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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Kent, GOP playing with fire

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: August 14, 2022, 6:02am

That escalated quickly.

On the same day he locked up a spot on the general election ballot for Congress, Republican Joe Kent appeared on the podcast of a convicted criminal, called for defunding law enforcement and declared “We are at war.”

On Tuesday, Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler conceded her loss in the primary. Kent and Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez will advance to the Nov. 8 general election, seeking to represent Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.

As part of reveling in his election victory, Kent appeared with Steve Bannon on “Bannon’s War Room.” Bannon is a former Donald Trump adviser who is awaiting sentencing after being found guilty by a federal jury of contempt of Congress. He will be sentenced in October, but Kent has declared that Bannon is a “political prisoner.”

All of which seems relevant for the “party of personal responsibility” and the “party of law and order.” As Republicans continue to demonstrate, their desire for “law and order” apparently extends only to the cretins of antifa or those who spray-paint graffiti. When it comes to Republican power brokers, well, anything goes; consequences are for patsies.

So there was Kent on Bannon’s podcast, where he is a frequent guest. And the fact that FBI agents had raided the Florida home of Donald Trump the previous day gave the fellow travelers on the conspiracy highway plenty to talk about.

“This just shows everyone what many of us have been saying for a very long time. We’re at war,” Kent proclaimed.

“The left isn’t the left of 10, 15 years ago,” he added. “These guys don’t care about winning arguments anymore. … It’s a total, full-frontal assault, and they’re going after every one of us. So what we have to do when we take back power … we have to play smash-mouth.”

As columnist Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times quipped: “ ‘War and smash-mouth.’ It’s 2022’s version, I guess, of ‘hope and change.’ ”

It is enough to make one long for the days when political rhetoric was aspirational and inspirational. Now it is conspiratorial and aggressive.

From the standpoint of all’s fair in love, war and politics, why shouldn’t it be? Kent has seized on a message that was good enough to defeat a six-time congresswoman, and he apparently is going to ride it through the general election.

But the rhetoric that has come from the investigation of Trump is terrifying: “An intolerable state of weaponized politicization”; “abusing power with no recourse”; an FBI “trying to take political enemies out.” These are not from internet gadflies; they are from elected Republicans.

Never mind that at the time we didn’t know the details of the search warrant that led to the raid. Never mind that Trump might or might not face charges, but that a judge saw probable cause that a crime may have been committed. Never mind that we already have seen the consequences of incendiary rhetoric — an attempt to overthrow the government on Jan. 6, 2021.

Instead, because our system of jurisprudence has resulted in an action they might not like, Republicans such as Kent are calling for a retaliatory defunding of the FBI and the Department of Justice. A year ago, defunding law enforcement was the sole purview of left-wing extremists; now it is dogma for the Trumpian right.

The issue is not so much that a nominee for Congress is incensed about a judicially approved search warrant. It’s that words have consequences, and that with great power comes great responsibility. One Clark County resident who plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2024 echoed the online outrage by tweeting: “So what are we gonna do about it? This is what the 2nd Amendment was made for, is it not?”

Well, no it’s not. But it likely will not be long before extremists take action on that belief. It likely will not be long before the smash-mouth strategy turns violent.

That is, unless we have elected leaders who are not so eager to escalate the situation.