Juan Williams: GOP’s embrace of extremism dims its midterm hopes
Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) tells an insider story about why so many Republicans are embracing former President Trump’s extremism.
“I can’t tell you the number of times somebody said, ‘You don’t have to believe the election is stolen, the important thing isn’t believing it, it’s saying it,’” Meijer confided to the New York Times after losing a GOP primary in early August. “That is what a Republican is supposed to do right now.”
Meijer’s quote sticks out because he said publicly what I hear in off-the-record, private dinners in D.C.
GOP senators and House members say they don’t believe the nonsense they spew in fundraising emails, on right-wing radio and at campaign rallies.
They see all the lies and distortions as political hardball, the price of admission to Trump-era politics. The false claims are cynical tools for winning power by stirring up populist anger in today’s right-wing voters.
The latest examples are the lies reverberating around the conservative echo chamber about how a boost in funding for the Internal Revenue Service will lead to armed federal agents attacking Americans.
That kind of distortion fires up media ratings and juices fundraising totals.
But the charade is also the reason the GOP is squandering its chance for a wave election and control of Congress.
The charade feeds an extremism that is hurting voters.
In June, an extremist majority on the Supreme Court, built by a GOP Senate, ended nearly 50 years of women having the right to make their own decisions about pregnancy.
Voters in Republican-majority Kansas chose to protect abortion rights after the Supreme Court ruling.
And the backlash didn’t stop there.
“Think about the message sent in Kansas, think about the message we can send right here,” said Pat Ryan, a New York Democrat who won an upset victory in a special House election last week by emphasizing his support for abortion rights.
The results in Kansas and New York show suburban swing voters, particularly women, turning against the GOP for overturning abortion rights.
After last week, it is no longer outside the realm of possibility that Democrats can hold their Senate majority and limit the extent of a feared ‘Red Wave’ of Republicans taking over the House.
Instead, political analysts see only a drizzle of ‘Purple Rain,’ in which Republicans muster a small House majority. Some even think the Democrats might hold on to both chambers.
If that happens, Democrats will have Trump, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) to thank for throwing away their chance at control of Congress by empowering anti-abortion zealots, Jan. 6 rioters and gun rights radicals.
Their dive into extremism could disrupt the historical pattern of voters expressing anger at the party in power — in this case the Democrats — by voting for the opposition party. This was the case in midterms in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
But 2022 is breaking the pattern due in part to the Supreme Court’s abortion decision.
Since the ruling, the GOP’s lead in national polls on generic preference for control of Congress has been wiped out.
Last week, the U.S. House editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, Dave Wasserman, said on Twitter that it is no longer “out of the question” that Democrats might hold their majority in the House.
In the Senate, the GOP’s expectations are similarly dimming.
McConnell now says he can’t predict a Republican majority taking control of the Senate. Instead, he predicts an “extremely close” contest in November and implied that the reason for diminished GOP prospects is that “candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”
‘Candidate quality’ is McConnell’s insider code for how extremist candidates in the Republican ranks limit the party’s chance of winning the majority.
For example, the GOP Senate nominee in Georgia, Herschel Walker, recently attacked legislation to deal with global warming by complaining about all the “money [that’s] going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”
Walker is just one of several Trump-backed extreme candidates turning off voters.
“You’ve got Democrats delivering and Republicans seemingly obsessed with banning abortion, attacking the FBI, prosecuting their culture wars and playing their grievance politics,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) told the New York Times last week.
“We won by being a mainstream Democrat who gets things done and that’s what the voters want,” Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told MSNBC about his own primary victory last week.
In addition, President Biden last week called attention to Trump followers whom he branded as “semi-fascist.”
The old axiom in politics is that voters start paying attention to elections around Labor Day.
If that’s true, Republicans enter the homestretch of the 2022 midterms suddenly facing headwinds.
Fake belief in the ‘Big Lie’ about the 2020 election being stolen from Trump, as well as extreme opposition to abortion rights, are the secret words required to gain clubhouse membership in today’s GOP.
But it is no secret that they are also the reason the midterms no longer look to be colored by a ‘Red Wave.’
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.