Column: Voters need to stay concerned about political extremism

The elephant in the room was on voters’ minds this year – it needs to stay that way



Graphic by Bryan Jimenez/Gage Skidmore

At this point, the midterm conversation has been done to death: The GOP whiffed this, they flubbed that, yadda yadda. And as true as it may be that the Republican Party brought the historic failure upon themselves, the focus needs to be redrawn to voters’ intolerance of the party’s extremism.

Democrats lucked out this election cycle: along with the termination of federal abortion rights, former President Donald Trump and his coterie of clown candidates put a spotlight on the GOP’s absurdity.

“I would definitely be more willing to vote now since Republicans are now in power in the House,” said veterinary science major Tabatha Maldonado. The 18-year-old did not vote in the midterms but is alarmed by the GOP’s new control on the national stage. “Just recently, abortion was banned in a lot of states so I’m just really afraid that more stuff like that [will happen] where a lot of rights and choices are taken away,” she said.

Maldonado expressed concern that the GOP uses frontmen like Trump to normalize far-right rhetoric and bring them into the mainstream conversation.

“Republicans can be kind of radical,” she said in the understatement of the year. Her apprehension was a common driver during the midterms.

The latest post-election FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, which asked voters to list which issue most impacted their decision to vote, found that “political extremism or polarization” and abortion drew a plurality of voters’ top concerns this November.

For Democrats, 29% said extremism was their top priority, with 20% naming abortion and 13% inflation. Although 25% of independents listed inflation as their top concern, extremism followed close behind with 20% and abortion 9%.

Overall, including Republicans, 29% selected inflation as their main issue with 19% as extremism and 12% abortion. Put together – since abortion is only topical this election cycle because of political extremism – the topic garners a plurality with 31%.

The GOP propaganda machine is not broken and its operators are not stupid; they know when they’ve been beat. Now, they will adjust their tactics accordingly – make no mistake, Republicans learned a lesson after the midterms. Their candidates don’t need to be less radical, they just need to be more subtle.

The bolstering of Gov. Ron DeSantis exemplifies this. The Floridian governor has been an increasingly popular prospect both among his colleagues and voters, with many taking an affinity to DeSantis for his seemingly “normal” politics. Even some Democrats have fallen under his spell.

“I have friends who self-described themselves as progressive liberals at one time and would never describe themselves as conservative or Republicans, and they voted for him,” school board candidate Bridget Ziegler told Bloomberg.

“Okay, true-confessions time from Florida: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and I voted straight Democrat this election and always have,” a reader wrote to The Atlantic. “But I don’t hate Ron DeSantis. I dislike his culture-warrior crap, but otherwise he’s been a really effective governor.”

DeSantis’ “culture-warrior crap” are among reasons that voters should shun him as they did Trump. Just a few months ago, DeSantis used migrants as props for a political stunt, tricking them into boarding flights and dumping them several states away. The governor also signed the notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law and banned mask mandates amid COVID-19 surges. During his time as a House Representative, he helped found the Freedom Caucus – a collection of the farthest-right members of Congress.

In any case, attempting to separate DeSantis’ participation in culture wars from his policymaking is senseless; the two are inextricable and feed off one another. Even if he was truly more moderate than the average GOP candidate, DeSantis still supports restricting abortion access. He also blocked gender-affirming care for trans youth, suppressed mail-in voting and attempted to pass a “positively dystopian” policy which would limit race and gender education in colleges and universities.

And despite GOP leaders clamoring for more moderation within the party, it’s abundantly clear that their statements are a smokescreen. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been holding meetings with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is best known for spewing conspiracy theories about Jewish space lasers, harassing a Parkland survivor and repeatedly filing for unfounded impeachments of President Joe Biden. If he becomes house speaker, McCarthy has promised to reassign Greene House committees assignments, something she was stripped of last year after a causing a slew of controversies.

Post-midterms, the composition of the party has become more radical. Even though the GOP’s wilder candidates lost in battleground states, many in red areas won their races. More than 150 election deniers won their congressional races, among them five new senator-elects.

Of the 10 House of Representatives who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot, only two won their races. Four were primaried by Trump-backed candidates and the other four retired.

And so, as the GOP is sure to put a tarp over their circus of conspiracy-spewing representatives and place “moderates” like DeSantis center stage, voters need to keep extremism as a top concern in 2024. Republicans’ candidate strategy will be updated but their rhetoric and polices will not change anytime soon. As the next election cycle nears, they will be sure to prop up candidates who appear to be reasonable people, but don’t be fooled. Behind the feigned appearance of normalcy lies the core tenets of the Republican Party: obstruction of social progress, neglect of scientific thought and utter disregard for the country’s democratic processes.

As for presidency, whether it be DeSantis, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Josh Hawley or some other GOP attention-grabber who crops up before 2024, the next power-hungry populist with extralegal ambitions will not be striding around in a loose suit and orange tan but in sheep’s clothing.