The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s violent political rhetoric is metastasizing in the Republican Party

Former president Donald Trump at a rally March 12. (Meg Kinnard/AP)

Violent and threatening political rhetoric, normalized and encouraged by former president Donald Trump, is metastasizing in the Republican Party. As nearly a third of GOP voters tell pollsters that violence might be required to “save our country,” some officeholders and candidates who espouse menacing views are rewarded with fundraising and social media success. Too often, mainstream party leaders — the very voices who should be drawing the line at hate speech — are silent.

Silence is complicity. By not speaking out even in response to overt calls for lethal vengeance and death threats against political foes, Republican officials send a clear message that violence itself is a plausible alternative to debate, and even a palatable one.

Those political foes are mainly, but not only, Democrats. Revolutionaries — and that is how some of the most extreme GOP figures see themselves — are apt to turn on their brethren. After 13 Republican members of the House broke ranks to join Democrats in voting for President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill last fall, they were subjected to vicious attacks from party voters, as well as some right-wing lawmakers.

Far from being condemned for violent threats and hate speech, candidates and incumbents are increasingly being rewarded. One is Jarome Bell, who is vying for the GOP nomination in Virginia’s highly competitive 2nd Congressional District. He went a major step beyond the lie that Joe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election, calling for putting to death anyone convicted of voter fraud in a tweet in September: “Audit all 50 states. Arrest all involved. Try all involved. Convict all involved. Execute all involved.” Now Mr. Bell, who faces stiff competition in the party primary in June, has been endorsed by Republican Rep. Bob Good of Virginia.

Mr. Bell has also been endorsed by a Republican state senator in Arizona, Wendy Rogers, a rising star in GOP politics nationally despite — or possibly in part because of — her incendiary, antisemitic rhetoric. At a white nationalist convention in Florida last month, she said, “We need to build more gallows” to dispatch “traitors.”

Ms. Rogers, who has outstripped almost every other candidate for state office in Arizona in fundraising and social media followers, was censured by the Republican-led state Senate for promoting violence — although only after the resolution was watered down to remove a reference to her rhetoric “inciting general racial and religious discrimination.”

That she was reprimanded was encouraging. At the same time, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey dragged his feet before finally applauding Ms. Rogers’s censure, and the state GOP chairwoman, Kelli Ward, has been mum.

Those are not isolated examples. Mr. Trump was reported to have been “delighted” by actual violence — his rioting supporters breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6 last year. And when Rep. Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.) tweeted an anime video doctored to portray him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), just two fellow Republicans voted for a resolution to censure him in the House of Representatives.

History provides abundant evidence that rhetorical violence begets actual violence. By countenancing vile, dehumanizing, bloody-minded rhetoric, Republicans are paving a dangerous road to the future.

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