The central question in American politics right now — one with global implications — is whether the Republican Party can purge itself of its most extreme elements. Obviously this relates to former president Donald Trump, but it goes beyond him as well. The current Republican congressional delegation includes people who insist the 2020 election was stolen, have ties to violent extremist groups, traffic in antisemitism and have propagated QAnon ideologies in the past. At the state level, it often gets worse. Mainstream Republicans have tolerated these voices and views for years. Can the party finally find a way to control them?
The answer to this question could well determine the future of American democracy. In a brilliant scholarly work, “Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy,” Harvard’s Daniel Ziblatt revealed the key to why, in the early 20th century, Britain stayed a democracy and Germany veered into fascism: The conservative party in the United Kingdom was able to discipline its extremists.
I am not making a comparison between extreme Republicans and the Nazis. I am making the argument that when parties lose the ability to police their extremists, bad things happen not just to the party but also to democracy.