Political philosopher Noam Chomsky says that the Republican party has become “not a political party” but a “radical insurgency.”
He made his comments just as the GOP is experiencing splintering over two recent developments: former President Donald Trump’s admission that he intended to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and the Republican National Convention referring to the January 6, 2021, Capitol riots as a form of “legitimate political discourse.”
“In the last 30 or 40 years…the Republican Party has simply drifted off the spectrum. It’s not a political party in the traditional sense,” Chomsky said in a recent broadcast of the Al Jazeera network’s news discussion program UpFront.
The party has since become “a radical insurgency that has abandoned any interest in participation in parliamentary politics,” Chomsky said. He took the phrase from the 2013 book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, written by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two leading political analysts for the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
The party’s drift toward this position began with the use of the “Southern Strategy” in the 1960s era, Chomsky said, when the Republican party started using cultural issues, like garnering popular support from white supremacists while passing legislation that favored corporate power and private wealth.
In the 1970s, Chomsky said, abortion became the cultural issue, helping Republicans win conservative Christian support. Since then, guns and LGBTQ issues have become topics around which the party has built popular support, he added.
He then said by capitalizing on these issues, former Republican President Donald Trump built and mobilized “a popular cult of worshipful followers” who support anything he does. This group has “taken over the Republican Party,” Chomsky added, and brought the party to a point where Trump has since openly said that he sought to overthrow the democratic system by ignoring the results of a national election.
During the last two Democratic presidencies, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has said that his party’s main goal has been to ensure that Democrats cannot achieve anything to “make sure that the country is unrecoverable, and then the blame can be put on the Democrats who happen to have power,” Chomsky said. “Republicans can come back into office doing exactly the same thing now.”
“That’s not a political party,” Chomsky said. “That’s a radical insurgency. No interest in democracy.”
“There are hundreds of bills and state legislatures—Republican ones—working on various ways to ensure that they can become a permanent dominant minority party by excluding the votes of the wrong kind of people,” Chomsky added, noting that Republicans have introduced at least 262 bills in 41 states to interfere with elections.
During the 2020 presidential elections, state and national Republicans accused Democrats and election boards of illegally expanding voting access through pandemic measures that bypassed the legislative process.
State Republicans have defended their voting reform efforts since then, stating that they seek to prevent possible voter fraud, though national incidents of voter fraud are very rare, according to Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who tracks voter fraud cases and spoke to Reuters.
Republicans have also long criticized Democrats for pushing a “radicalized” agenda that would expand government oversight of businesses, police forces and people’s civil liberties. Most recently, right-wing Republicans have criticized Democrats for prosecuting the January 6 Capitol rioters, but not doing more to prosecute people arrested during the racial justice uprisings of summer 2021.
While Chomsky said that Republican policies since Reagan have helped concentrate wealth amongst a small number of economic elites, he also noted that the Democratic party stopped being a party of the working class back in the late 1970s.
Chomsky noted that studies have shown that representatives’ own views rarely align with that of their constituents. Instead, a candidate’s re-electability highly aligns with who their “concentrated strategic campaign funding” comes from, he said.
“Lobbyists, corporate lawyers, representatives of investment firms” overwhelm the legislators’ staffers with constant communications. In the end, these groups help write legislation that legislators eventually sign.
“That’s a bit of a caricature, but not too much,” Chomsky added. “Something like that is essentially the way much of the system operates. So it’s a democracy in many respects, there’s a lot of freedom, but the representative system is constrained.”
Nevertheless, Chomsky said he feels hopeful because of a younger generation of political activists who have risen up against racial injustice and the destruction of the environment.
“It’s very hard. They don’t have wealth, concentrated power, media support, but they’re there, and they can become the wave of the future. So it’s up to us to support them, participate with them.”
Last Friday, the Republican National Committee (RNC) approved of a statement censuring Republican Representatives Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming. In the censure, the RNC referred to the January 6 Capitol riots as “legitimate political discourse.”
While the RNC later said that the statement referred only to protesters who didn’t break any laws, some prominent Republicans took issue with the phrase. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Utah Senator Mitt Romney and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan all called out the RNC for the phrasing.
After Trump recently criticized his former Vice President Mike Pence for not helping overturn the 2020 election results, Trump’s allies—Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, and former advisers Roger Stone and Steve Bannon—all supported Trump’s criticism.
The disagreement over Trump’s hold on the party are evidence of a “civil war” unfolding within the GOP.
On one side are those who think that former President Donald Trump and his unapologetic, outspoken style represent the Republican party’s future. On the other are Republicans—who see Trump and his claims as dangerous to democracy, alienating to voters and distracting from policy battles.