Ex-GOP speechwriter explains why the party's 'radicalization' has become a 'grave threat to American democracy'

Ex-GOP speechwriter explains why the party's 'radicalization' has become a 'grave threat to American democracy'

Many Never Trump conservatives were hoping that after former President Donald Trump was voted out of office in 2020, the Republican Party would abandon far-right Trumpism and return to a more traditional Reaganesque conservatism. But three months into Joe Biden's presidency, Trump's influence on the GOP is as strong as ever. Never Trumper Peter Wehner, in an article published by The Atlantic on April 26, analyzes the state of the Republican Party in the Biden era, warning that its "radicalization" has become a 'grave threat to American democracy."

"The Trump presidency might have been the first act in a longer and even darker political drama, in which the Republican Party is becoming more radicalized," Wehner laments. "How long this will last is an open question; whether it is happening is not. The radicalization manifests in myriad ways — most notably, in Trump's enduring popularity among Republicans."

The 60-year-old Wehner has a decidedly conservative resumé, serving as a speechwriter in the administrations of three Republican presidents: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. These days, Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. And as Wehner sees it, the fact that the GOP has taken a dangerously authoritarian turn is evident in all the support for the January 6 insurrection among Republicans.

"Trump's loyalists have launched ferocious attacks against Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach him for his role in the insurrection, even as national Republicans eagerly position themselves as his heir," Wehner explains. "Right-wing media display growing fanaticism, while public opinion polls show GOP voters embracing Trump's lie that the election was stolen from him. The Republican Party's illiberalism, its barely disguised nativism, and its White identity politics are resonating with extremist groups."

For his article, Wehner interviewed a fellow Never Trump conservative: Sarah Longwell, founder of the Republican Accountability Project (formerly Republican Voters Against Trump) and publisher of The Bulwark. Longwell told Wehner that since Trump's defeat, she has been hearing more sympathy for the QAnon conspiracy cult and far-right extremists like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene among GOP voters — not less.

Wehner notes, "A second finding, according to Longwell, is that for the first time, she's hearing people say they pretty regularly tune in to Newsmax or One America News Network, two conspiracy-theory-minded MAGA television news outlets. She's heard from some people in her focus groups that 'Fox has gone too far left.' Overall, what she sees isn't Trump supporters fleeing Fox in huge numbers so much as experiencing some cooling of their enthusiasm and a willingness to look to other sources of information. Tucker Carlson, the most malicious and influential figure at Fox News, does have a certain rock-star status in MAGA world."

Wehner adds that Longwell has found that "many Trump voters believe the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent. Not everyone Longwell has spoken with believes that absent fraud, Trump would have won, though many do."

In his Atlantic article, Wehner points out that Greene, a QAnon supporter, "raised $3.2 million during the first quarter of 2021. That's a staggering sum, especially for a freshman member of the House." And he goes on to say that although some Republicans are outspoken in their opposition to Trumpism — including Rep. Liz Cheney, Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Sen. Mitt Romney — "most others in the GOP chose to double down."

The Never Trumper concludes his article by warning that ignoring extremism in the GOP will not make it go away.

"Right now, the Republican Party is a grave threat to American democracy — not the only one, of course, but a grave one," Wehner emphasizes. "And unless and until Republicans summon the wit and the will to salvage the party, ruin will follow. The best thing those who love the Republican Party can do for it is to speak the truth about it."

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