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The 2022 Midterms in Retrospect Part 3: The Lurch to the Right

The Republican party has taken a dangerous, undeniable, and notable lurch to the right over the past decade. It started with the Tea Party politics of the 2010s and has accelerated following the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Trump has not only mainstreamed far-right fringe ideas but also supported numerous lies and conspiracies. Currently, in order to be a successful Republican candidate, one is required to support the prevailing viewpoints of base voters. Many of these positions are fueled by far-right extremism and conspiracy theories popularized during the Trump presidency. The Republican Party has pushed out diverse and moderate voices making the resulting primary election constituency more extreme than years prior. Trump has also courted the support of white supremacists and far-right extremists. This presents a challenge to Republican candidates, encouraging a move further to the right as a result.

Patrick S. Sawyer explores how Trump has mainstreamed fringe ideas. In his research, Sawyer comes to the conclusion that Trump was able to mainstream fringe ideas like birtherism (the belief in or endorsement of any of various discredited claims that former U.S. President Barack Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen, therefore, not constitutionally eligible to be the U.S. president) and grow support for these ideas from otherwise moderate voters. This demonstrates his ability to mainstream fringe ideas among voters. Additionally, this research touches on the rise of Populism (the idea that society is separated into two groups at odds with one another, “the people” and “the corrupt elite”) among voters. Both of these conclusions illuminate some thought-provoking points when we consider the lurch to the far-right that has developed over the past decade. Trump continued to conventionalize fringe ideas, including peddling conspiracy theories like Q-Anon and showing clear support for conspiracy movement actors. Considering Trump’s effect on what it means to be a Conservative, explored in Part 1 of this series, we can see how he has led the mainstreaming of these ideas, forcing compliance among the Republican party moreover.

In their study of asymmetric political bias, Andrew S. Franks and Frahang Hesami find that Trump supporters are quick to support his viewpoints, whereas Trump detractors were not as quick to “reflexively oppose Trump.” The study also reveals that Trump supporters display a willingness to deny reality, disregard facts, and neglect truth in support of Trump’s positions and interests, regardless of content. The presence of this asymmetric political bias further buttresses the argument that the Republican Party has lurched farther to the right. It is important to note that the study found little evidence for “Trump Derangement Syndrome” but did find support for the idea “that some Trump supporters have a cult-like loyalty to” Trump. This serves as a reminder that it is crucial not to underestimate Trump’s impact on Republican voters, especially Trump supporters.

This coalescence between Trump mainstreaming fringe ideas, the rise of Populism among Conservatives, and the clearly evident asymmetric political bias among Conservatives, paints a dynamic and fascinating picture of how the Republican party has lurched to the right. This had cascading effects on the 2022 midterm elections that we can see among Republican candidates. As mentioned in Part 2 of this series, 159 Republican candidates were election deniers. This is a staggering figure, almost 70% of Trump-endorsed candidates.  In total, 253 political leaders backed Trump’s 2020 election lies. This is important because, according to NBC News, 61% of Republicans still don’t believe Biden won the 2020 election. This demonstrates how pervasive these lies still remain today and how Republican candidates need to position themselves within primary elections in order to win the Republican base voters. This creates a negative feedback loop between the candidates and their constituencies, motivating them to continue these lies and support Trump at all costs, even if that means shifting ideological positions.

In many cases, candidates may have yet actually to move further to the right, but in order to win their primary elections, they have to present themselves in this manner. As observed with Mehmet Oz and Blake Masters in Part 2 of this series, there is a fundamental difficulty in attempting to pivot effectively back to viewpoints of the general election constituency without sacrificing support among Republican base voters or alienating the necessary independent constituencies needed to win in competitive seats and statewide races. This presents a complicated calculus that few candidates have been able to crack properly. However, some candidates, such as Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, managed to find a comfortable middle ground that allowed them to win in a competitive state. Youngkin achieved success by steering clear of Trump’s toxic brand, homing in on issues important to Conservatives and Trump-supporting voters, such as parental rights in public schools, a controversial topic in itself.

Despite the illuminating findings in victories such as Youngkin’s, many Republican candidates have instead chosen to move further towards the right, courting Republican base voters despite the negative effect it may have on general election chances. The Republican Party has moved further to the right than the Democratic Party has moved to the left and continues to espouse anti-democratic – some may even say fascist – viewpoints. They stoke the fires of culture wars and rely on their conservative news media behemoth to promote messaging of hate and grievance. The GOP has chosen to radicalize its electorate rather than expand it and enforce the tyranny of the minority over the majority in this country.

The Republican Party is on a dangerous and worrying path, lurching towards extremism. Their new, slim House majority is tenuous and wracked with instability among the various internal caucuses. The country is more polarized than ever in recent history, with domestic terrorism on the rise and the Republican party moving more rapidly towards the extremes of authoritarianism and fascism. While I have yet to perfect my crystal ball skills, so I cannot see the future, I certainly worry about this dastardly and dangerous trend and what it means for each and every American looking to attain their own American Dream.

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