How 'wacko' conspiracy extremists are driving the 'radicalization' of the Republican Party: conservatives

How 'wacko' conspiracy extremists are driving the 'radicalization' of the Republican Party: conservatives

If Republicans regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives and/or the U.S. Senate in the 2022 midterms, it won’t be traditional Reagan and Goldwater conservatives running Congress. It will be far-right MAGA extremists and fringe conspiracy theorists who have a lot more in common with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán than they do with the late Sen. John McCain or President George H.W. Bush.

The radicalization of the Republican Party and the GOP’s abandonment of traditional conservatism is discussed in two articles published by the conservative website The Bulwark on January 19 — one by Sarah Longwell, founder of the Republican Accountability Project (formerly Republican Voters Against Trump), and the other by history professor and frequent Bulwark contributor Thomas Lecaque.

Lecaque, using former President Donald Trump’s first MAGA rally of 2022 as an example, describes the type of fringe kooks who have achieved prominence in the GOP. Longwell, meanwhile, describes a strategy in which some Republican candidates will pander to the far right in rural areas but try to appear more moderate in suburban areas.

Trump’s recent rally in Arizona featured a who’s-who of unhinged conspiracy theorists, including MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, Rep. Paul Gosar and Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.

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Lecaque notes, “Trump allies such as Mike Lindell and Andy Biggs showed up alongside him, and Steve Bannon, of course, took to his webshow to claim the rally would lead to the 2020 election being decertified — something for which, of course, no mechanism exists. Kari Lake, the likely winner of the Arizona GOP’s gubernatorial primary, called for Dr. Anthony Fauci and ‘anybody who was involved in that corrupt shady, shoddy election of 2020’ to be locked up. And Rep. Paul Gosar sent up the QAnon Bat signal: ‘Can you feel the storm building? It’s America.’ The apocalyptic endpoint of QAnon’s conspiracies are where all of their political opponents are arrested and then murdered, and here was the former president surrounding himself with implicit hints and explicit statements of those aims.”

The Arizona rally, according to Lecaque, demonstrated that the MAGA movement is even more radicalized in 2022 than it was in 2016.

“The people who turn out for (Trump’s) rallies now are not the same as the Republicans-sick-of-Republican-leadership who turned out in 2016,” Lecaque explains. “They have even shifted from the MAGA/KAG crowds of 2020. The fights over January 6 and over vaccination policy have further radicalized them. They are, in some respects, evolving past Trump.”

According to Lecaque, “The most difficult part of riding a tiger, as the saying goes, is dismounting — and Donald Trump is riding a tiger of conspiracy-theorizing, apocalypse-chasing, murderous wackos. Some of the most cultish, and perhaps dangerous, people among his supporters are starting to show their impatience with Trump the politician. Trump the symbol is what they want, and if he cannot deliver, they seem to be thinking that maybe he can be replaced.”

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In her article, Longwell cites Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin as an example of a Republican who has pandered to the MAGA crowd in rural areas while portraying himself as more moderate in the suburbs.

In 2020, Longwell notes, some Republicans who “seemed vulnerable…. ran ads touting their relationship with Trump” in “rural areas,” whereas “in the suburbs, they ran ads that focused on the economy and crime, and pretended that Trump didn’t exist.”

“This isn’t the traditional pivot we used to see, where a Republican candidate would run as a severe conservative in the primary and then a practical moderate in the general election,” Longwell observes. “That strategy was like a character turn. The new Republican strategy is to simultaneously present two different versions of the party to two different sets of voters — almost as if the candidate is running in two parallel universes — and hope that neither cohort really notices the other.”

Youngkin, Longwell points out, successfully used that type of strategy in Virginia’s gubernatorial race in 2021.

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“(Youngkin) spent the early part of his campaign touting his Trump endorsement and flirting with Trump’s election lies,” Longwell explains. “Then, he spent the latter half of the campaign ignoring Trump and focusing on issues that mattered to suburban voters: inflation, crime and education. He kept the base inflamed by throwing red-meat chunks of CRT — but the vast majority of swing voters just saw a candidate who was going to make sure that schools would be open and parents wouldn’t be shut out from having a voice in their children’s education.”

Longwell continues, “Republicans are going to try to carry this lesson further in November. They’ll use Donald Trump and his election lies to generate enthusiasm and turnout from the rural base. But they’ll go on offense against Democrats using crime, education, inflation and exhaustion with COVID, which will resonate with traditional right-leaning independents and moderate GOP voters in the suburbs.”

The conservative strategist, who supported Biden in 2020, argues that focusing on GOP extremism will not be enough for Democrats in the 2022 midterms — they will also need to show what they can offer from a governance standpoint.

Longwell writes, “The silver lining for Democrats, though it’s not great for the country, is that the vast majority of Republican candidates running for office in 2022 are genuine MAGA wackos who might not be cognitively capable of keeping their mouths shut about Trump when talking to suburban voters…. Now, Democrats can’t win elections just by saying, ‘We’re not insane like those guys.’ But while you’re demonstrating that you can govern effectively.... you should still take a few moments to say, ‘Man, a bunch of those folks are really out of their minds. I mean, let’s just look at the ones whose last names start with G: Gosar. Gohmert. Greene. Gaetz.’ The great thing about offense is that it lets you set the narrative.”

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