Letter: The Republican slide to the extreme right occurred over several decades
It appears that the Republican Party has not only lost control of its base but lives in fear of offending them.
At his recent rally in Alabama Donald Trump told his followers that he had been vaccinated against COVID-19 and gently suggested that they should also get vaccinated. The resulting chorus of boos led to a quick backtrack with Trump telling them “You’ve got your freedoms.” When Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., suggested that those in attendance should accept the results of the 2020 election and move on to winning the next one he too was loudly booed. He recanted. It appears that the Republican Party has not only lost control of its base but lives in fear of offending them.
The Republican base is now basically composed of Trump followers. Many of them have been totally indoctrinated in the radical ideas and falsehoods they have heard from Trump as well as what they hear on talk radio during the day and Fox News during the evening. Republican officeholders know that they dare not take a stand that alienates the base because it will mean the end of their political careers. As Henry Redman writes in the Wisconsin Examiner, “The Republican party lost control of its base in 2020 and decided it had no choice but to follow along”
The Republican slide to the extreme right occurred over several decades. When I was a teenager I had a “I Like Ike” button. I saw Eisenhower as a moderate Republican who had no problem supporting many provisions of Roosevelt ’s New Deal. For a few years Joseph McCarthy promoted the extremist view that Communists had infiltrated everywhere but it soon faded away. But in the 1964 election another far right Republican reached a higher level of popularity in the person of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater who said, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” He was anti-civil rights but favored the use of nuclear weapons; thankfully he lost the election. But Richard Nixon went on to perfect Goldwater’s “Southern Strategy” adding issues such as religion and feminism to white racial angst to attract conservative voters.
Ronald Reagan added a big push to the right by creating mistrust of the government in his followers by saying, “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” Then Newt Gingrich turned Congress into a partisan combat zone that has plunged Washington into a state of permanent dysfunction. All that was needed now was a spark to unify the base of dissatisfied voters in support of the Republican agenda. That spark was talk radio and especially Fox News. By spewing out a constant barrage of criticism of liberals, distrust of government, and disdain for mainstream media, science, and “experts” Fox created a radicalized audience that looked to them as the only source of truth. As Brian Stelter writes in his new book, "Hoax", “For it biggest fans Fox is an identity. Almost a way of life. They compare the network to a church… they flock to it for reinforcement, for inspiration, for comfort food. For some, Fox is family.”
Donald Trump called Fox “my network” and he often called in to Fox and Friends as a candidate for president. After being elected, Trump watched Fox for much of his “information” and many of his ideas and tweets came from Fox.
In 2019 Media Matters for America counted 657 Trump tweets that originated from Fox News. During the January 6 th insurrection, Sen. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called Trump and asked him to tell his supporters to leave the Capitol. When Trump refused, McCarthy called Fox News and the phrase “law and order president’ was mentioned by the news anchor. One minute after the interview ended, Trump tweeted, “Remain peaceful. No violence. Remember we are the party of law and order.” For once Fox steered Trump in the right direction. But the damage caused when Trump convinced his MAGA followers that science and the mainstream are “fake news” goes on. Now even he can’t tell his base to get vaccinated without getting booed.
Roger Haglund lives in Moorhead.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.