I have been coming down a bit hard on local Republicans recently. After a promising start to the crisis response, it has seemed to me the party lost patience with how hard it is to navigate through a pandemic and began flirting with quick-fix denialism instead.

So I went, virtually, to a forum this past week of the five main GOP candidates running for governor. I’ve argued in the past that the incumbent governor, Jay Inslee, should step aside for new energy — that two terms is enough. So I wanted to see if maybe I’ve been selling the Republicans short.

Turns out I haven’t been coming down hard enough.

The GOP debate, hosted by the Eastside Republican Club, captured why the party has become increasingly irrelevant to any governing decisions in this state. And also why it’s on the verge of going extinct around here.

The five candidates acted like they were running for governor of Oklahoma. They ritually bashed Seattle, and all raised their hands to affirm they were pro-life, pro-traditional-family-values guys who all strongly endorse the re-election of Donald Trump.

That’s all GOP boilerplate, I guess, but it’s also committing electoral suicide in this particular state.

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Worse, from the perspective of the long-term health of politics in our state, is how they all seemed to be speaking from an alternate universe.

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In an hour-and-a-half-long forum, they never once spoke of the public health aspect of the crisis gripping the nation. They never talked about the virus, the epidemiological efforts to control its spread, or the some 900 people who have died from it here or the more than 75,000 lost nationwide. They seemed oblivious that something involving health was going on at all.

Which is not to say the governor’s response to it didn’t come up.

“I have no idea why we shut the entire state down, the churches especially,” one candidate, state Sen. Phil Fortunato, fumed.

“Should Jay Inslee have shut off schools like he did? Absolutely not,” said another candidate, former Bothell mayor Joshua Freed.

Hello? Churches have been the site of multiple “super-spreader” events for the virus, including one here in Skagit County where 45 of 60 singers at a choir practice got infected, and two died. As for schools, they waited too long to close them in New York City — and 78 school employees there died, including 28 teachers.

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This isn’t just some urban thing, either. In Eastern Washington, more than 247 workers at one Tyson beef plant got COVID-19, with three dying so far. Yet candidates for governor are mystified why we’re struggling with this?

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Instead they portrayed Inslee as a “dictator” who is wantonly crushing the economy for no reason other than a power trip. There was no mention that a few days before, on May 1st, the state reported its highest number of new coronavirus infections, 349, since back in early April.

“This is government taking the opportunity during a crisis to try to stick it to us the people,” said Freed (who is supposed to be the moderate in this field?).

The other candidates were Republic police chief Loren Culp (who wants “to lead the state back to the way it was when I was a child in the ’60s and ’70s, when we were free”); initiative promoter Tim Eyman (who has sued Inslee over the virus response); and Maple Valley tech manager Anton Sakharov (who called for everyone to “fully move about the state and exercise our rights”).

I don’t think anybody knows the exact right path through a pandemic, and the damage being done to businesses and workers right now is substantial. But Inslee is reopening the state — too slowly for some, but faster than is called for by the Trump administration’s own “Opening Up America Again” guidelines (which show this state has not yet met the criteria for case declines). Of course Trump grew impatient with that plan as soon as he issued it, demanding by tweet that the states “LIBERATE!”

Local Republicans, maybe it’s too late, but don’t follow Trump down this rabbit hole. How do you hold a debate in the middle of a pandemic and never talk about public health? It’s as if half our political system finds the virus tiresome, or too hard, and so has decided to magically wish it away.

If you want to bash Inslee, he’s prone right now on an issue of vital concern, which is testing. Having enough tests so we’re not flying blind is as mission critical as it gets for public health, especially as the economy starts back up again. Yet we’re doing only 6,000 tests per day — one-fifth the 30,000 Inslee himself has said are needed.

Testing? Never brought up at the GOP forum.

Take it from a Seattleite — the liberals can and will run wild if there’s no one to be a check on them. But that opposition has got to be tethered at least loosely to the world we actually live in.