Was the Capitol Insurrection “legitimate political discourse,” as the RNC recently described it? Or perhaps “nonviolent and legal,” as an early draft of the statement read? Put simply, no—but don’t say that in front of RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.
The RNC’s censure of Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger is the latest salvo in the war against the most dangerous form of diversity in politics: intellectual. And while former President Trump thoroughly earned his title as “the king of cancel culture,” progressive Democrats are picking up steam as they try to purify their own party from the moderates who dare to stand in their way.
How is the Republican Party Punishing Dissent?
For a party obsessed with countering cancel culture—the slogan of last year’s CPAC was “America Uncancelled” — the Republican Party sure does a lot of it.
During his time at the helm of the United States government, Donald Trump called for a boycott of CNN, the firing of NFL players, social media platforms to be closed down, and pulling the broadcasting licenses of news networks that were critical of him. But he made sure to save plenty of criticism for his fellow Republicans.
According to Trump, “a RINO [Republican In Name Only] may be the lowest form of human life.” When Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed her struggle over whether to vote for Trump in 2020, Trump promised to endorse anyone who primaried her, tweeting “If you have a pulse, I’m with you!” He called for Mitt Romney to be impeached, gloated when Jeff Flake left the Senate, and took credit for Mark Sanford losing his Senate race in South Carolina.
Then came January 6th, which drew a line in the sand through the Republican Party like nothing before. Members of Congress were presented with a binary: back Trump and the insurrectionists or pursue truth and justice. For those who chose the latter, the consequences were immediate.
Republicans who voted to impeach Trump were censured by their state parties in six different states, and the effort to replace Republicans like them in 2022 is heating up. Across the country, Republican primaries are becoming a contest to out-Trump the other guy.
In the Ohio Senate race we featured this fall, former Trump critic JD Vance and Trump devotee Josh Mandel are exploring the dark depths of populism, with Mandel comparing the separation of church and state to communism and Vance flirting with QAnon theories on Twitter. More recently, Vance’s prospects fell precipitously after rival campaigns ran ads resurrecting Vance’s critical comments on Trump.
In the words of one Republican strategist, “Allegiance to Trump is the litmus test for Republican primary voters today,” and some people are celebrating the conflict. Just this past week, Marjorie Taylor Greene declared that “We have to lean into this civil war in the GOP.”
What about the Left?
Punishing dissent has become the rule in the Republican Party, but it’s a growing trend on the progressive Left as well.
Since winning election in 2018, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has supported primarying incumbent Democrats she and the Justice Democrats deem to be insufficiently progressive. After all, it’s the route she took to office, ousting long-time Democratic Congressman Joseph Crowley in her first-ever campaign.
This weekend, AOC will be in Texas campaigning on behalf of two progressive candidates, one of whom, Jessica Cisneros, is challenging 10-term Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar for the second time in two years. This trip is part of a broader campaign led by AOC and other progressives to turn safe Democratic districts into bastions of progressivism.
But pragmatism doesn’t seem to be guiding every decision, with Sen. Bernie Sanders suggesting that he may support primary challenges against Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema for their reluctance to destroy the filibuster and pass Build Back Better. While Manchin is a significant roadblock for the Democrats as they try to pass their premier legislation, it’s hard to see how Sanders could accomplish anything but delivering another seat to the Republicans. Manchin represents a state that voted for Trump by a 39-percent margin in 2020, and West Virginians aren’t about to back someone to Manchin’s left.
So Why Challenge the Moderates?
The progressives’ goal is merely to move the Democrats’ platform further to the left. Ideological diversity in the Democratic Party threatens progressives’ agenda, but it boosts their chances of winning a majority in Congress. The real threat to the Democratic moderates is longer term—will the young progressives echoing calls to defund the police, abolish ICE, and cancel rent ultimately claim the party as their own? If that is the case, the illiberal policies that punish even center-left opinions in progressive spaces might lead to a more thorough purge.
For the Republicans, on the other hand, dissent is an immediate and existential threat. Under Trump’s leadership, the Republican Party’s core messaging has come to rely on two foundational lies: the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and January 6th was a set up. As of two months ago, just 1 in 5 Republicans believes that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election.
When Republican representatives refute these lies, they challenge the beliefs of most of their supporters and drive the party deeper into incoherence. As Republicans divide themselves into alternate realities, ideological diversity means that someone must be lying.
The purge of the moderates is troubling, and it doesn’t bode well for Congress becoming more effective at legislating any time soon. Still, what’s happening in the Republican Party is going well beyond replacing a few centrists with more conservative alternatives. With Cheney and Kinzinger’s censure, Republicans are growing closer to having to choose between truth and Trump, and there’s only one right answer.