Technical difficulties didn’t stop the Texas GOP from selecting a new chair, voting out incumbent James Dickey and voting in conservative firebrand Allen West on Sunday night. The former Florida congressman has a history of shocking and controversial behavior that makes his appeal to the current GOP unfortunate but not surprising.
West started his career in the military, where he earned national attention (and infamy) over a torture incident in Iraq. While leading a US Army battalion, West fired his pistol near the head of an Iraqi police officer during a brutal interrogation. The information extracted from the prisoner did not lead to the discovery of any weapons or plans to attack Americans and West himself admitted that he may have been wrong. Since West’s actions violated US military regulations, he was fined and soon after left the Army to avoid a court-martial. Gen. James Mattis, who would later go on to be Trump’s first Secretary of Defense, referred to West as a “commander who has lost his moral balance or has watched too many Hollywood movies.”
A war crime wasn’t enough to stop West from going into politics. After an unsuccessful 2008 bid for Congress in Florida’s 22nd District, West succeeded in a rematch riding the 2010 Tea Party wave. After only one term, West decided to run in the neighboring 18th district, as redistricting had resulted in the 22nd becoming much more Democratic. However, West still lost in 2012 to Democrat Patrick Murphy.
While West’s congressional tenure was short, he did manage to make a name for himself by engaging in outrageous rhetoric that was a prelude to Trumpism. West referred to Obama supporters as a “threat to the gene pool,” suggested that fellow House members who opposed continuing the war in Afghanistan should “get shot a few times,” and called the Democratic Party a “21st-century plantation” while calling himself “the modern-day Harriet Tubman.”
While West’s crazy antics failed to earn him a second term, they did earn him plenty of supporters on the right. Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent wanted him to be vice president while Glenn Beck wanted in the White House. Two congressmen, including Texas’ own Louie Gohmert, voted for West to be made Speaker of the House in 2013. This was after West failed to win a second term — how he would be Speaker while no longer serving in the House is one of those things that only makes sense to someone like Louie Gohmert.
West followed the end of his congressional tenure by moving to Texas, finding work as president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based conservative think tank.
While it may be disheartening that he now chairs the Texas GOP, it should come as no surprise given the current state of the party. Allen West represents the worst of the GOP: a politician who repeatedly engages in reprehensible behavior and rhetoric that is rewarded rather than rebuked by his fellow Republicans.
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons