The Republican Party’s Devolution into a Violent, White Supremacist Threat to Democracy

Interview with John Nichols, The Nation magazine's national affairs correspondent, conducted by Scott Harris

For the majority of Americans who believe in democracy, the results of the 2022 midterm election were greeted with relief after many of the Republican party’s most extreme candidates in key battleground states lost. Donald Trump had hand-picked and supported candidates for governor and secretaries of state in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with a plan that if elected, these Trump loyalists would use the power of their office to manipulate and subvert election results in the 2024 election that the former president hoped to win.

But while Democrats remain in control of the U.S. Senate, Republicans won a narrow majority in the House – where radical right-wing politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Jim Jordan are in position to pressure GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to accede to their list of extremist demands. 

Donald Trump’s recent dinner with anti-Semitic rapper Kanye West and white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes, with little condemnation from GOP politicians, illustrates how today’s Republican party has by its actions, attempted to normalize, racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia and political violence. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with John Nichols, The Nation magazine’s national affairs correspondent and author, who examines the devolution of the Republican party into a violent, white supremacist threat to democracy.

JOHN NICHOLS: What I tried to do during the 2022 campaign was to carry two notebooks. One, you know, doing the interviews and covering the things that were happening on particular days, in particular weeks, you know, covering races and primaries and general elections and etc. But keeping in a second notebook where I was kind of observing the pattern of the year and the pattern, particularly of the Republican party and that formed the basis for this big piece that’s in The Nation this week.

And I was particularly interested in the the question of whether the Republican party was simply continuing on a track that it had been on. And I’ve covered the Republican party for decades. So, you know, and studied its history for a very long time. Or whether something big had changed. And I came to the conclusion something major changed over the last two years following Trump’s defeat in 2020 and his refusal to accept that defeat and everything that played out from that, you know, leading up to the violence at the Capitol; ultimately, the impeachment efforts and the refusal of the Republican party to hold Trump and his inner circle to account for what happened in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

And from there began a shifting of the Republican party to another place. To a place that would be dramatically unfamiliar to even many of the most conservative people that we know in the history of the party — to Ronald Reagan, to the Bushes, to Dick Cheney. And the argument I made is that at a certain point over the last two years and — you know, different aspects of this at different times — but at certain points over the last couple of years, the Republican party, as we see it now, sort of cut its ties to its past and cut its ties to any sense of responsibility or conscience.

And so what you saw is Republican leaders who were comfortable inviting Viktor Orban from Hungary to, you know, speak at events and celebrating him. Celebrating the rise of the neofascists in Italy and then domestically adopting “a win at any cost” approach to politics that refused to bend even when there were incredible revelations about their candidates, revelations that clearly they showed that their candidates were not you know — some candidates, like I say, Herschel Walker in Georgia — were not prepared to seek public office and then even once they did seek office, exposed as people who were, you know, hypocritical as regards to what were supposed to be the basic premises of the party.

SCOTT HARRIS: Illustrating this point, I think very aptly, is Trump’s recent meeting with anti-Semitic rapper Kanye West and racist Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. And that, for many confirmed that the label of white supremacist and neofascism within the Republican party has been normalized. But it wasn’t the meeting itself, actually, because I don’t think we are much surprised by anything Donald Trump does these days. But it was the lack of any criticism about that meeting from a majority of Republican politicians.

JOHN NICHOLS: Mm. There is this sort of line that “Okay, well, now we’ve reached the breaking point and Republicans are really going to move beyond Trump.” Well, this latest incident with this dinner confirms my belief that, No, they have not moved beyond Trump at all. They are they’re still afraid of him. They’re afraid of offending him. They’re afraid of offending his supporters.

And if anything, if there is movement from Trump on the part of at least some members of the party, it isn’t away from Trump. It’s toward a deeper Trumpism or toward a more extreme version that does go beyond Trump himself, toward the embrace of a Viktor Orban or a Maloney from Italy or someone like that. You know, there’s something going on within the Republican party, I would argue, at this point that is very unhealthy for the Republican party. It does have within it the seeds of the party’s own defeat.

But it’s also unhealthy for the broader political process, because if you’ve got a political party that is going to such extremes with “a win at any cost” mentality, that is by its nature going to disrupt the electoral processes of the country. And thus the the extremism, the growing extremism the Republican party promotes a disrupted and perhaps even in some cases, dysfunctional political process in the country.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with John Nichols (17:20) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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