “was so nice, we forgot he was Black,” adding, “He treated her so well, all of his other qualities made up for his being Black.”Thomas had custody of a teenage son, Jamal, from his previous marriage to Kathy Ambush, his college girlfriend. For several years, the couple also raised his great-nephew, Mark Martin. Jamal Thomas, who did not return requests for comment, has spoken warmly, if rarely, of his father on Facebook, writing in a 2015 Father’s Day post: “Dad showed me that you can enjoy all sorts of music. His album collection is legendary. Country, R&B, Classical, Blues, Gospel, Jazz, and yes, even Culture Club. But I kind of compare that to his ability to relate and connect with anyone.”Together, the Thomases considered themselves happy warriors. If he was estranged in some ways from his own upbringing, he embraced her world, and even became an ardent fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. “They have this happy-kindness, Nebraska thing going on,” one longtime friend of the couple’s said. “Ginni can be annoying and obnoxious with the happy talk, but when you’re with her one on one, she can be very kind. And with Clarence too, there’s a kindness too; it’s not just the manipulative happy talk. But there’s an underbelly of pain, and they turn it against other people.”Clarence Thomas has always maintained that he had to be talked into accepting an appointment to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit when he was nominated as a federal judge in 1989. “I was minding my business,” he said, recounting the story in his remarks at the Heritage celebration. He was championed by Danforth, by then a senator, who said on the Senate floor: “I hope that people would not attack Clarence Thomas because of some stereotype of what they think a Black lawyer should believe.”Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement from the Supreme Court in 1991, and President George H.W. Bush turned to Thomas. His confirmation hearings, presided over by Joe Biden, then the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, began with an attempt to determine his views on Roe v. Wade. Then, after an F.B.I. report was leaked, Anita Hill, a law professor who worked under Thomas at the Department of Education and the E.E.O.C., testified that he made numerous unwelcome advances, persisted in workplace conversations about his “sexual prowess,” described graphic pornography and said he found a pubic hair on a cola can and asked who had put it there. The future justice flatly rejected the allegations, calling the public inquiry “a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas.”Asked during the hearing whether he wanted to withdraw, he said, “I’d rather die.” He did not watch Hill’s testimony. “I was the one that tried to watch what was going on for as long as I could,” Ginni Thomas said in a 2020 documentary on Justice Thomas’s life and legal philosophy, “Created Equal,” made with the Thomases’ participation and funded by the far-right Charles Koch and Bradley Foundations. “It was all so wrong,” she continued. “It was so untrue.” When Biden informed Thomas in a phone call that he would vote against him, he tried to reassure him about the process. As she listened in, Ginni Thomas took a spoon from a kitchen drawer and pretended to gag herself, her husband later recounted. (Biden was also criticized for excluding testimony favorable to Hill and, much later, expressed regret.) Friends and associates said that the couple’s rage over the confirmation battle came to both define and unify them.“He was in a state of shock,” said Armstrong Williams, a Black conservative pundit and longtime friend of Justice Thomas’s, who worked for him at the E.E.O.C. and served as an adviser during the hearings. “Everything that he ever worked so hard for, everything that his grandparents and his mother were proud of him for, was reduced to sexual innuendos. And no one knew anything about his career except for those innuendos. The first time people were hearing about him were these salacious allegations.” And so, Williams said, “he threw himself into the court and becoming the best justice he could be, and that still remains his refuge.”Thomas’s early years on the court were distinguished by vigorous dissents and iconoclastic opinions. While some justices seek a narrow enough argument to garner five votes, he often staked out a lonelier, more oppositional role as a dissenter. In a 1997 Second Amendment case, he opened the door for future challenges to local gun laws. In a 2000 Nebraska abortion case, he assailed Roe v. Wade, which he called “grievously wrong.”“He was tilling the ground,” said Leonard Leo, a former executive vice president of the Federalist Society, a Council for National Policy member and a close family friend of the couple’s. “In other words, the field’s not ready for things to blossom or flourish, but he’s doing what he can to prepare it. And that’s what he’s been doing.”Leo, a Catholic like the justice, first met him when he was clerking on the District of Columbia Circuit. Thomas, then a judge on that court, became a mentor. The justice has spent time at Leo’s New England vacation home, is godfather to one of his children and has supported him through hardships, including the death of his 14-year-old daughter from spina bifida. The two men often discussed religion — Thomas once recommended he read “A History of Christianity” by Paul Johnson — and Leo says Justice Thomas saw parallels between how the church grew and how to build a body of conservative jurisprudence.“It’s very similar to what happened with the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages,” he said of the justice’s approach, adding that the church and its institutions “did their work during that time, laying the foundations for future Catholic thinking and Catholic thought to sort of grow the church and preserve its traditions. It happened quietly; it did not happen in the grand chambers of the Vatican, but it happened.”Thomas has described his judicial philosophy as one of natural law, in which liberty and equality are endowed by God. In the Thomas view, slavery and Jim Crow segregation were betrayals of the ideals enshrined in the nation’s founding documents — and so are progressive programs like affirmative action: He is equally opposed to government imposing obstacles or providing special protections. “Whether deemed inferior by the crudest bigots or considered a victim by the most educated elites, being dismissed as anything other than inherently equal is still, at bottom, a reduction of our human worth,” he said in a recent speech. In an essay called “Clarence X?” Stephen F. Smith, a Notre Dame professor and former Thomas clerk who is also Black, argues that his former boss “frequently (if not invariably) seeks to demonstrate that his conservative positions on matters of race are beneficial for Black Americans, as well as legally required.”But those positions are often out of step with a majority of Black Americans, and in his autobiography, Thomas laments being “branded a traitor to my race” for “daring to reject the ideological orthodoxy that was prescribed for blacks by liberal whites.” Such rejection of orthodoxy was evident in a 1995 concurring opinion on desegregation, when he questioned why majority-Black schools were necessarily a problem: “It never ceases to amaze me that the courts are so willing to assume that anything that is predominantly black must be inferior,” he wrote.During these years, the couple were embraced on the right; they even hosted Rush Limbaugh’s third wedding at their Virginia home in 1994, with Justice Thomas officiating. Ginni Thomas was laboring in establishment Republican circles, but an ideological ferocity akin to her mother’s simmered. “I’ve been on a mission for a long time,” she told U.S. News & World Report in 1995. “I wouldn’t be in this town if I wasn’t on a mission.” By the time the Tea Party movement arose in opposition to the Obama presidency, her sense of mission was redoubled. “Over the last 30 years, I have worked and struggled inside this Beltway, waiting for you people to show up,” she told Tea Party activists in a 2010 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I adore all of the new citizen patriots who are rising up across this country, and I am happy to help show you the ropes in the Washington area, ’cause we need help.”Newly emboldened, that same year Ginni Thomas called Anita Hill, leaving a voice mail message on a Saturday morning. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband,” she said. “So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day.” (Ginni Thomas characterized the call by saying she was “extending an olive branch.”)When asked if Justice Thomas agreed with making the call, Armstrong Williams was quick to answer. “Of course not! But he had to deal with it,” he said. “It’s his wife, it’s his best friend, his most trusted confidante, and he loves her unconditionally. He doesn’t agree with everything, but they work it out privately.”Hill was taken aback and made the call public: “She can’t ask for an apology without suggesting that I did something wrong, and that is offensive.” Hill had not been the only woman to level accusations against Clarence Thomas: At the time of his confirmation hearing, another former E.E.O.C. employee, Angela Wright, who was fired by him, detailed inappropriate sexual comments she said he made, including remarking on her bra size. A third former agency employee said, “If you were young, Black, female and reasonably attractive, you knew full well you were being inspected and auditioned as a female.” Neither was called to testify.In 2010, shortly after news broke of Ginni Thomas’s call to Hill, Lillian McEwen, a former assistant U.S. attorney who dated Clarence Thomas for several years after his separation from his first wife, spoke out: “He was always actively watching the women he worked with to see if they could be potential partners,” she told The Washington Post in support of Hill’s account. “I have no hostility toward him,” she said. “It is just that he has manufactured a different reality over time.” In 2016, Moira Smith, the general counsel at an Alaska natural-gas company, said she was groped in 1999 by Justice Thomas while she was a 23-year-old Truman Foundation scholar, eight years after he joined the court.The Thomases have rejected all such allegations. “I think, and I’ve said this only a few times publicly, one of the best things that could have happened to me was to have gone through the kind of confirmation I went through,” he told the conservative activists at the Eagle Forum in 1996. “I am the freest person on the court. I have no illusions, no desires for accolades, no desires for praise. I’m there to do a job. I will do it, and I will go home.”A few weeks after Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election, Ginni Thomas called Steve Bannon, then the chairman of Breitbart, and they had lunch at the Washington townhouse that was both Bannon’s residence and Breitbart’s headquarters. Romney’s loss presaged a battle for the Republican Party’s direction, and Thomas wanted to start a hard-right round table to serve as an alternative to an establishment meeting run on Wednesdays by Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader. “She had the idea, ‘I think we need something to counter Grover’s Wednesday meeting,’” recalled Bannon, who didn’t know her well at the time. “And I said, ‘That’s a brilliant idea.’”The previous year, Thomas’s activism drew scrutiny of her and her husband, when Common Cause, an advocacy group, reviewed I.R.S. filings and criticized Justice Thomas for failing to disclose his wife’s income — nearly $700,000 over five years from the Heritage Foundation — as required by federal law. He subsequently amended 20 years of filings. After her stint at Heritage, Ginni Thomas ran a Washington-based constitutional studies center for Michigan’s Hillsdale College, a conservative bastion that her husband has called “a shining city on a hill.” She also briefly ran her own advocacy group called Liberty Central, which campaigned against a planned Islamic community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan near ground zero; that group was funded in large measure by Harlan Crow, a friend of the Thomases’ and board member of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank whose work Justice Thomas has cited. Crow, a major Republican donor, gave $500,000 to Liberty Central. (Ginni Thomas’s 2010 pay of $120,511 was nearly 13 percent of the organization’s revenue that year, tax records show.) In the wake of the financial disclosures, more than 70 House Democrats asked the justice to recuse himself from deliberations about President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Ginni Thomas lobbied against. He declined.‘When you look at the impact on the conservative movement and the principles we hold dear, I think her and her husband stand toe to toe.’Now her new group, Groundswell, took shape, coupling a theatrical cloak-and-dagger sensibility with an inability to keep secrets. Early participants drew from a number of hard-line interest groups, including Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch and Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, as well as Leonard Leo and Allen West, an outspoken former Florida congressman, and a number of right-wing journalists, including Mark Tapscott, then the executive editor of The Washington Examiner. A trove of internal emails was promptly leaked to Mother Jones magazine, highlighting the group’s use of tactical terms like “OpSec” (“operations security”) and its hatred of establishment Republican figures, in particular Karl Rove, whom they reviled as a moderating influence on the party.Ginni Thomas oversaw the group’s plan for its “30-front war” as Groundswell became a platform for far-right leaders, donors and media figures — the people Bannon called the “honey badgers” of the movement — to exchange and amplify hard-line positions on immigration, abortion and gun control. It was, as Bannon put it, “all the stuff that became the foundational stuff of the Trump movement.”Voting was an early focus. Among the early Groundswell participants was Russell J. Ramsland Jr., an influential Texas-based backer of evidence-free voting-fraud claims who would make a failed congressional run. So was James O’Keefe, the founder of Project Veritas, a right-wing group that has used deception and hidden cameras to try to buttress claims of voter fraud. Another participant was Catherine Englebrecht, a Texas activist who in 2009 founded True the Vote, a group that says it is battling “groups who subvert our elections to serve their own purposes” and has pushed for voting restrictions.The activists were particularly inflamed after Obama signed an executive order on March 28, 2013, that created a commission to study elections. “OBAMA TAKES TOTAL CONTROL OF ELECTIONS,” one Groundswell member wrote in an email to the group. Englebrecht warned in response that the commission, which had no authority beyond writing a report and making recommendations, “has the capacity to wipe out fair elections.”Bongino, another Groundswell member, wrote: “We need to reframe this. The narrative of the Left has already taken hold.” He added, “The words ‘Voter ID’ are already lost & equated with racism.” Thomas weighed in, listing key House staff members working on elections matters, and asked, “Who else are key working group members on ELECTION LAW, ELECTION REFORM and THE LEFT’S NARRATIVES, Groundswell???”Three months after the email exchange, Justice Thomas provided a critical vote in the court’s 5-to-4 Shelby County v. Holder decision, which effectively stripped the Voting Rights Act of language that protected voters in places that had historically disenfranchised them on the basis of race. The act had required states and counties with a history of discriminatory practices, mostly in the South, to get federal preclearance of such measures. The case was led in part by one of Thomas’s own former clerks, William Consovoy, whose arguments echoed the justice’s views. In fact, Thomas had advanced the argument for Shelby four years earlier, when he raised concerns about the constitutionality of preclearance in a case from Texas, arguing that there was no longer “a systematic campaign to deny black citizens access to the ballot through intimidation and violence.” Four years later, in his concurring opinion in Shelby, he wrote, “Our Nation has changed.”The ruling was cheered on the right, with The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board calling it “a triumph of racial progress.” Civil rights groups were dismayed. “The Shelby decision is one of the biggest affronts to our democracy in modern history,” said Janai Nelson, associate director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, arguing that it “unleashed a wave of voter suppression that is like what we witnessed in the Jim Crow era.” The decision freed states to enact restrictive laws, she added, that were “often based on mythical justifications” of supposed voter fraud and “by no coincidence disenfranchise minority voters at alarmingly disproportionate rates.”That same year, Ginni Thomas turned her attention to internal battles on the right. In 2013, the Republican National Committee came out with a report after Romney’s loss that was known as the “autopsy” of the party’s failures. But its prescriptions — to broaden the base and appeal to minorities and gay people — were roundly rejected by Ginni Thomas and Bannon. “It’s a joke, and it has nothing to do with what happened,” Bannon said in an interview, recalling how he reacted to the report. “We have to have something to counter it.”Groundswell, in a message circulated among its members after the autopsy, said that “Priebus is sending messages to the party,” referring to Reince Priebus, the R.N.C. chairman at the time. It continued: “If we were all gay illegal aliens, the party likes us. He is preparing the way for a change on social issues by giving a warning, ‘don’t go Old Testament.’”The Thomases faced other headwinds. In addition to Groundswell, Ginni Thomas had started her own small firm, Liberty Consulting, but was often relegated to symbolic gestures, as when she wrote to the I.R.S. in 2014 protesting that the Obama administration was “attempting to force the disclosure of donors to conservative organizations,” amid criticism from the right that the agency was singling out conservative groups for scrutiny. Justice Thomas, meanwhile, wrote vigorous dissents from what seemed to be a narrowing conservative position; in 2015, he was the only justice to back Abercrombie & Fitch’s dress code, which prevented the hiring of a woman who wore a head scarf. (He said the store was not intentionally discriminating but simply refusing “to create an exception.”)For their 28th wedding anniversary in May 2015, Justice Thomas bought his wife a charm bracelet. It had knots and ropes and a pixie, because, as she later recounted, he thinks of her as a pixieish troublemaker. But there was another charm too. “I said: ‘Wait, there’s a windmill here. What’s that mean?’” She was, after all, a former attorney for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a bastion of Big Oil, and has fumed aloud that kids are being turned into “robots for climate change.” But her husband had an explanation, she said: “He goes, ‘We both tilt at windmills.’”The death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016 left a void on the court and for Justice Thomas. He delivered an emotional eulogy for his friend, a longtime ideological ally, even if Scalia had once referred to his own brand of originalism as “fainthearted.” “For this, I feel quite inadequate to the task,” Thomas said, adding that the two had “many buck-each-other-up visits, too many to count.” He recounted gleefully chiding Scalia for excoriating an opinion he came across: “Nino, you wrote it.” For years, Thomas was overshadowed by his more voluble colleague, but a reconsideration followed. “For the first year or two, Justice Thomas was seen as Justice Scalia’s lap dog by some, which was wildly denigrating,” said John Malcolm, vice president of the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government. “Now, in books and notes that have been released, it seems that Justice Scalia was just as influenced by Justice Thomas as Justice Thomas was by Justice Scalia.”Justice Thomas meeting with his clerks at the Supreme Court in 2002.David Hume Kennerly/Getty ImagesThomas has warm relationships with many of his court colleagues; he called Ruth Bader Ginsburg “simply a joy to work with” and was often seen helping her navigate the courtroom’s steps. But after Scalia’s death, it seemed as if he might become even more ideologically isolated. Mitch McConnell made it clear that Scalia’s successor would be left to the next president, even though nearly a year remained in the Obama administration. But with Hillary Clinton leading in the polls, it seemed that the court could soon see its “first liberal majority in nearly 50 years,” USA Today wrote in October 2016.Ginni Thomas attended the Republican National Convention as a Virginia delegate, this time on behalf of Senator Ted Cruz. There, she backed a convention-floor effort to overturn the will of Republican primary voters by awarding Trump’s delegates to Cruz. After the plot failed, Thomas expressed her disapproval of the party’s nominee in Facebook posts later compiled by Trump aides. “Donald Trump will have to WIN my vote, along with many others in the Cruz movement,” she wrote. “We were devastated at how he treated Ted” (Trump had lobbed insults and insinuations at Cruz’s wife and father), adding that it “does not bode well for a President worthy to lead this nation.”But like many others on the right who opposed Trump’s candidacy, she would become a believer. Thomas and her colleagues at the Council for National Policy had for years pushed for the appointment of “constitutionalist” judges in her husband’s image, with some even advocating the impeachment of judges who did not meet that definition. Few things were more important to the conservative base than reshaping the closely divided Supreme Court, and Trump did not disappoint. First he replaced Scalia with another conservative, Neil Gorsuch. Then, in July 2018, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to succeed Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the court’s swing vote, who was retiring. The court’s balance of power was poised to shift. It was the moment both Thomases had awaited.The Kavanaugh nomination, however, was soon imperiled amid unexpected sexual assault and harassment allegations reminiscent of Thomas’s own confirmation hearings. With the nomination in the balance, Ginni Thomas addressed the Council for National Policy’s membership, mentioning her husband no less than four times. Before introducing an off-the-record session at a council conference in October 2018, Jerry Johnson, a member of the executive committee, reminded attendees to turn their cellphones off and “do not record.” (A video of the event later surfaced.)Ginni Thomas invoked the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise at a charity baseball practice and the Kavanaugh nomination fight to make a larger claim that conservatives were under attack. “May we all have guns and concealed carry to handle what’s coming,” she said. “And what they’ve done to Brett Kavanaugh,” she continued, “I’m feeling the pain, Clarence is feeling the pain of going through false charges against a good man, and what they’re doing is unbelievable. I thought it couldn’t get worse than Clarence’s, but it did.”Her anger building, she told the audience that there were signs all around them of existential threats. “You see rainbow flags throughout businesses, sending powerful, subtle messages to all the customers that ‘We’re the kind, decent, compassionate, tolerant people, until the Republican evil conservatives show up, and those are all automatically hateful people,’” she said. “I see things in my veterinarian: ‘Spread Kindness,’ ‘Build Community,’ ‘Hate Is Not Welcome Here,’” she continued. “Look how defensive we are, because they have these cultural foundations.” Returning to the battle at hand, the Kavanaugh fight, she said, “Even if he gets in — I believe he’ll get in, I’m hoping he gets in, but they’re not going to leave him alone.” It was clear it was personal: “They’re trying to impeach him. They’re coming for my husband. They’re coming for President Trump!”The invitation went out in the weeks following Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Would Justice Thomas care to join the president for what one former Trump aide described as a “working lunch”? Kavanaugh’s elevation had created an opening on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, considered a prime steppingstone to the Supreme Court. The top contender for the post, Neomi Rao, then serving as the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, had been a Thomas clerk.Trump had long been intrigued by Justice Thomas. During the transition, in a meeting to discuss the court with Leonard Leo, he expressed an interest in learning more about the justice. “At one point during the conversation, he said to me, ‘You know, when I was out on the campaign trail, you know, when I mentioned Clarence Thomas, his name, sometimes the guy would get more applause than I did,’” Leo recalled. “ ‘What was that all about?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, he’s a hero to a lot of people.’”A courting of Thomas followed, prompted as well by rumors that he might retire. His roster of former clerks became a go-to list for Trump judicial picks. (“You did appoint a lot of my kids,” the justice would later thank McGahn, Trump’s first White House counsel, in his Heritage speech.) Early on, there was also a photo-op with Thomas and his clerks, who went to the White House. And later, there was an invitation for the justice, along with his wife, to join the president and first lady for dinner.The lunch following the Kavanaugh battle, however, was supposed to be a private affair between the justice and the president. But when Thomas arrived, Trump aides said, they were surprised to see that he had brought an uninvited guest — his wife. Trump world was learning, as others have, that the two are a package deal.The accounts of the Thomases’ meetings and conversations with the White House are based on interviews with nine former Trump aides and advisers, most of whom requested anonymity in order to speak frankly about how the courtship of Thomas created an opening for his wife. (One said he didn’t want “the Ginni prayer warriors coming after me.”) Several said they were never clear as to whether she was there as an activist or a paid consultant. They recounted how she aggressively pushed far-right candidates for various administration jobs and positioned herself as a voice of Trump’s grass-roots base. “Here’s what the peeps think,” she would say, according to one of the aides. “We have to listen to the peeps.”Shortly after the lunch meeting with her husband, she got a meeting of her own with the president, at her request, arriving in the Roosevelt Room on Jan. 25, 2019, with a delegation that included members of Groundswell in tow. “It was the craziest meeting I’ve ever been to,” said a Trump aide who attended. “She started by leading the prayer.” When others began speaking, the aide remembers talk of “the transsexual agenda” and parents “chopping off their children’s breasts.” He said the president “tried to rein it in — it was hard to hear though,” because throughout the meeting attendees were audibly praying.It was an event with no precedent, and some of the details of what transpired soon leaked: the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice lobbying a president when several cases involving transgender rights were making their way through the federal courts. (The following year, Justice Thomas would join a dissent that asserted that the Civil Rights Act did not cover people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.) The meeting grew chaotic. Ginni Thomas and other attendees complained to the president that their favored hard-line job candidates were being blocked and that his own personnel office should be purged, depicting some of his aides as closet liberals and Never Trumpers.Before the meeting, Trump’s aides assembled the research document outlining concerns with Ginni Thomas and some of her preferred job candidates, the contents of which they shared with the president.The document, obtained by The Times, detailed how Crystal Clanton, a friend of Ginni Thomas’s whose name had been advanced, had been forced out from Turning Point USA, a conservative student group on whose advisory board Ginni Thomas once served, after The New Yorker reported that she wrote in a text: “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like [expletive] them all. … I hate blacks. End of story.” (Ginni Thomas subsequently hired Clanton, and Justice Thomas, who has called the allegations against Clanton unfounded, helped her get a federal clerkship and wrote in a letter of support that he would consider her for a Supreme Court clerkship.) Other names advanced by Ginni Thomas included Bongino, whom she recommended for a counterterrorism position, and David A. Clarke, a Black former Milwaukee County sheriff whose oversight of a local jail was the subject of multiple investigations and lawsuits, whom she supported for a top post at the Department of Homeland Security.The report reminded the president that Ginni Thomas had once called him “a nonconservative candidate” whose populism was “untethered and dangerous” and whose tactics did “not bode well for a President worthy to lead this nation.” It even included a photo of her at the 2016 Republican National Convention, where she supported the effort to strip Trump of his delegates, holding her delegate badge, which was decorated with a yellow ribbon emblazoned with the words “trouble maker.”“In the White House, she was out of bounds many times,” one of Trump’s senior aides said. “It was always: ‘We need more MAGA people in government. We’re trying to get these résumés through, and we’re being blocked.’ I appreciated her energy, but a lot of these people couldn’t pass background checks.” Many of the people she pushed, another former Trump aide said, “had legitimate background issues, security-clearance issues or had done a lot of business overseas.”The president continued to allow Ginni Thomas access, telling aides that if she were in the White House visiting with other officials, she was welcome to drop by to see him. And she did on several occasions, while also passing notes on her priorities through intermediaries, multiple aides said. With her husband, she also attended a state dinner for the Australian prime minister, and she went to the White House when her husband administered the Constitutional Oath to Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s third appointment to the Supreme Court, as guests including Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host and former Thomas clerk, celebrated.The Thomases at the White House in 2019 for a state dinner honoring Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia.Paul Morigi/Getty ImagesWith her place in the presidential orbit secure, Thomas became even more outspoken. In posts on Facebook, she shared a George Soros conspiracy-theory meme and criticized the teenage survivors of the school massacre in Parkland, Fla., for supporting gun control. She complained when a town near her Virginia home put up a banner in support of Black Lives Matter, saying the group was filled with extremists “seeking to foment a cultural revolution,” and traded barbs on her public Facebook page. “Hey, are you aware you married a black man?” one commenter wrote, to which she replied: “news tip, whitey, all blacks don’t think alike!”By 2019, her influence in Republican circles was growing. She took on a leadership role at the Council for National Policy, joining the board of C.N.P. Action, which had become a key cog in the Trump messaging machine. (The council declined to comment.) The board holds breakout sessions on “pressing issues,” then publishes “action steps” for members. That year, she and her friend Cleta Mitchell, a council member and Republican elections lawyer, conducted a joint session at which Mitchell discussed harnessing charitable dollars for political purposes and Thomas spoke on the culture war. Thomas told her listeners that societal forces were arrayed against them, while flashing a slide depicting the left as black snakes coiled around cultural institutions. “Our house is on fire,” she declared, “and we are stomping ants in the driveway.”During Trump’s presidency, documents obtained by The Times show, the council and its affiliates routinely took on issues that were likely to go before the Supreme Court. Ginni Thomas personally co-moderated a panel called “The Pro-Life Movement on Offense” that laid out strategies to energize “low turnout pro-life voters” and “persuadable Democrats and Hispanics” by talking to them “about late-term abortion, taxpayer funding of abortion, and the Supreme Court,” one of the slides in the presentation read. Amid the pandemic and legal challenges to lockdown restrictions, the organization urged members to “pray for our churches to rise up.” The scope of potential conflicts has little precedent beyond narrower episodes on lower federal courts, as when the wife of Judge Stephen Reinhardt was an A.C.L.U. executive but he did not always recuse himself from cases in which the A.C.L.U. had an interest. But unlike the Supreme Court, litigants there had the right to appeal.As the 2020 election neared, C.N.P. Action meetings and documents targeted Democratic strategies that make it easier to vote, including the practice of civic groups’ gathering ballot applications, derided by many on the right as “ballot harvesting.” Months later, the Supreme Court upheld an Arizona ban on the practice, with Thomas in the 6-to-3 majority. C.N.P. Action also pressed for mandatory voter-identification laws and even floated the idea of using former Navy SEALs to monitor polls.Thomas was also busy with displays of devotion: She boasted in an online biography that she “set agendas with President Trump’s White House for quarterly conservative leader briefings” and started a group of Trump supporters called the Northern Virginia Deplorables. But it was after Trump’s November loss that she would prove her loyalty beyond doubt, when she and her group urged on efforts to overturn the election.In the weeks after Trump’s loss, court challenges began to pile up from his team, his allies and even Republican lawmakers. They echoed the call put out by C.N.P. Action to challenge swing-state outcomes, with one Republican congressman, Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, filing a lawsuit against his own state to try to stop the certification of its votes. On Dec. 8, the Supreme Court refused a request to hear that case before the certification date in a one-sentence statement. It remains unknown whether the justices were unanimous in their decision.By then, the network around the Thomases was lighting up. On Dec. 10, a former Thomas clerk and close friend of the couple’s, John C. Eastman, went on “War Room,” a podcast and radio show hosted by Bannon. Eastman argued that the country was already at the point of a constitutional crisis — and he urged the Supreme Court to intervene. Bannon eagerly agreed. Behind the scenes, Eastman was advising Trump and his campaign on a new proposal to change the outcome of the election: Vice President Mike Pence, he asserted, could refuse to accept swing-state votes and send them back to the state legislatures when he presided over the certification of the election in a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.As the Trump court challenges to the election multiplied, C.N.P. Action took up the charge once more, training its sights on the Jan. 6 certification. In December, it circulated a newsletter that included a report titled “Five States and the Election Irregularities and Issues,” targeting five swing states where Trump and his allies were already pressing litigation. But time was running out for the courts to “declare the elections null and void,” the report warned. The newsletter advised: “There is historical, legal precedent for Congress to count a slate of electors different from that certified by the Governor of the state.” One co-author of the “Five States” report was Cleta Mitchell, who by that time was among the lawyers advising Trump.Soon a number of longtime friends and associates of the Thomases were involved in efforts to overturn the election results, or helping plan the Jan. 6 rallies. Besides Eastman and Bannon, there was Mitchell, who took part in Trump’s Jan. 2 call in which he exhorted Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” the votes he needed to claim a victory. Turning Point USA, on whose advisory board Ginni Thomas had served, was a sponsor of the Jan. 6 event and provided buses for attendees. (An early rumor suggesting that she paid for the buses was debunked.)Other sponsors included two more groups with which Ginni Thomas had long ties. One was the Tea Party Patriots, headed by Jenny Beth Martin, a fellow Council for National Policy activist. The other was Women for America First, which held the permit for the rally at the Ellipse and was run by Amy Kremer. The two women, and Ginni Thomas, had all been early Tea Party activists, though Kremer and Martin had been engaged for years in a bitter legal dispute. “That’s why it was interesting when I learned that they’d been working together on the January 6 coordination,” Dustin Stockton said, adding that he had been told by another organizer, Caroline Wren, on Jan. 5 that it was Ginni Thomas who worked to bring unity ahead of the rally. (Asked about Thomas’s mediating role, Kremer’s daughter Kylie Jane Kremer, the executive director of Women for America First, did not answer that question, instead painting Stockton as someone who makes “inaccurate and attention-seeking statements.” Martin similarly avoided the question, issuing a statement that condemned the violence at the Capitol. Wren disputed Stockton’s account but declined to elaborate.)The spectacle of a Supreme Court justice’s spouse taking to Facebook to champion the attempt of a defeated president to stay in power, as Ginni Thomas did on the morning of Jan. 6, crossed a line for several people in the Thomases’ circle who talked to The Times. “That’s what she does — it has nothing to do with him,” said Armstrong Williams, Justice Thomas’s longtime friend. “Should she use better judgment? Yes. You can quote me on that.”Ginni Thomas posted a disclaimer after the protests devolved into an insurrection — “[Note: written before violence in US Capitol]” — but she had also lamented Trump’s loss in a message to “Thomas Clerk World,” a private email group used by Ginni Thomas and former clerks and their spouses that is typically reserved for more anodyne pleasantries. Her use of the forum prompted a bitter debate among the former clerks that soon leaked. It started on Jan. 17, when Smith, the Notre Dame professor, shared an article from Christianity Today denouncing the Jan. 6 violence. Among those who weighed in was Eastman, who was a speaker at the rally. “Rest assured that those of us involved in this are working diligently to ascertain the truth,” he wrote.Eastman then used the Thomas email group to invite “those of you interested in more information” to get in touch, prompting Smith to reply that he hoped everyone agreed “that the search for truth doesn’t in any way justify insurrection, trying to kidnap and assassinate elected officials, attacking police officers, or making common cause with racists and anti-Semites” because “such things are flatly contrary to authentic Christian faith.” (Details of Eastman’s role continue to emerge, including a message he sent to Pence’s top lawyer during the Capitol attack blaming the vice president for refusing to overturn the election; he repeatedly cited the Fifth Amendment in refusing to answer questions from the Jan. 6 committee.)By Jan. 18, Ginni Thomas felt compelled to issue a semi-apology on the forum, which also leaked. “I have likely imposed on you my lifetime passions,” she wrote. “My passions and beliefs are likely shared with the bulk of you, but certainly not all. And sometimes the smallest matters can divide loved ones for too long. Let’s pledge to not let politics divide THIS family, and learn to speak more gently and knowingly across the divide,” adding, “I am certainly on the humble side of awareness here. 🙏😳”In the year that has passed, Ginni Thomas has deleted one of her two Facebook accounts and has taken a lower profile. But she remains active. Last year, she invited Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to join a Groundswell call, describing her group as a “cone-of-silence coalition” in an email to his staff that was obtained by American Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group. She invoked her husband, telling DeSantis’s aides that the justice had been in contact with the governor “on various things of late.” (DeSantis, who did not respond to requests for comment, was in the midst of a number of high-profile federal court battles at the time.)The battle over the election did not land before the court as Bush v. Gore did in 2000. But in February 2021, as Trump and his associates continued pressing for state lawmakers to audit — and reverse — the 2020 election, Justice Thomas sharply dissented when a 6-to-3 majority rejected the case brought by Pennsylvania Republicans that the court had refused to take up in December. Echoing the arguments advanced by C.N.P. Action, he wrote that legislatures have the constitutional authority to determine how federal elections are held, yet in 2020, “nonlegislative officials in various States took it upon themselves to set the rules instead.”He called the refusal by his colleagues to hear the case “inexplicable,” arguing that “allegations of systemic maladministration, voter suppression, or fraud” go “to the heart of public confidence in election results. That is obviously problematic for allegations backed by substantial evidence. But the same is true where allegations are incorrect.” In other words, election disputes and claims of fraud carried as much weight — and should lead to court hearings, just as Trump and his supporters had wished — whether they were true or not. “By doing nothing,” Thomas continued, “we invite further confusion and erosion of voter confidence.” He did concede in a footnote that the 2020 presidential election had been “free from strong evidence of systemic fraud.”Though the battle for the presidency is over, the Thomases are winning in the war for the courts — and, some would argue, the country. Some of the most important issues Ginni Thomas has worked for are now barreling toward a Supreme Court redefined by Trump, where her husband is ascendant. Landmark cases loom.One major test will be elections, particularly after Biden’s Justice Department sued Georgia over a new voting law that the department said discriminates against people of color. The Supreme Court has already agreed to review race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, setting the stage for a dramatic reversal on affirmative action, as Justice Thomas has long sought. And Roe v. Wade appears likely to be hollowed out, if not overturned: The court, with Thomas as the lone dissenter, recently allowed abortion providers the right to challenge a Texas anti-abortion law, though a conservative majority, joined by Thomas, declined to block the law’s enforcement in the meantime. And oral arguments in another recent case suggest that there may be enough votes to uphold a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. Justice Thomas seemingly used his questions to press for a full reversal of Roe v. Wade, demanding: “If I were to ask you what constitutional right protects the right to abortion, is it privacy? Is it autonomy? What would it be?”Such performances have made him a hero to many on the right. Brigitte Gabriel, a Council for National Policy stalwart who once said that “every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim” — and whose activism Ginni Thomas once praised in a glowing Daily Caller column — called Justice Thomas “the real chief justice” during December oral arguments and tweeted a doctored photo in which every justice had his face with the caption: “This would be a Supreme Court with Courage.”“I love calling it the Thomas court,” said Helgi Walker, the former Thomas clerk. “He didn’t change. That’s why it’s been wonderful to watch this arc. The influence he exerts comes from the power of his ideas,” she continued. “That’s what his legacy is built on.”In September, Justice Thomas stood before the audience at the University of Notre Dame. Asked what he thought was the biggest misconception the public has about the Supreme Court, he said: “I think that they think that we make policy. I think the media makes it sounds as though you are just always going right to your personal preference. So if they think you’re anti-abortion or something personally, they think that that’s the way you always will come out. They think you’re for this or for that. They think you become like a politician. And I think that’s a problem.”He told his audience that when he talked to his clerks about the real meaning of their work, “why we do what we do,” he insisted that “it’s not about us. It’s not about winning and losing at the court. It is about the entire country and the idea of this country.”Last summer, the Thomases took a road trip in their 40-foot Prevost bus, repeating visits to R.V. parks and Walmart parking lots that they have made to 42 states over more than two decades. The couple find such journeys restorative, a way to travel semi-anonymously in places where they feel more politically at home. (“It’s the best of America,” Ginni Thomas once said.) Justice Thomas lamented at Notre Dame that “a notable pessimism about the state of our country” had taken hold, with some Americans believing that “America is a racist and irredeemable nation” and seeking to “cancel our founders.”There are still people who have faith in the country and what it stands for, but it was on the road and beyond the East Coast elites that the couple found those Americans, at least in Justice Thomas’s telling. “My bride and I, Virginia, we were in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. And we noticed something there,” he said. “The large number of flags of people who still believe in the ideal of this country, in an environment when there’s so much criticism, antagonism, and actually people with disdain for the very same. It was very interesting to be with regular people for three weeks.” Here, far from Washington, far from the news media, far from “the interest groups,” far from anyone who recognized him at all, was where he — where they — were at home.“There are many more of us, I think,” he told his listeners, “who feel that America is not so broken as it is adrift at sea.”Chairs reserved for the Thomases at the Heritage Foundation event last October.William Mebane for The New York Times More

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    ‘When QAnon and the Tea Party have a baby’: Ron Johnson will run again for US Senate

    ‘When QAnon and the Tea Party have a baby’: Ron Johnson will run again for US SenateRepublican expected to announce run as soon as next week, delighting both his own party and Democrats seeking a win

    Can Democrats can salvage their midterm election hopes?
    The Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson, a hardline Trump supporter once described as “what you get when QAnon and the Tea Party have a baby”, has reportedly decided to seek a third term, a step he once promised not to take.Capitol attack panel investigates Trump over potential criminal conspiracyRead moreTwo Republicans confirmed Johnson’s plan to the Associated Press and said he could announce as soon as early next week. Johnson did not comment.Both parties are likely to welcome the news, given Johnson’s emergence as a leading promoter of both Donald Trump’s lies about election fraud and Covid-19 misinformation.In a Republican party dominated by Trump, who has endorsed Johnson, a third run would avoid a chaotic primary.Among Democrats, Johnson is seen as beatable in a November contest which will help decide control of a Senate split 50-50 and controlled via Vice-President Kamala Harris.With Republicans favoured to take back the House, Democrats are desperate to hold the Senate, not least to protect Joe Biden’s chances of naming at least one justice to a supreme court skewed 6-3 in favour of conservatives after Trump’s time in power.Earlier this month, Brandon Scholz, a Republican operative, told the Hill: “I think you will find almost every Republican in Wisconsin and outside of Wisconsin wanting Ron Johnson to run because of what’s at stake, and that’s the majority of the Senate for Republicans. If he doesn’t run, that makes it more difficult.”A Wisconsin Democrat, Ben Nuckels, said: “Ron Johnson is what you get when QAnon and the Tea Party have a baby. And I hope that he does run. His candidacy makes the race far more competitive for Democrats. If Republicans want to see him run, I’ll agree with them on that.”In 2016, Johnson pledged not to run a third time, a promise rescinded when Democrats took Congress and the White House.Wisconsin is a battleground state. Joe Biden won by fewer than 21,000 votes in 2020, after Trump won a similarly thin victory in 2016. In midterms, the party that does not hold the White House generally makes gains. For example, in 2010, under Barack Obama, Republicans picked up 63 House seats and six in the Senate.Johnson rose out of the Tea Party movement stoked that year by opposition to Obama’s healthcare reform and by rightwing donors. He defeated an incumbent Democrat, Russ Feingold, then beat him again in 2016.Johnson is now one of Trump’s loudest defenders, standing by him after the attack on the US Capitol last year. The senator has espoused conspiracy theories about electoral fraud and the Capitol attack. On the legalistic side of Trump’s attempt to remain in power, Johnson planned to object to results in Arizona but changed his mind after the events of 6 January.In a statement, however, he said he still refused “to dismiss the legitimate concerns of tens of millions of Americans who have lost faith in our institutions and the fairness of our electoral process”.Newspapers called for him to resign. The Wisconsin State Journal said: “Johnson’s last-minute change of heart may be viewed by some as proof of his conscience. Yet it is more accurate to view his flip-flopping … as a hit-and-run driver fleeing the scene of an accident because the driver hears sirens in the distance – only to come back to the scene and flick an insurance card out the window and keep on driving.”Referring to Johnson and Republicans who went through with objections to electoral college results, the paper said: “These men are cowards.”Johnson has also been a loud voice for unproven Covid treatments, accusing federal agencies of failing to promote drugs approved early in the pandemic and opposing public health measures including vaccine mandates.Earlier this week, Dr Rob Davidson, leader of the Committee to Protect Healthcare, an advocacy group, “begged” Twitter to “look at the last two weeks” of Johnson’s feed “and shut him down like you did Marjorie [Taylor] Greene”.Black candidates for US Senate smash fundraising records for 2022 midtermsRead moreGreene, an extremist congresswoman from Georgia, was removed from Twitter last week, for spreading Covid misinformation.Johnson “has at least five strikes of Covid mis/dis-information”, Davidson said, adding: “Feeds like his undermine our ability to save lives and end the pandemic.”Johnson has protested Twitter decisions concerning tweets about Covid.Democrats running to face Johnson include the lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes; Alex Lasry, an executive with the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team; and the state treasurer, Sarah Godlewski.On Friday, Barnes said: “Ron Johnson has been a failure and Wisconsin voters know it. The only people cheering Johnson’s decision are the wealthy special interests and big donors who have made a killing during his time in Washington.”Also on Saturday, John Thune, a member of Senate Republican leadership, said he would run for a fourth term. His state, South Dakota, is not remotely as competitive as Wisconsin.TopicsRepublicansUS midterm elections 2022WisconsinUS SenateUS CongressUS politicsTea Party movementnewsReuse this content More