Last month, I watched Republican Maryland State Delegate Dan Cox desperately attack Democratic entrepreneur and veteran Wes Moore in the only public, televised debate between the two gubernatorial hopefuls this electoral season. I could barely believe what I heard.
When former President Donald Trump first ran for office in 2016, he popularized a slew of radically anti-democratic policy positions specifically created to invigorate right-wing supporters and challenge the supposedly liberal political establishment. Now, eight years later — and just one year after right-wing domestic terrorists stormed the United States Capitol — we are still grappling with the consequences of that behavior. Republican candidates for office and establishment politicians alike continue to challenge national abortion rights, deny the results of the 2020 election, and reject life-saving vaccination mandates, directly threatening the health and safety of our communities and foundational political institutions.
Dan Cox clearly drank the Kool-Aid. I can’t imagine his debate performance did him much good — Moore led his conservative counterpart in early polling by a full 32 percentage points heading into the debate, and Cox did very little throughout the hour-long event to disrupt any of the already-established narratives about his campaign and personal belief system. At one point, Cox even told his audience that “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” a graphic novel by nonbinary cartoonist Maia Kobabe, depicts “things that I cannot show you on television, it’s so disgusting.”
Still, Cox’s presence alone is worrying. As an undergraduate student in rural Ohio — and especially one who entered their freshman year amidst an intensely controversial and emotional presidential election — returning home always meant returning to common sense. And I still feel that way now, years later. Maryland has been a Democratic stronghold since 1992, with over 60 percent of the state voting for Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020, respectively. Sure, we elected a conservative to the Government House in 2014 and voted him back four years later, but Governor Larry Hogan is a self-proclaimed moderate with a familial legacy of independent thinking (his father, Representative Lawrence J. Hogan, found fame as the first Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to publicly call for President Nixon’s impeachment following the now infamous Watergate scandal). My entire life, Maryland has always been an unquestionable bastion of liberal progressivism.
Now, though, I wonder. I have no doubt that author, businessman, entrepreneur, and veteran Wes Moore will win the upcoming gubernatorial election; even Cox’s own party has taken pains to distance itself from him. Governor Hogan himself called the candidate a “QAnon whack job” unfit to tour the governor’s office, much less occupy it. But is this rejection of hateful, election-denying, right-wing political rhetoric enough? It’s concerning and shocking that Cox ever gained traction at all, let alone in such an intensely blue state.
Just weeks from the 2022 midterm elections, it’s more important than ever that we show up to fight for our national political culture. It’s important that we vote for candidates like Wes Moore in Maryland, Tim Ryan in Ohio, and John Fetterman in Pennsylvania. Former President Donald Trump may be out of office, but the dangerous and insidious ideology he espoused is stronger than ever — and it threatens not just our most vulnerable communities, but each of us in its own way. It’s time to fight back — and this November, we’ll get our chance.