Column: Dealing with extremists, some Republican leaders find sorry is the hardest word

Side-by-side photos of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and state Sen. Wendy Rogers
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, says GOP state Sen. Wendy Rogers, who spouts conspiracy theories and pals around with Holocaust deniers, is still better than a Democrat.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press; Thomas McKinless / CQ Roll Call)

Wendy Rogers, who represents a rural slice of Arizona in the state Senate, is a bad piece of business.

She not only peddles the fiction that the 2020 election was stolen from President Trump, but suggests those who fail to believe that lie and other delusions should be hanged.

When she isn’t promoting screw-loose conspiracy theories, the Flagstaff Republican pals around with Holocaust deniers and cheers for Russia and its strongman, Vladimir Putin.


“A globalist puppet for [financier George] Soros and the Clintons” is how Rogers described Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — a hero to much of the world — in a noxious tweet that managed to pair two favorite tropes of right-wingers and antisemites.

But in the view of Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, there is something worse than spewing hate and undermining democracy: being a Democrat.

Around the country, Trump allies are seeking to run voting machinery and hijack the process.

Jan. 24, 2022

Rogers was just another of those flaky perennial candidates — a loser in five elections in 10 years — until Ducey sank $500,000 into her 2020 bid for the state Senate. Her Democratic opponent, Felicia French, wasn’t some international drug trafficker or ax murderess, but rather a nurse and veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

The investment by the governor’s political action committee turned out to be a sound one, helping ensure Republicans maintained their majority in the state capital.

“What I’ve wanted to do is move my agenda forward,” Ducey told reporters last week at an event promoting youth scholarships. “I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

Asked about Rogers’ execrable behavior, the governor replied — twice — “She’s still better than her opponent.” Rogers shared his sentiments in a tweet with a heart emoji.


Be that as it may, on Tuesday the Arizona Senate voted 24 to 3 to censure Rogers, with 11 Republicans joining 13 Democrats in support of the resolution. Afterward, Ducey applauded the move, saying “antisemitic and hateful language has no place in Arizona.”

He expressed no second thoughts about helping elect Rogers in the first place.

Politics has always been about finding the means to an end, and winning at all costs is hardly a new concept. But there is something particularly unworthy and low about Republican leaders refusing to readily condemn and ostracize the haters, extremists and nut cases in their midst.

(Hold those emails and letters about Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and other left-wing members of “the Squad.” You can criticize their views, but none has advocated capital punishment for their political foes, or voted to overturn the will of voters in a free and fair election.)

With the notable exceptions of Utah‘s Sen. Mitt Romney and Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — all of whom have experienced blowback from fellow Republicans — most of the intraparty condemnation of the GOP’s Aryan-salute wing has been terse and grudging.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy waited days before castigating Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona — who once sought to create a whites-only congressional caucus — for speaking to a white supremacist gathering last weekend in Florida. (It was there that Rogers proposed a “newly built set of gallows” to dispatch political opponents.)

Tracked down by Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman, McCarthy said participation in the hate rally was “appalling and wrong.”


“There’s no place in our party for any of this,” the Bakersfield Republican said, though a day later, with TV cameras rolling, he declined to repeat his criticism.

“I understand your job, understand what you’re trying to do,” he told reporters. “I’ve already commented on that.”

Take that, bigots and antisemites.

Others in the House leadership served up similarly weak tea, among them Indiana‘s Rep. Jim Banks, head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, who tut-tutted that it was “unbecoming” for a member of Congress to show up in such a scabrous setting, as though Greene and Gosar had dressed in white ahead of Memorial Day.

A former advisor to Utah’s buttoned-down senator calls it “Romney unplugged.”

March 1, 2022

What political leaders say — or don’t — matters.

Brian Levin, who heads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, recalled how just days after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush visited a mosque and spoke eloquently of his respect for Islam. The number of hate crimes against Muslims immediately fell.

Conversely, the divisive rhetoric from Trump and some of his more rabid followers coincided with a significant rise in hate crimes during his administration — nearly 20%, according to the FBI.

“What’s really important is leaders of all parties stand against bigotry and lawlessness,” Levin said. “It’s very simple. Make it consistent.... This shouldn’t be controversial.”


Arizona’s governor is quite right to say he needs a Republican majority to enact meaningful policies. Any idea without the votes to pass is nothing more than a theoretical notion.

But surely in the back of many minds is the knowledge that Rogers, Greene, Gosar and the like have a good-sized following, however repugnant their views. Many of their supporters vote Republican and some may take offense at seeing their fellow travelers condemned.

McCarthy is counting on a robust GOP turnout in November to fulfill his dream of becoming House speaker. Ducey, who has passed on running in Arizona’s competitive U.S. Senate race, is discussed as a possible 2024 vice presidential candidate, maybe on a ticket with his good friend Mike Pence.

Condemning bigotry and hatred shouldn’t be hard. It’s only difficult when those who know better try to split the difference between right and wrong.