The coming battle of extreme versus mainstream

Posted on March 10, 2021

The 2022 Republican primary elections will be a bloodbath. The MAGA crowd is going to massacre not just moderates, but anyone who is unwilling to support Trump’s shameless lies. The resulting Marjorie Taylor Greene sound-alikes will push the party even farther toward authoritarianism, but also present an opportunity for mainstream candidates in the general election.

It’s important to understand that “mainstream” does not mean “moderate.” Somewhere around 2/3rds to 3/4ths of Americans support Biden’s COVID relief legislation, which is one of the most progressive federal acts in history. About 60 percent favor raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. About 65 percent think the federal government needs to act on climate change. Three-quarters of Americans support a very wide range of police reforms. Thus, the overwhelming majority of progressive values and goals are emphatically mainstream.

Today’s conservatives, by focusing on the culture war (Mr. Potato Head??) instead of issues that affect Americans every day (COVID, wages, quality of life) risk alienating the better-educated and more suburban slice of their movement. As veteran pollster Stan Greenberg argues in Politico, they risk a realignment of “Biden Republicans” who decide that “my party has left me.”

But, without persuasion, nobody is going to simply decide that progressives are now the mainstream while conservatives have become extremists. We need to push them.

What progressives should do right now is get conservative officeholders and probable candidates on-the-record about the most egregious MAGA lies. Persuadable Americans need to be reinforced in their doubts. Specifically, they need to understand that: (a) officials can’t solve anybody’s policy problem if they don’t accept facts; (b) candidates and officials who repeat lies are complete cowards (they’re just doing it because they’re afraid of the MAGA mob); and (c) lying about public policy means the liars have no principles, that their political values are dead.

The three major MAGA lies of the past year are, that: (1) COVID-19 is not a serious problem and that neither mask-wearing nor vaccine-taking is necessary; (2) Trump only lost the 2020 election because of voter fraud (or put another way, that Trump didn’t “lose”); and (3) the January 6 Capitol riot was an Antifa/left wing “false flag” event rather than a pro-Trump/right wing insurrection.

Even educated, well-informed conservative candidates don’t want to tell the truth about these lies because they are deathly afraid of their base voters. According to an Ipsos poll:

  • 23% of Republicans believe that “A group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media” (the “Q” conspiracy lie).
  • 72% of Republicans believe there was “A deep state working to undermine President Trump.”
  • 62% of Republicans believe that “COVID-19 was created in a lab in China.”
  • 46% of Republicans believe that “COVID-19 is no more of a serious threat than the seasonal flu.”
  • 31% of Republicans believe that ‘Masks are not an effective tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
  • 41% of Republicans say “I will not take the COVID-19 vaccine” when available.
  • 53% of Republicans believe “Voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election.”
  • 46% of Republicans say “I do not accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.”

In addition, a Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll found:

  • 58% of Trump voters call the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol “mostly an Antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few Trump supporters.”

These are the primary voters that conservatives embrace. Those primary candidates are vulnerable now.