Bad Faith Landed On My Doorstep

Bad Faith Landed On My Doorstep

It's not often you get a heaping, stinking load of political bad faith delivered to your doorstep.

But that's what I found last week: Campaign pamphlets for a range of Maryland's right-wing candidates running in the 2022 midterms, including Dan Cox, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who happens to be a fascist and an insurrectionist. Amid a small pile of red, white, and blue fliers from Republicans who have no chance of winning more than 40 percent of the local vote in November was a pamphlet for someone named Frank Nice, a candidate for state delegate who touts himself as a progressive. It's right there in big letters, atop his flier: PROGRESSIVE.

Frank Nice claimed to be a progressive "before it was a word."

That's weird, I thought. The state delegate who represents my area, a fine guy and a fellow fantasy football player named Vaughn Stewart, is a progressive. He's sponsored and backed some of the best proposals in Annapolis over the past few years, advocating for working people and trying to protect immigrants in the state. Was this Frank Nice character some sort of insurgent independent candidate primed to siphon Democratic voters from Stewart in his reelection bid?

Why was Nice's campaign literature scattered among Dan Cox postcards pledging to "promote patriotism," "defend the police," "stop critical race theory," which of course is not taught in Maryland schools, and to defend "parental rights," another term for allowing radicalized red-pilled parents to bully and intimidate and threaten educators and school officials until their kid no longer learns about real U.S. history.

I got a whiff of Nice's bad-faith politics when I read his description of himself as "entitled" and "educated" and "privileged," words I'm sure he thought would resonate with white liberals racked with white guilt – truly a right-wing caricature of the typical suburban liberal who might be open to voting for a so-called moderate Republican once in a while.

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The pamphlet for Nice, a pharmacist (as he says, a most trusted profession), talked up his work in Haiti as a healthcare volunteer who worked with pregnant folks. The emphasis he put on pregnant women and breastfeeding was another dog whistle. Only conservatives are obsessed with telling mothers how to feed their children.

Frank Nice is indeed a Republican candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates. He is in fact connected to United Against Racism in Education, a spinoff organization of Help Save Maryland, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a hate group. I'm familiar with United Against Racism in Education because in July at my local polling place I yelled at one of their dastardly volunteers trying to trick people into voting for far-right school board candidates. The group wields intentionally vague language to imply straight, cisgender and white students face discrimination in Maryland's public schools because trans kids are allowed to exist and schools teach about the institution of slavery in the United States. United Against Racism in Education is a fascist organization powered by bad faith trying to force its way into my state's political mainstream.

In my research on Frank Nice the progressive, I came across a range of anti-immigrant posts that used the slur "illegal" to label families fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries (Nice said he doesn't run his own social media accounts). None of it struck me as particularly progressive. So I emailed Frank Nice the progressive to ask why he would leave a pamphlet at my home, hoping I would fall for his bad-faith horseshit this November. I crafted my questions to suss out his right-wing views. It wasn't difficult.

I asked about the radicalized Supreme Court ending federal protections for abortion care: "As for Roe vs. Wade being overturned, I am for it being overturned as this issue per our Constitution belongs within the states. Also, overturning Roe vs. Wade does still allows for abortions to continue in the United States, and it does not affect reproductive rights at all, as men and women can continue to reproduce without government interference."

Nice should tell this to the thousands of infertility patients whose access to in-vitro fertilization has been jeopardized by the the Supreme Court's upending of a 50-year legal precedent, or the folks experiencing miscarriages being turned away by hospitals for fear of legal consequences courtesy of rabid anti-abortion politicians. State-level Republicans' insane efforts to endow embryos with "personhood" could further erode Americans' reproductive autonomy. But no. The overturning of Roe has no effect on you, Nice says. Stop crying.

I asked about how he wanted to help all the beleaguered and underserved families he mentioned in his campaign pamphlet, and whether those efforts involved progressive taxation: "I support a flat and/or fair tax, as I believe from my definition of progressive, is the most progressive." This, I have to say, is good stuff. A flat tax – the fever dream of every idiotic college sophomore libertarian – is inherently unfair and regressive. But it is – and has been – a way of skirting the issue of soaking the rich so we can have a functioning society.

I offered via email the most straightforward political litmus test for our dystopian age: Was the 2020 presidential election free and fair, or was it fraudulent? Nice refused to answer. The question about whether Nice believes there was a coup in 2020 "is not relevant to my positions as a candidate," he said. I think we know what this means.

Political labeling seemed to bother Nice on a visceral level. And I suppose a Republican calling himself progressive would have issues with labels since no one in my district would vote for him if he were properly labeled. Hence, the bad faith.

"So, what is most relevant in my campaign, that I am a progressive who wishes to see progress for all of society, and especially for those most in need, or as a Republican or Democrat or Independent?" Nice said. " I refuse to be defined by a label over my experience and actions in life. Please define me on who I am.
Any voter may decide he doesn't like my background and vote against me as his God given right."

I will define you, Frank. You are a hard-right Republican – one who know he has no chance of winning election in a deep blue county in a deep blue state if he says what he thinks. It's a politically savvy move: Deploy just the right amount of hard-to-define, confusing, vague language until folks are comfortable casting a vote for you and you can sneak into a position of power.

I'm not an unbiased third party here. I'm a concerned citizen sick of dirty fucking tricks pulled by local far-right organizations and candidates. I know Vaughn Stewart and I like him very much. Vaughn knocked on my door in 2017 when he was first running for the House of Delegates, and he was forthright and honest about where he stood on the issues, both in our county and across the state. He didn't know my politics. I could have been a raging Trump fanatic lingering in the Montgomery County suburbs. Vaughn made no effort to deceive me or to massage his political beliefs to fit mine. It just so happened we were simpatico on basically every issue.

I talked with Vaughn about Frank Nice telling voters he is a progressive and curiously failing to mention his myriad right-wing views. Vaughn (correctly) pointed out that many conservative groups had tried in recent years to dress themselves in the language and ideals of left-leaning organizations since honesty would have resulted in total rejection at the ballot box. Pretending to care about left-wing priorities and commandeering the term "progressive" was and is the only remaining path.

“My opponent has apparently realized that his MAGA views are anathema to District 19 voters, so he’s now trying to cosplay as a progressive,” Vaughn told me. “No one is fooled. He and his fellow Trump groupies will be rejected in November.”

I have (almost) zero concern that this sort of bad-faith political effort can win office in a region where Democrats outnumber Republican 2-to-1 (or 3-to-1, depending on the zip code). I worry about this approach finding success in more purple districts and counties and states, where the margins are often razor thin and power flips and flops back and forth. Algorithmically perfected gerrymandering has made these districts few and far between, but they still exist. And they matter a lot with so much of the electoral map engineered to favor Republicans.

It's an under-discussed aspect of the Republican Party's radicalization: With odious views espoused by odious candidates, Republicans have no chance to win office in blue states and districts if they're up front with voters. They know that. They truly understand how wretched and unpalatable they are. So they resort to tricks, and to bad faith, and to adopting the language of a culture that is well to the left of their party.

Conservatives are doing their damndest to adapt to a culture where commercials feature interracial and LGBTQ couples, where TV shows humanize transgender people, and where pro sports leagues say racism is actually bad. They're still finding their footing in a nation forever changed by 2020's racial justice uprisings. Frank Nice won't win in my home district. But there are thousands and thousands of Frank Nices out there, ready and willing to use any amount of bad faith to achieve their aims, and to wield power over people who reject them completely.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.