Republicans have a chance to take back their Party, but I doubt they will do that. The Republican Party leaders could take back the Party and get back to the traditional values of the Republican Party (even though I see much of their beliefs about social welfare and the economy as misguided). Republicans have been mostly reprehensible to me in the last 20 years, but at one time, they did believe in a platform and a set of standards. The fringe elements of the GOP date back much farther. In the 1950s, Republicans led by Senator Joseph McCarthy incited the Red Scare claiming there were communists everywhere and going on a witch hunt throughout the United States. We know now that Sen. McCarthy’s infamous “list,” which supposedly named communists who had infiltrated the heart of the United States government, was completely fabricated. On February 9, 1950, McCarthy told a crowd of 275 at the Ohio County Republican Women’s Club that the U.S. State Department was “thoroughly infested with communists” and brandished papers he claimed were a list of 57 such subversives. No such list ever existed. The Red Scare eventually ended when Republican Senators stood up to McCarthy. The Senate censured him but not before he had ruined thousands of lives with his accusations of communism.
McCarthy is just the most famous of the examples of Republican extremism gone too far. Another example happened on July 14, 1964, supporters of Barry Goldwater, who was about to accept the Republican nomination for president, unleashed a torrent of boos against New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller as he spoke at the Party’s national convention in San Francisco. Some might remember this event, but what is usually forgotten is why Rockefeller, who had lost the nomination to Goldwater, was standing behind the lectern in the first place. He was there to speak in support of an amendment to the party platform that would condemn political extremism. The resolution repudiated “the efforts of irresponsible extremist organizations,” including the Communist Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and the John Birch Society (JBS), a rapidly growing far-right grassroots group obsessed with the alleged communist infiltration of America.
The resolution failed, which testifies to the GOP’s long-standing reluctance to separate themselves from the extremists who congregate at its fringes. But the fact that such a resolution was debated at all—in such a visible venue, with such high-profile advocates—also says something about Republicans today. In the past, the GOP had a stronger core of resistance to extremism than it’s had in the era of the former president, QAnon, the Proud Boys, and the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene. The history of JBS shows us that this radical element has been a part of the Republican Party since the middle of the last century. In case you aren’t familiar with the John Birch Society, it is a radical right and far-right American political advocacy group supporting anti-communism and limited government. Canadian author Jeet Heer argued in The New Republic that while its influence peaked in the 1970s, “Bircherism” and its legacy of conspiracy theories have become the dominant strain in the conservative movement. Politico has asserted that the JBS began making a resurgence in the mid-2010s, and JBS itself has argued that it shaped the modern conservative movement, especially the former president’s administration.
The question of how Republicans deal with the extremists in their ranks is now more urgent than perhaps at any other point since the Birch Society’s heyday in the 1960s. So far, little has been done to uproot these fringe elements. Representative Kevin McCarthy and other GOP leaders have shown no interest in acting against House members who promoted or spoke at the rally ahead of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. And while GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans have criticized Greene—a relatively easy target—almost all have signaled that they will not vote in the impeachment trial to impose any consequences on the former president for his role in inciting the attack. McConnell sees himself in a desperate position to preserve the Republican Party and has warned Republican colleagues in private conference meetings the GOP faces a new “John Birch Society” problem that the Party must aggressively purge.
Those who care about the traditional values of the Republican Party could jointly stand together and denounce the previous president, his supporters in the Senate and the House, and the fringe extremists who have devoted themselves to perpetuating the previous president’s lies at any cost. If they voted to convict in the impeachment, denounce extremism, then they could have a chance to take back the Party. If they do not stand up for what is the right thing to do and convict the previous president, the fringe extremists that have plagued the Party since the middle of the last century will overtake the Party and drive it further to the right. The problem I see is that McConnell and others in the Republican Party have allowed the extremists to grow like a cancerous tumor. McConnell said himself that the “Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country.” The problem is that his analogy is too apt, and I think the cancerous tumor has been left untreated for so long until it is terminal. That was evident in Greene’s response. On Twitter, Greene wrote, “The real cancer for the Republican Party is weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully. This is why we are losing our country.”
The Republicans could take a stand during this impeachment trial. They could turn against the extremists in their Party. I realize that they will not eject any Congress members for their extremism, but they could ostracize the extremists for their actions. They could censure them, though I think that too is unlikely. What they can do is to give them so little influence in Congress that opponents can use it against them in their next election. Maybe once they do this and take back the Republican Party along more traditional lines without the extremism, they can finally come into the twenty-first century and possibly become decent human beings. Either way, I’d rather have the traditional business Republicans than the fringe elements who seem to control the Party today.