Paul Waldman recently wrote, The right is done retreating in the culture war. It’s time to roll back rights.
Republicans revealed a great deal about themselves during the confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court, little of it flattering. If you were paying close attention, you might have caught the signs of a significant change in their ambitions, not only for the Supreme Court but also for the broad culture war that animates their party.
After years of cultural retreat — on abortion, on gay rights, on race — right-wingers are now convinced that the moment is right for what they’ve dreamed of but could never hope to bring about: rollback.
They are no longer content to limit their losses, find remote hills where they can make a principled stand, and cultivate a sense of victimization. More than they have in decades, they now believe they can undo what has been done. They’re already showing signs of success, and this might turn out to be the most important feature of the Biden-era right-wing backlash.
The most obvious victory they’ll achieve is on abortion. With a 6-to-3 conservative supermajority, the Supreme Court is likely to overturn Roe v. Wade in months. Republican-run states are not waiting; one after another is moving to outlaw most abortions, as Texas has and Idaho just did.
The GOP senators questioning Jackson barely bothered discussing abortion, as though Roe’s demise was already a done deal. But a few did show that their ambitions go beyond that.
Before the hearings, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) released a videoin which she said that Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that said states cannot ban contraception, was “constitutionally unsound.” Not long after, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) illustrated his devotion to states’ rights by saying that he even opposed Loving v. Virginia, which outlawed state bans on interracial marriage. (He later attempted to walk the statement back.)
Overturning Griswold and Loving might be unlikely, but consider a less outlandish conservative goal. During the hearings, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) used some of his time questioning Jackson to go after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that guaranteed marriage equality.
You might have thought that was a settled argument, especially considering how Republicans have treated the issue in recent years. While they haven’t changed their position on it, for the most part they just stopped talking about it. It ceased to be an effective mobilizing tool, and trumpeting their opposition to marriage equality brought with it too much political danger.
But they don’t seem to think so anymore. We don’t know whether the court majority would reconsider Obergefell as it goes on what will be a rampage across the legal landscape, but it might. That case was decided 5 to 4 — and two of those five justices are gone, replaced by two conservatives.
Meanwhile, nothing less than a sweeping anti-LBGTQ offensive is underway in state after state, supported by congressional Republicans and reinforced every day in conservative media. Sometimes it takes the form of an impossibly cruel targeting of transgender kids and their families, and sometimes it involves legislation like the “don’t say gay” bill recently passed in Florida.
It’s happening on race as well, especially when it comes to schools. Republicans are moving to snatch books out of school libraries and mandate a teaching of history that amounts to a new Lost Cause narrative: Racism was little more than a momentary lapse in our national judgment and something that no longer meaningfully exists — which means all attempts to address it must be dismantled.
This new aggressiveness reflects not a change in substantive beliefs but a change in perspective. It’s not that Republicans today hate trans kids, or women who need abortions, any more than they did 10 or 15 years ago. What has changed is what they think they can do about it.
It’s true that the GOP as a whole has shifted to the right since then, but that’s only part of the story. Polarization and the effective strategies Republicans have deployed to entrench minority rule have led them to conclude that they don’t really need to persuade many people in the middle of the ideological spectrum, let alone any Democrats.
Once you decide that, it alters your entire approach to politics. You can be more forthright, more bold and more ambitious. And it helps if the other party is a bunch of timid milquetoasts who are constantly terrified that someone might criticize them, which is exactly what Democrats are.
That isn’t to say that over the long run, Republicans aren’t losing these arguments, because for the most part they are. They can’t stop the ever-increasing acceptance of LGBTQ Americans. They can’t stop America from growing more diverse.
But for the moment, they’re done with retreat. It’s time for a rollback. And they’ll keep going until Democrats find a way to stop them.
Paul Waldman earlier wrote, Republicans have a reimagined view of state power — one without constraint:
If you thought the antiabortion vigilante law Texas Republicans passed last year was the most appalling abuse of legislative power you’d ever seen, I have some bad news for you.
That law was a wake-up call, not to Democrats — who seem to have done almost nothing in response — but to Republicans across the country. It said to them, We don’t have to hold back anymore. We can do anything we want.
And that’s just what they’re doing.
We’re witnessing a new phase not only in the culture wars but in U.S. politics generally. Republicans are arriving at a reimagined view of power, one without limit or restraint.
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Something has changed, and it isn’t that a wave of extremist Republicans got elected at the state level and pushed out their “reasonable” predecessors. That may be part of the story, but it didn’t all happen at once, like the tea party wave of 2010.
Instead, extreme Republicans have gotten elected to state legislatures over the course of the past few elections and have worked their way up the ranks. You’re familiar with trolls in Congress, such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), but there are dozens or even hundreds like them in state legislatures around the country.
Even Republicans who have been in office for many years are going along with this new radicalism. The extremists are working with their party’s leadership. Whether out of fear of being primaried or because they finally feel free to indulge their darkest fantasies, the longer-serving members seem nearly as enthusiastic about this new lack of restraint as anyone. And the bills have support from Republican governors who are hardly insurgents within their party.
A number of factors set the stage for the emergence of this new authoritarianism. The most obvious is Donald Trump’s takeover of the GOP, which took all the party’s worst attributes — its reliance on anger and resentment as mobilizing tools, its contempt for democratic norms, its loathing for Americans it disagrees with — and supercharged them.
Conservative media has also grown more radical; the most popular conservative media figure in the country is an anti-vaccine crusader whose show is a forum for race-baiting, conspiracy theories, and pro-Putin propaganda. That poison is spread to both Republican voters and officeholders, pushing them to be more extreme in their tactics and demands.
Then you have the way power is divided in the country at the moment. Democrats control Washington, which creates a visible target for right-wing anger, while Republicans dominate at the state level, which gives them the ability to express that anger in legislation. It’s all enabled by gerrymandering and other means of eliminating democratic accountability that assure Republicans that nothing they do will threaten their hold on power.
Central to the enterprise is the idea that Democrats are the ones promoting an insane agenda, which serves as the justification for almost anything Republicans want to do. Since Democrats are so horrifying, say Republicans, no tactic is too immoral to utilize, no Republican candidate too dangerous to support, and no proposal too offensive to pass in opposing them.
It’s why former attorney general William P. Barr describes in detail how Trump tried to stage a coup against U.S. democracy — then says that if Trump is the 2024 Republican nominee he’ll vote for him to combat the “threat” from the left. It’s why the hateful Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers can speak at white supremacist rallies and the state’s governor will respond to questions about her by saying, “She’s still better than her opponent.”
And it’s why almost no Republican officeholders anywhere will speak out against their party’s authoritarian radicalism. The further they push, the more they’re convinced they can get away with. It’s only going to get worse.
Jennifer Rubin explained, Fringe Republicans are not the problem. It’s the party’s mainstream. (excerpt):
Far from a fringe position or one limited to the House, the GOP continues to have a Putin problem — in no small part because it has a Trump problem. I have no doubt that McConnell, like virtually every elected Republican who has been asked, would gladly throw Ukraine to the wolves if the alternative was breaking with Trump.
Beyond Russia, the excuse that the right’s real problem is a small fringe in the GOP is preposterous. Frankly, the GOP’s “mainstream” is a lot closer to the MAGA mob than it is to Romney, the Bush family or the late John McCain. For proof, one need look no further than Hawley, the 2024 wannabe who fist-pumped the mob outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and voted to disenfranchise millions of voters. Now, Hawley argues that Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, who has already been confirmed by the Senate three or times, is soft on child porn. The Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler, ABC News and the Associated Press have debunked the scurrilous attack.
[T]he “fringe” has plenty of company. This is a party that overwhelmingly refused to set up an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. It also refused to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act (that previously passed the Senate unanimously) and twice refused to impeach Trump. The party also brought the United States to the brink of defaulting on the debt. The GOP’s “mainstream,” including House leadership, has tolerated violent rhetoric and grotesque anti-Semitism among its members.
It’s just as bad at the state level. Prominent Republican governors have spread covid disinformation. They are also seeking to erect obstacles to voting and make it easier for partisan pols to politicize and overturn election results, all in service of the “big lie” of a stolen election. Red-state governors, including presidential aspirants Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, spend their time designing cruel measures to harass and marginalize LGBTQ youth. Abbott and other red-state Republicans now offer bounties to those who “turn in” women seeking abortions six weeks after becoming pregnant. Even worse, a law in Idaho would force rape victims to endure nine months of pregnancy — while allowing their rapists to collect a bounty for turning them in if they seek an abortion.
McConnell has made his deal with the devil — first with Trump and now with the MAGA cult. McConnell has condoned their radical, anti-democratic crusades for the sake of tax cuts and seeding the Supreme Court with partisan hacks. Sadly, it’s the party’s small reasonable faction, including Romney, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), who are the “fringe.”
Rubin continues, The GOP is increasingly viewing politics with the zeal of religious absolutism (excerpt):
There is no point at which Republicans will show deference to the victorious opposition.
That’s a problem that goes way beyond the Supreme Court. Democracy functions only with restraint, good-faith application of procedural rules and devotion to the principle that the other side gets to govern when it wins. That concept is now an anathema to the GOP. As Thomas Zimmer has written for the Guardian, “Many Republicans agree that the Democratic Party is a fundamentally illegitimate political faction — and that any election outcome that would lead to Democratic governance must be rejected as illegitimate as well.”
That view of illegitimacy often stems from Christian nationalism. As Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, explains, “A worldview that claims God as a political partisan and dehumanizes one’s political opponents as evil is fundamentally antidemocratic.” He tells me, “A mind-set that believes that our nation was divinely ordained to be a promised land for Christians of European descent is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion and equality of all.”
Such thinking is evident in the recently revealed texts between then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, after the 2020 election. When Ginni Thomas urged Meadows to pursue tactics to overturn the election, Meadows responded by explaining that “the King of Kings” was on their side, casting their political opponents as “evil.” Such logic, Jones explains, “dissolves the restraint of moral principle, cultural norms and even the law.”
If one is convinced God wants only one side to govern, then democracy falls by the wayside. That’s not even the subtext of the Meadows and Thomas messages; it’s out in the open. This outlook, Zimmer writes, comes from “mixture of deeply held ideological convictions of white Christian patriarchal dominance, of what ‘real America’ is supposed to be and who gets to rule there, and the cynical opportunism with which these beliefs are enforced.”
Christian nationalism cannot be separated from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection or the absolutist politics of today’s GOP. As David French, the evangelical Christian writer and former Republican, candidly acknowledges in the Atlantic:
One of the most dangerous aspects of the effort to overturn the election was the extent to which it was an explicitly religious cause. January 6 insurrectionists stampeded into the Senate chamber with prayers on their lips. Prominent religious leaders and leading Christian lawyers threw themselves into the effort to delay election certification or throw out the election results entirely. In the House and Senate, the congressional leaders of the effort to overturn the election included many of Congress’s most public evangelicals.
They didn’t just approach the election fight with religious zeal; they approached it with an absolute conviction that they enjoyed divine sanction. The merger of faith and partisanship was damaging enough, but the merger of faith with lawlessness and even outright delusion represented a profound perversion of the role of the Christian in the public square.
Jones recalls that, according to PRRI’s August 2021 survey, “compared to those who do not hold a White Christian nationalist view of the country, White Christian nationalists are more than three times as likely to say the election was stolen from Trump, more than three times to believe they may have to resort to violence to save the country, and are four times as likely to be QAnon believers.” An astounding 25 percent of Republicans subscribe to the insane QAnon conspiracy theories. (No wonder pedophilia played such a prominent role in Jackson’s confirmation hearings.)
Republicans have replaced the give-and-take of politics with religious zeal — the politics of absolutism. If God is on your side and the other side represents an existential threat, surely you wouldn’t let truth, comity, fairness or decency slow you down. In the grand scheme of things, what’s a little character assassination of a trailblazing Black female judge?
The greatest threat to American democracy is the white Christian Nationalism of a radicalized authoritarian Republican Party which has convinced itself that GOP is an acronym for “God’s Own Party,” and sees all non-believers in their MAGA/QAnon cult as an enemy to be smited.