Millennials won’t get this. That’s why we have Google. So, Google “Vincent Price.” Look at that photo. He could be John Barrasso’s brother. Right? They are certainly soul brothers, known for the same act, i.e. trying to scare the bejeezus out of people. Price’s performance ended when he died in 1993. For Republicans, Barrasso’ s act never gets old. And it didn’t start with Barrasso. It’s a Wyoming tradition as old as the hills.
Price once compared “horror-show actors” with “method actors” like Barrasso. The former make the unbelievable believable, he said, while the latter make the believable unbelievable. The GOP is betting Price has it backwards. It’s a bet they’ve cashed in on before.
In 1958, Wyoming Republicans knew incumbent U.S. Senator Frank Barrett was in trouble. The longer that campaign went, the more ground he lost to an egg-head history professor from the University of Wyoming. They started a whisper campaign. Gale McGee, the whisper went, is a pinko, a Communist sympathizer.
It didn’t work in 1958, but they had good reason to think it would. It wasn’t the first time Wyoming Republicans tried that ruse. The Red Scare was their “go to” strategy for years.
In 1950, John Clark was Wyoming’s Democratic Party nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives. He ran against Republican incumbent William Henry Harrison. Harrison’s entire campaign revolved around unfounded that the Democrats were sacrificing American interests in their sympathy toward Communism. The otherwise unbelievable charges were made believable because they were repeated so often.
Harrison won. In his concession speech, Clark said he hoped the day would come when Wyoming Republicans “actually ran an entire campaign on a level of intelligent discussion instead of hysterical name calling.” It hasn’t.
In 1952, the ultimate demagogue, Joseph McCarthy, came to campaign against incumbent Democrat, Joseph O’Mahoney. McCarthy warned that O’Mahoney was a member of the “Commmi-crat” Party. It worked again. The longtime incumbent was ousted in favor of Frank Barrett whose effort to replicate that blueprint against Gale McGee failed six years hence.
With the diminishing impact of the word “Communist,” the Republicans relied on the “L” word. As conservative as Wyoming Democrats have always been, the word “liberal” caused Republicans to cower in fear. Fear has never lost its power to motivate these frightened folks.
Jump forward to the 2020 political campaign. The Republican Party’s main obligation now is to cover up the crimes of a President who colluded with the Russians. Any attempt to connect a Democrat to the Russians would be too obviously hypocritical and polls show more than half of all Republican voters have joined the Vladimir Putin Fan Club under Trump’s guidance.
With the “Democrats-are-commies” charge neutralized, what’s the Party of Perpetrated Fear to do? “Ah ha,” said the pollsters, “We have a new approach.” It depends on a Lassie-like faithfulness in the gullibility of the base. They're like Mikey of the old cereal commercial? “Give it to Mikey. Mikey will eat anything.” So will the GOP faithful.
That’s where Vincent Price’s soul brother arrives on stage. Using his best Vincent Price imitation, Senator John Barrasso recently did a cold read of the new GOP script, sending shivers down the trembling spines of his gullible base. “Boo,” he shouted as he warns, “The Green New Deal is a socialist manifesto, the first step down a dark path to socialism.”
What he’s really saying is, “We know how to manipulate you.”
When it appears Americans are finally having the critical debate about whether healthcare is a right or a privilege, the GOP needs to distract voters. Barrasso and Trump don’t want the 2020 campaign to be about whether the grossly-wealthy should pay more taxes or whether climate-change science matters.
Republicans lurk in the dark places until a voter passes. Then they cry out, “Want to see something really scary? Don’t look at what America could be. Look instead at what we claim Venezuela has become.”
It is no coincidence Halloween comes just before an election.