Paul Nehlen may not have won his primary on Tuesday night, but thanks to 6,635 Wisconsin Republicans, he got 11 percent of the vote.
The fact that Nehlen — who has appeared on neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan podcasts — got that many votes is a clear signal that despite his obviously hateful views, those same views are popular with many Americans even 75 years after the fall of the Nazi regime.
For a while, Nehlen was the only real Republican challenger after House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), who has held the district for two decades, announced his January 2019 retirement. His only opponent in the wake of Ryan’s exit was former Green Beret Nick Polce — a relative unknown who hadn’t raised much money.
Nehlen was banned from Twitter for posting a racist meme of royal bride Meghan Markle, and once posted a list of “Jews” in the media as a means of getting his followers to harass them (many of the people he listed weren’t actually Jewish). When he rejoined Twitter using a different account, his handle included the numbers “1589.” That number is similar to “1488,” which refers to the 14-word neo-Nazi pledge to create a white ethno-state, and the eighth letter of the alphabet (H) twice — for “Heil Hitler.”
And because the 1st District was a stronghold for Wisconsin Republicans (particularly after deep-red Waukesha was gerrymandered into the district in 2010), it looked like Nehlen may have had a chance at winning. However, most Wisconsin Republicans in the 1st District preferred former Paul Ryan aide Bryan Steil, who easily won Tuesday’s primary.
However satisfying his defeat is, Paul Nehlen’s candidacy is just one of many examples of neo-Nazis and white supremacists seeking state and federal office as Republicans in the 2018 midterms. Republican Russell Walker won a state legislative primary in North Carolina despite saying that Jewish people are descendants “of Satan.” The Republican primary winner for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District is Arthur Jones, who is affiliated with the American Nazi Party and calls the Holocaust “the biggest, blackest lie in history.”
Pro-Confederate candidate Corey Stewart won the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Virginia, prompting the chair of the Virginia Republican Party to resign. He has called for defunding any city that removes Confederate monuments, and said the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia that spawned the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally held “ethnic significance to Southern white people.” President Trump has endorsed him on his Twitter account.
The GOP has certainly made efforts to disavow extremist candidates like the ones described above, but it doesn’t change the fact that thousands of Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin Republicans all had a choice, and chose candidates calling for ethnic cleansing. Freedom and democracy may have prevailed in the Civil War and in World War II, but the hateful ideology that pushed America into those wars still persists.
Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.