The next two years are going to be critical ones for the Republican Party. Will they be able to moderate and return to nominating candidates who are conservative but not completely nutty, or will the party continue to drift rightward as hard-line conservatives use the primary system -- or even just the threat of being primaried -- to push the party further away from anything resembling mainstream America?
The House race in Virginia's 10th congressional district is shaping up to be a litmus test of this question. Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican who has represented the district since 1980, is set to retire, and the race to replace him as the Republican nominee is, once again, turning out to be a contest between a conservative and one of those colorful, off-the-charts right-wingers who seems designed to make elections easy for Democrats.
State Sen. Richard Black, who has the backing of the extreme conservative faction in his district, has a long and frightening history of offensive and just plain weird behavior. Naturally, he's one of the party's notorious "rape philosophers." In 2002, he went against the Virginia legislature's plan to allow prosecution of spousal rape, claiming it would be impossible to prosecute anyway because "when they're living together, sleeping in the same bed, she's in a nightie, and so forth."
He thinks about rape quite a bit for someone who seems to know nothing about the issue. When he was on the Loudoun County Library Board in Northern Virginia, he unsuccessfully tried to ban pornography on the library's computers. To draw attention to the issue, he brought a reporter to the library with him to watch some violent rape porn, which, the library noted, was the only time it ever got a complaint about porn on library computers.
Rape came to mind yet again for Black when he gave an interview on an anti-gay radio program in 2010, the audio of which Blue Virginia has uploaded. Black argued that allowing gay men into the military meant that the straight men would be in danger of rape, saying, "I recall one particularly terrible situation, where, this was in basic training, there was a young fellow who went to the showers at night, and there were two homosexuals lurking -- they were also basic trainees -- and they strangled him with a towel and forced him to submit to, you know, things that we won't talk about on the air." But his rape-in-the-military ponderings are not exclusive to male-on-male rape. As Molly Redden of Mother Jones reports, Black also thinks rape is a good reason to keep women out of the military:
(ITAL)Black entered politics in the late 1990s after retiring as a military prosecutor. He spoke frequently to media outlets about sexual assault in the military, and called military rape "as predictable as human nature." "Think of yourself at 25," Black told a newspaper in 1996. "Wouldn't you love to have a group of 19-year-old girls under your control, day in, day out?"(END ITAL)
Black is up against Barbara Comstock for the Republican nomination. Comstock is a standard-issue conservative, which would have made her seem like a far-right candidate a couple of decades ago, but she looks relatively calm and moderate next to Black. She's also female, which will make Black's tendency to pontificate about rape or his ease in describing contraception as "baby pesticide" even more off-putting. As The Washington Post reports, the winner of the race might be determined by whether the party decides to pick its nominee at a convention or hold a primary vote, which they'll decide later this month. The time commitment required of delegates to get to the convention allows the Mad Hatter contingent to exert more control, which is how E.W. Jackson, who made Ken Cuccinelli look positively centered in comparison, got the nomination to run for lieutenant governor in the state.
How this shakes out will tell us a lot about what direction the Republican Party intends to go for this election cycle. Will this trend of nominating the most right-leaning candidate, no matter how nutty, continue, helping marginalize the party even further? Or will the Republican ship right (or left) itself, start nominating more electable candidates, and try to save conservatism from its extremist elements?
Amanda Marcotte, a Brooklyn-based writer, wrote this for Slate magazine; www.slate.com.