From fringe to the forefront: an extremist takeover of the GOP

Extremism isn’t unique to America; virtually every developed democratic country in the world has an extremist element or party that has metastasized over the past decade. However, the United States is relatively unique in this way: Extremists now lead one of just two major political parties in this country. 

Over a decade ago, extremists were on the fringe of the Republican Party. Today, MAGA Republicans have taken over their party and are pushing an agenda that would dismantle America, stripping away rights and freedoms that have held core to the American identity for decades and even centuries. 

In 2010, with the emergence of the Tea Party movement, fringe GOP Senate candidates like Sharron Angle of Nevada, Christine O’Donnell of Delaware and Ken Buck of Colorado emerged as lightning rods within their own party, upsetting establishment candidates. Angle wanted to shutter the Education Department and wipe out Social Security, describing the latter as a symptom of the nation’s “wicked ways.” while O’Donnell and Buck staunchly opposed abortion — even in cases of rape and incest. 

Fast forward to now, and what was fringe just over a decade ago is at the forefront of the Republican Party. It reflects the distinction between a 2010 Tea Party incursion into the Republican Party by a few extreme individuals and the 2022 all-out MAGA takeover of today.

The current MAGA-policy agenda is centered around once-fringe beliefs. The head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) put out a plan that proposes ending all federal funding for public education and sunsetting Social Security and Medicare every five years. Not only has Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) called a national ban on abortion “possible” but nearly half his caucus and more than 75 percent of House Republicans already support an abortion ban with no exceptions. 

But there are two issues that truly capture just how radical the Republican Party has become. First, MAGA Republicans have a shameless willingness to fabricate and propagate lies to challenge legitimate elections. At least 120 Republican primary candidates this cycle are endorsing the Big Lie. It is likely that the only future elections that MAGA Republicans will deem legitimate are the ones that they win. 

The second, and even more terrifying, shift is that political violence is now openly promoted by MAGA Republicans and acquiesced to by Republican leaders. As a recent Center for American Progress (CAP) Action analysis showed, nearly 100 Republican candidates have run political ads this cycle brandishing, shooting or displaying firearms, and more than a quarter of those explicitly threatened a group of Americans or the government itself. Even the horrific violence of the insurrection on Jan. 6, in which more than 150 law enforcement officers were injured, maimed, or killed has done nothing to temper MAGA Republicans’ push for violence.  

In Missouri, the front-runner in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate released an ad explicitly inviting his supporters to “Join MAGA” in killing RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). Rather than denounce the ad or make it clear that the National Republican Senatorial Committee would never support a candidate promoting political violence against anyone, Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), the chair of the committee, stated “I think it’s up to the voters in Missouri,” underscoring that Republican leadership is comfortable with overt threats of political violence. 

That is why this midterm election promises to be different than all the punditry today would suggest. In 2010, Democrats narrowly retained control of the Senate because Americans rejected the fringe Republicans nominated in key races. This cycle, Democrats need to make clear that they aren’t just running against extreme individuals, but that MAGA extremism has taken over the Republican Party. In every election, voters face the same stark choice they did in the 2020 presidential race. 

The 81 million Americans who rejected MAGA extremism in that election need to understand that our fundamental rights and freedoms, and everything about the American way of life, are still on the line this November.

Navin Nayak is the president and executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.