The Republican Party has a knack for drawing colorful characters under the elephant banner; they’ve given us Rick “What’s My Line?” Perry, Herman “Awww, Shucky Ducky” Cain and, of course, Michele “Don’t Know Much About History” Bachmann (and that’s just from this year’s crop of presidential hopefuls.) But none has rattled the GOP cage quite like Todd Akin, the Missouri congressman and senatorial hopeful who has been on “time out” since sharing that little tidbit of medieval medical trivia about how victims of “legitimate rape” are biologically indisposed to pregnancy.
The GOP responded by requesting that Akin stay as far as humanly possible from the Republican National Convention (which wraps up tonight in Tampa), but they’ve left the door open to a handful of other controversial figures, some whose names are familiar and others who flex their rancor behind the scenes as architects of increasingly radical party policy.
Here are five that should be keeping you up at night.
Bob McDonnell, Governor of Virginia
Called a “a committed and convinced culture warrior of the right,” Governor McDonnell’s claim to fame (or infamy depending upon where you stand on a woman’s right not to have her vagina forcibly violated) was for his steadfast support for a law in his state that would have required a transvaginal ultrasound for women seeking an abortion. The Governor eventually backtracked following a firestorm of opposition to the measure, and instead signed into law a watered-down version of the bill that encourages the procedure but allows women to opt for a standard abdominal ultrasound instead. McDonnell’s penchant for far right social conservatism (and a sexually repressed society) goes all the way back to his days as a law student at Pat Robertson’s CBN University (now Regent University)—whose motto is “Christian Leadership to Change the World”—when he penned a thesis that blamed homosexuals and working women for the decline of the family, and railed against premarital sex and the “perverted notion of liberty that [holds] each individual should be able to live out his sexual life in any way he chooses without interference from the state.”
Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona
Where to begin? Sheriff Joe is that special breed of elected official who reminds progressives exactly what it is we are fighting against. A rogue worthy of a Marvel comic, “America’s Toughest Sheriff” (as he likes to call himself) runs his own personal fiefdom out of the Maricopa County Jail System where he makes inmates live in open-air tents, wear pink underwear and eat substandard food that they have to pay for themselves. A cloddish braggart with a taste for the media spotlight, Arpaio claims to have arrested Elvis and broken up the French Connection, and is being sued for once crashing through a suspect’s front gate in a tank flanked by action star Steven Seagal (yes, you read that right). But don’t let the cartoonish buffoonery fool you: For Latinos in Maricopa County, there’s nothing funny about Joe Arpaio. The sheriff is currently the defendant in a class action suit alleging broad civil rights violations and is the subject of an ongoing Department of Justice investigation for engaging in what the agency has called “the worst pattern of racial profiling by a law enforcement agency in U.S. history.” An unrepentant Birther, in 2011 Arpaio organized a posse (yes, a posse) to investigate President Obama’s long-form birth certificate, claiming that it is “definitely fraudulent.”
Rafael “Ted” Cruz, Senate candidate
The former state solicitor general of Texas, Ted Cruz is the latest Tea Party golden boy to run for national office. The Canadian-born, Cuban-American Senate favorite is perhaps best known as the candidate who pledged to save America’s golf courses from a vast internationalist conspiracy led by billionaire financier George Soros (you can’t make this stuff up). Behind his perfect hair and made-for-TV smile, Cruz is an acolyte of slash-and-burn politics who favors shuttering the Departments of Energy, Commerce and Education, as well as the Transportation Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. A supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act, Cruz criticized a GOP rival for marching in a gay pride parade, and as an attorney, he succeeded in vacating a divorce decree granted by a Texas judge to two men who were married in Vermont. Also, Cruz has been championed by both Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck—so you know he’s dangerous.
Tony Perkins, president, Family Research Council
You know that GOP abortion platform you’ve been reading so much about? The one that would bar victims of rape and girls who get impregnated by their own fathers from terminating their pregnancies? Well you have Tony Perkins to thank for it. While he didn’t actually speak at the RNC, as a delegate on the subcommittee that handled the health care, education and family values portion of the platform, the head of the Family Research Council was instrumental in helping draft key language of the statement, as well as one calling for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and for a reinstatement of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy banning gays in the military. The FRC has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its aggressive stance on homosexuality; Perkins strongly rejects the designation, but it’s hard to argue the group is not vehemently anti-gay. Perkins himself has made the unsubstantiated claim that homosexuality is associated with “higher rates of sexual promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence” and qualifies as “behavior that is harmful to the people who engage in it and to society at large.” And an FRC pamphlet from 1999 accuses the homosexual rights movement of seeking to “recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.”
Donald Trump, rabble-rouser
Ok, so The Donald never actually got to speak at the RNC (thank you Tropical Storm Isaac) but he was invited to, and that’s bad enough. The ringmaster of the Birther movement and America’s least likeable self-made celebrity inserted himself into the American political landscape just over a decade ago following a long career in gambling and garish entertainment (in other words, he was a natural). After making noise about a possible 2012 presidential run, late last year he announced he would sit this one out, choosing to stand on the sidelines and throw things instead. His efforts (and money) helped turn a fringe conspiracy theory about Barack Obama’s place of birth into a media spectacle that ended only when the president agreed to release his long-form birth certificate. Trump called the moment one of his proudest but apparently he still isn’t convinced.