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All (Elected) Republicans are MAGA Republicans
There are "MAGA Republicans" and "Mainstream Republican" voters, but every elected Republican is advancing the MAGA agenda.
Democrats rarely agree on messaging (it’s in our DNA), but a pleasantly surprising consensus sprung up around branding the GOP as “MAGA Republicans.” President Biden took up the mantle earlier this summer — even promoting them to “Ultra MAGA” in a few speeches. But after Biden called the MAGA movement “semi-fascist,” the pundits, press, and Republicans cried foul. How dare the President paint with such a broad brush? Did he just attack half the country? There were fatuous, overly simplistic comparisons to Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorables” comment from the 2016 campaign.
However, in his national address on the threat to democracy, he specifically and repeatedly drew a distinction between “MAGA Republicans” and “mainstream Republicans.” As he said in his remarks:
Now, I want to be very clear, very clear up front. Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know, because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans.
Biden was referring to a specific segment of the Republican base. The President has always had an instinctual understanding of the importance of reaching out to Republican voters. He would have lost the Presidency without winning the support of rock-ribbed Republicans uncomfortable with Trump’s chaos and corruption. And he won’t be reelected without similar levels of support in 2024.
Not every Republican voter is a “MAGA Republican” extremist as defined by Biden and others. However, nearly every Republican on the ballot this fall is a MAGA Republican posing an existential threat to our country’s democracy and people’s freedom.
What is a MAGA Republican?
In his speech, Biden offered a specific definition of MAGA Republicanism:
Here, in my view, is what is true: MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people. They refuse to accept the results of a free election, and they’re working right now as I speak in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself.
Philip Bump of the Washington Post engaged in an exercise to see if he could determine how many people in the country were “MAGA Republicans” according to Biden’s definition. Per his findings:
Over and over, about 10 percent of the population (plus or minus a few percentage points) expresses the sort of view that Biden articulated: Republican or Republican-leaning and in favor of the positions he associated with “MAGA.”
If one agrees with Biden that this group poses a threat to American democracy, it is reassuring that it constitutes a tenth of the public — and not, as Biden’s detractors had it — half.
If you read his article, you can see that there is no precise way of calculating how many Americans support the extreme MAGA agenda. For sociological or historical purposes, ascertaining that number probably had value. However, in terms of political impact and the immediate threat to democracy, the number of MAGA Republican voters is inconsequential compared to the number of MAGA Republicans in elected office.
With apologies to blue state Republican governors like Charlie Baker and Larry Hogan, being a Republican in elected office means supporting the MAGA agenda. Few Republicans will announce that Biden won the election legitimately. None of them will stand up to Trump, reject his agenda, or even raise concerns about his ongoing crimes and corruption.
All across the country, “establishment” Republicans are helping elect dangerous MAGA extremists. Mitch McConnell endorsed Herschel Walker in Georgia. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who decisively and dishonestly won his race by pretending to be a non-MAGA Republican, is heading to Arizona to campaign for Kari Lake, a Big Lie-believing conspiracy theorist. Republican campaign organizations, which are funded by party members, lobbyists, and corporate PACS, are spending money to elect people who call the January 6th rioters political prisoners, dispute the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and are involved in efforts to overturn the next election. In the rare cases where the party is not spending money — like on Doug Mastriano’s governor’s bid — it’s because they think he can’t win. I promise you that if the polls tighten, the Republican Governors’ Association and others will be on the air with ads in a nanosecond.
While we can debate how many Republican voters are truly “MAGA,” there is no question that the Republican Party is the MAGA Party.
The Republicans are the Threat
There has been a lot of pearl clutching about Democrats intervening in Republican primaries to give boosts to more MAGA, theoretically less electable GOP candidates. These folks argue that Dems are playing with fire by helping get more dangerous Republicans nominated. Now, to be clear, I am not a huge fan of this strategy. However, my objection comes from the fact that I think there are better uses of our limited money. When it comes to Congress, the real threat to democracy is whether Republicans control Congress full stop. The individual members making up that majority are less important than the majority itself. Kevin McCarthy, the potential future Republican Speaker of the House voted to overturn the 2020 election mere hours after Trump dispatched his supporters in a murderous rampage on the Capitol. Mitch McConnell, the anti-Trumper who does all of Trump’s business, helped ensure the former President could run again in 2024. And just this week, he praised MAGA Governor Ron DeSantis’ inhumane and likely illegal gambit to use migrants as political props.
Too much political reporting is focused on individuals and not enough is focused on structural forces. The Republican Party was moving towards an extreme MAGA agenda before Trump came on the scene. And it will continue moving in that direction no matter which candidates win or lose this fall. If you think MAGA Republicans are a threat to the country (they are!), then you have to elect Democrats up and down the ballot. Every Republican win this November is a win for the MAGA movement.