Principles or politics: the predicament facing the Republican Party

Declan McDaniels

Since former President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, “Trumpism,” defined by as the “nontraditional political philosophy and approach espoused by U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters,” has taken over much of the Republican Party. It has been called the American political variant of the far right, but it has no core philosophy. This trend towards extremism in the values and morals of the Grand Old Party (GOP) as a whole has redefined what it means to be a conservative in today’s politics, and this new image does not resonate with many life-long Republicans. The Republican Party is becoming more polarized with more traditionally conservative views on one side and conspiracy theories, white supremacists and misinformation on the other. Republican leaders must condemn all discrimination, lies, conspiracies and wrongdoings if they want to convince voters that they will not put their political biases over truth and morality. If the GOP fails to move back towards more traditional party values, critical damage will be caused by the extremists within the Republican Party, and white supremacists will remain “the most consistent and lethal threat in the homeland,” as stated in the inaugural threat assessment by the Department of Homeland Security. 

This emergence of white supremacy and extremist views in mainstream politics has been on a steady rise in the past decades, but Trump has significantly perpetuated this shift by giving followers of this movement a megaphone and encouraging their beliefs. In 2017, a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va. protested the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee with violence and racist chants. Trump later said that there were “very fine people on both sides,” despite the protest being planned and led by self-proclaimed white nationalists. However, Trump’s most overt example of fueling white supremacy came at the first presidential debate in 2020 when he responded to a question about denouncing white supremacists such as the Proud Boys by saying “stand back and stand by.” While Trump later stated that he condemned the Proud Boys and other white supremacists, many believed it was too little, too late; the pro-Trump extremist group embraced his words, and they even incorporated the quote in their new logo. These instances, among countless others, are prime examples of the way in which Trump has inflamed white supremacy in the U.S., making these people feel like their radical and dangerous views are representative of the Republican Party. 

This unconventional side of the Republican Party is not only defined by its white nationalist beliefs, but also by the growing prevalence of conspiracy theories such as QAnon. QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory alleging that a secret group of Democratic politicians and public figures are Satan-worshipping pedophiles and cannibals who run a global sex trafficking ring and plot to undermine former President Trump. A September 2020 Daily Kos/Civiqs poll found that 33 percent of Republicans surveyed believe that the QAnon conspiracy is mostly true and an additional 23 percent say that some parts are true. 

These beliefs are not just held by regular working-class Americans; multiple government officials have also shown their support for the group. Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has gained immense media attention since it was revealed that she has supported QAnon in recent years. Baseless theories, such as those of QAnon, being widely present within the Republican party is worrisome, and it proves that change needs to occur. 

Illustration by Kalyn Dawes

The final straw for many Republicans came on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump was directly associated with the incitement of the riot on the U.S. Capitol building. After months of claiming the election was rigged in favor of President Biden, Trump called on his supporters to come to Washington on the day that they were certifying election results to “Stop the Steal.” In his rally speech directly before the riots started, Trump directed his supporters to the Capitol building, telling them they have to “show strength” and “fight like hell” if they want to take their country back. While storming the Capitol, his supporters chanted “Fight for Trump” and claimed that they entered the Capitol at Trump’s “invitation,” meaning they truly believed this is what the president wanted them to do. People close to Trump reported that he was “initially pleased” and “delighted” about the riots, while “walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited.” 

According to The New York Times, 140,000 Republicans in 25 states left the party following the Capitol riots. Additionally, a large number of former Republican officials recently met to discuss the future of the party post-Trump, most of whom believe they should either form a new party or establish a new faction in the party. Republican Governor from Arkansas Asa Hutchinson says that Trump should not define the future of the Republican Party.

“He has a loud megaphone, but we have to have many different voices and, in my view, we can’t let him define us for the future, because that would just further divide our country and it would hurt our Republican Party,” Hutchinson said at CNN’s State of the Union.

Many people claim that “Trumpism” and the rise of extremism aren’t dangerous, but the Jan. 6 Capitol riots are evidence that these radicals will go to drastic lengths to defend what they have been told to be true. Trump has a major influence on his supporters, and he was able to manipulate them into believing that the election was fraudulent, despite any credible or significant evidence. Trump’s words and the effect that they can have has proven to be dangerous, and this will not stop anytime soon. Trump said himself that his movement is “only just beginning.” If the Republican party wants to entice voters and re-establish themselves as a legitimate counterpart in our two-party system, its leaders will need to condemn Trump’s destructive influence and prevent him from hijacking their core values.