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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: State GOP digs its own grave

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: May 14, 2023, 6:02am

At some point, it seems, Republicans in Washington should put down the shovel. Instead, they keep digging.

Last week, in writing about the possibility of Jaime Herrera Beutler running for governor, I suggested that the Party of Trump is toxic to a vast majority voters in Washington. But too many Republicans in this state don’t realize they are in a hole.

Example: When Jay Inslee announced that he will not seek a fourth term as governor, the state Republican Party responded with a statement decrying “the disastrous Inslee era” and saying, “for over a decade, Governor Inslee has taken our state in the wrong direction.”

They’re entitled to their perspective. But, as I wrote, the GOP probably would be better served by asking why Inslee kicked their tail in three elections.

Which drew a response from Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. Heimlich politely disputed the notion of a tail kicking and recited Inslee’s margin of victory in gubernatorial elections.

“My point being,” he wrote, “Inslee is not particularly popular and I believe an objective look at his record as governor would lead to the conclusion that he has mismanaged many components of state government.”

Fair enough, but here is what was not mentioned: Inslee’s margin of victory increased with each election. Republicans hold no statewide offices. The GOP has lost one of its congressional seats. And Democrats have gone from a narrow majority in the Legislature to an overwhelming one.

At some point, some self-reflection about the impact of Trump on the GOP brand should be in order.

Instead, the state party recently scheduled its largest conference of the year and invited a prominent election denier to be the keynote speaker. Her credentials, according the website for the conference, include being “a frequent guest on Real America’s Voice, OANN, and nationally syndicated radio programs.” OANN is One America News Network, which makes Fox News appear fair and balanced.

Doubling down on a losing hand, the party had a slew of other election deniers as featured speakers.

Which brings up another response to last week’s column. A reader wrote that the Jan. 6 insurrection “was not an ‘insurrection’ or an attempted coup. It was a violent riot.” He suggested that the event was “set up by the FBI” and if I would read a far-right news outlet I “would learn the truth.”

Alternative narratives of what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, are a fever dream of far-right conservatives detached from reality. And that creates a problem for the party. Indeed, extremists can be found on the fringes of both parties, but only one of those parties is actively working to amplify their voices.

Trump did not create this dichotomy, but he embraced it and he exacerbated it. And a microcosm can be seen in Clark County.

A decade ago, the tear-it-all-down wing of Republicans won control of the county arm of the party. They ended up censuring Herrera Beutler, essentially because she was not Republican enough, and they eventually lost a congressional seat that had been safely in the GOP column. They also have lashed out at longtime Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey and other Republicans of integrity. In the process, they have motivated their base but turned off voters in every other demographic.

For one thing, that weakens the GOP in the Legislature. Each of Southwest Washington’s current elected Republicans are reasonable people who decline to be drawn into the ridiculous culture wars that pass for policy debates these days. As Kevin Waters, who was newly elected in November to represent the 17th District, told The Columbian’s Editorial Board with a laugh: “I’m not a social warrior.”

For another thing, that weakens our democracy. The two-party system depends on two reasonable, thoughtful parties who eschew lies and extremism.

When one party abandons that, it is left to insist that the governor isn’t really popular — even when he kicks their tail in three straight elections. And that’s a pretty deep hole to be in.