All you need to know about the state of the Republican Party today is what happened at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas on Thursday. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been destroying his country’s democracy, received a standing ovation less than two weeks after he gave a speech in Romania in which he endorsed the white supremacist “replacement theory” and denounced a “mixed-race world.”
One of Orban’s longtime advisers quit over what she described as a speech “worthy of Goebbels” before backtracking a bit. But Orban hasn’t recanted his repugnant views, and right-wingers in Dallas thrilled to his denunciations of immigration, abortion, LGBTQ rights and “the Woke Globalist Goliath.” He even excoriated Jewish financier George Soros, a Hungarian native, as someone who “hated Christianity.” The racist and anti-Semitic signaling was not subtle.
You can trace the current iteration of the Republican Party to the 1990s Gingrich revolution, as my brilliant Post colleague Dana Milbank does in a new book. Or you can go further back to the Goldwater revolution in the 1960s, as I did in my own book. But we must also acknowledge that something profound has changed in recent years.
Ten years ago this month, Republicans nominated a national ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul D. Ryan, a centrist former governor and a budget policy wonk. Now we have the coup-coup caucus cheering Viktor Orban. This is the Trump effect: The former president has made the marginal into the mainstream of the Republican Party, and vice versa.
Some observers were deceived by the success in Georgia of Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in handily defeating Trumpist challengers in May despite certifying President Biden’s victory. That was an aberration. In other races across the country, Republicans are nominating far-right fanatics who claim that the 2020 presidential election — and any election that they lose, for that matter — was “rigged.” By refusing to accept electoral defeat, they embrace authoritarianism.
In four key swing states — Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania — the GOP nominees to oversee state elections deny the legitimacy of Biden’s election. Two of those candidates, Arizona secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem and Pennsylvania governor nominee Doug Mastriano, were outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. If elected, they are no more likely to certify a Democratic victory in 2024 than they are to embrace critical race theory. Meanwhile, most House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection are being driven out of Congress. Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer was the latest to lose a primary last week to a proponent of the “big lie.”
Taking a cue from Trump, the winners of Republican primaries traffic in authoritarian imagery and rhetoric. Guns have become a de rigueur accessory in GOP campaign commercials. Arizona U.S. Senate nominee Blake Masters wants to lock up Anthony S. Fauci for trying to slow the spread of covid-19. And Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake wants to lock up her opponent for certifying Biden’s election victory.
Masters and Ohio U.S. Senate nominee J.D. Vance are both bankrolled by tech tycoon Peter Thiel, who has concluded that freedom and democracy aren’t “compatible.” Thiel’s “house political philosopher” is far-right blogger Curtis Yarvin, who is also close to Masters and Vance. Yarvin has mused that we may need an “American Caesar” to take control of the federal government. Trump is auditioning for the role; his henchmen are plotting to fire tens of thousands of civil servants and replace them with ultra-MAGA loyalists in 2025.
The libertarian-leaning Republican Party I grew up with in the 1980s is long gone and not coming back. Republicans still use the language of “freedom,” but their idea of freedom is warped: They want Americans to be free to carry weapons of war or spread deadly diseases but not to terminate a pregnancy or discuss gender or sexuality in school.
Republicans, once suspicious of government power, are now eager to use it to impose their agenda. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, next to Trump as the most likely 2024 GOP nominee, is establishing his culture-war credentials by, most recently, suspending an elected prosecutor who vowed not to “criminalize personal medical decisions,” such as abortion or “gender-affirming healthcare.” DeSantis even threatened to investigate parents who take their kids to drag shows.
These Republican extremists are often described as the “New Right,” but the term doesn’t fit. The New Right was the movement in the 1960s-1970s that produced Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. You can argue that the New Right helped lead to the present imbroglio, but it’s hard to imagine Goldwater or Reagan flashing Viktor Orban a thumbs-up, as Trump did.
Some other term is needed. “Christian nationalism” and “nationalist conservatism” have been bandied about, but the most apt phrase for this American authoritarianism is the New Fascism, and it is fast becoming the dominant trend on the right. If the GOP gains power in Washington, all of America will be in danger of being Orbanized.