Tom Nichols, a staff writer for The Atlantic, posed the question that is the title of this post. Nearly half the voters of Georgia cast a ballot for a man who was manifestly unqualified for the office, by any measure. Republicans thought it was cunning to pick a Black candidate, hoping to peel support away from Senator Warnock. It didn’t work. Walker got very few Black votes. Warnock won with unified Black support and a multiracial coalition.

Nichols fears that Trump has dumbed down expectations for Republican candidates to an alarming degree. Following his model, they can be stupid, they can be immoral, they can be liars, they can be adulterous and flaunt it, they can mock democracy. There is no low too low for them.

Nichols writes:

Walker’s candidacy is a reminder of just how much we’ve acclimated ourselves to the presence of awful people in our public life. Although we can be heartened by the defeat of Christian nationalists and election deniers and other assorted weirdos, we should remember how, in a better time in our politics, these candidates would not have survived even a moment of public scrutiny or weathered their first scandal or stumble.

And yet, here we are: An entire political party shrugs off revelations that a man running on an anti-abortion platform may have paid for an abortion (possibly two), has unacknowledged children, and may also be a violent creep. Not long ago, Walker would have been washed out of political contention as a matter of first principles.

Think of how much our civic health has declined in general. Only 35 years ago, during the long-ago Camelot of the late 1980s, Gary Hart had to pull out of the Democratic primaries for getting caught with a pretty lady on a boat named “Monkey Business,” and the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart stood with tears streaming down his face because he’d been caught with a prostitute in a Louisiana motel. In 1995, Senator Bob Packwood (again, more tears) resigned in the aftermath of revelations of sexual misconduct just before being expelled from the Senate.

The Republicans were once an uptight and censorious party—something I rather liked about them, to be honest—and they are now a party where literally nothing is a disqualification for office. There is only one cardinal rule: Do not lose. The will to power, the urge to defeat the enemy, the insistence that the libs must be owned—this resentment and spite fuels everything. And worst of all, we’ve gotten used to it. I’m not sure who said it first, but the Doobie Brothers said it again in the title of their 1974 album: What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits.

There’s a lot of blame to go around, but no one did more to pioneer the politics of disgust than Donald Trump, who took the outrageous moments of his two presidential campaigns and turned them into virtues. Trump ran, and still runs, as something of a dare, a challenge to see if we’re just a bunch of delicate scolds who get the vapors over things like veterans or foreign influence or nepotism. Are you really going to let the commies and immigrants from the “shithole countries” take over? he seems to ask at every turn, just because of little nothing-burgers like whether I’m keeping highly classified documents in the magazine rack next to my gold toilet?

As usual, however, the real problem lies with the voters. The Republicans are getting the candidates they want. This is not about partisanship—it’s about an unhinged faux-egalitarianism that demands that candidates for office be no better than the rest of us, and perhaps even demonstrably worse. How dare anyone run on virtue or character; who do they think they are?

It’s terrifying to realize that totally unhinged candidates, not only in Georgia but in other states, like Arizona, received almost half the vote.

My hope lies with changing demographics and our youth. Young people who have grown up in the 21st century are likely to replace the shrinking generations of old white bigots, who are now the GOP base. America will be a better nation in the years ahead, as these voters make better choices and choose a better future where all of us make progress. Together.