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Wingnut Waterloo

Two of the GOP’s Worst Ghouls Lost Their Primaries

It’s a relief to know that Carl Paladino and Laura Loomer won’t be coming to Congress. But that doesn’t mean the Republican Party’s 2022 slate is a normal one.

Carl Paladino, former New York gubernatorial candidate, speaks to reporters in the lobby at Trump Tower, December 5, 2016 in New York City.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Carl Paladino, who lost a primary election in western New York on August 23.

On Tuesday, two of the biggest ghouls in right-wing politics failed in their attempts to win Republican nominations for Congress—races they would likely have won in these heavily gerrymandered districts, had they succeeded.

Carl Paladino, a decades-long presence in Western New York’s Republican politics, who was running to represent the state’s 23rd district, has praised Hitler as “the kind of leader we need today.” He opposes abortion in all instances, including rape and incest. He has claimed that mass shootings are false flags engineered by Democrats who hope to repeal the Second Amendment and seize privately owned guns. He made comments so racist and vile about the Obamas that even Donald Trump’s transition team had to condemn them. In 2010, he got busted for forwarding racist emails to colleagues—and for sending bestiality porn to friends. More recently, he said that Attorney General Merrick Garland should be “executed” for authorizing the raid on Donald Trump’s Florida residence. (Paladino later claimed he was being “facetious.”)

Laura Loomer, a candidate in Florida’s 11th district who is nearly 50 years younger than Paladino but no less vile, has boasted that she is a “proud Islamaphobe.” She has celebrated the death of migrants, attacked school shooting victims, and said “no one cares” about the 51 victims of a New Zealand mass shooting that targeted Muslims. She’s a proud anti-vaxxer who once handcuffed herself to Twitter’s Manhattan headquarters to protest being banned from the platform for spreading an incessant barrage of conspiracy theories.

Paladino, running in a district that stretches from the Buffalo suburbs all the way to Central New York, had tried with mixed success to distance himself from his reputation for saying outlandish things—which earned him the nickname “Crazy Carl.” Loomer made no such attempt and immediately began crying voter fraud as soon as she lost. Both, in true Trumpian fashion, refused to concede.

On Tuesday, both Paladino and Loomer staked early leads in their respective contests as the counting of votes commenced. Ultimately, when all was said and done, their primary opponents overtook them—a silver lining in a primary season that has otherwise boosted Trumpian candidates across the country.

On the one hand, there’s schadenfreude here: Paladino and Loomer may belong to different political generations, but they both embody the crazy strain of GOP politics that has slowly infected the party over the last half century. True members of the lunatic fringe, they are manifestly unfit for office: racist conspiracy theorists who see sinister, Democratic-engineered plots wherever they turn. Their defeats are deeply satisfying.

And yet there is still a great deal of concern here. Loomer carried The Villages, the sprawling retirement community and conspiracy theory incubator that has become a powerhouse in GOP politics in recent years; The Villages transformation from “quirky redoubt of GOP-loving seniors” to “furious far-right election deniers” largely mirrors the Republican Party’s turn toward lunacy. The fact that Sumter County, which includes The Villages, reported first is also the source of Loomer’s fraud claims: Because she was up early only to fade down the stretch, she was able to follow a similar script as Donald Trump attempted in 2020, claiming that her loss was somehow unjustly engineered by her political enemies.

The candidates that Loomer and Paladino were running against, moreover, are hardly bastions of decency; they do not represent a turn toward the normal. Loomer was running against Daniel Webster—no, not that one—an incumbent who has served since 2011 and, along the way, picked up a perfect record in backing Trump during the last two years of his presidency. He objected to the certification of the 2020 presidential results, because “the election of 2020 became riddled with an unprecedented number of serious allegations of fraud and irregularities.”

Paladino opponent Nick Langworthy, while not an incumbent, is nevertheless an establishment figure—he currently serves as the chairman of the New York state Republican party. But Langworthy also ran as a Trump dead-ender, releasing an ad criticizing the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid and claiming that “when President Trump needed a conservative fighter, he called on Nick Langworthy to lead the state Republican Party.” (Paladino, for what it’s worth, was Trump’s state campaign chair in 2016.)

But Loomer and Paladino’s defeats are a blip within the larger trends of Republican politics. From Florida to Ohio to Pennsylvania, Trump-backed candidates have won elections; dozens of election deniers are vying to administer elections in states across the country. Across Florida, extreme Trump-backed candidates won their primaries—including Matt Gaetz, who is currently being investigated for having sex with a teenager. Even the candidates who won without strong ties to the former president—like Langworthy—now flamboyantly espouse some strain of MAGA politics. Still, there is some solace to be taken from last night’s results: The next Congress will be brimming with lunatics, but two of the worst of the lot won’t be joining them.