By Nathan Worcester
These days, it seems like every top Democrat has to work the term “MAGA Republican” into their messages. It’s no coincidence.
Their party first deployed the term in mid-2022 as part of a midterm strategy that aimed to activate voters outraged about the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, among other issues.
“The terms ‘MAGA Republicans’ and ‘Extreme MAGA Republicans’ were created by the Democrats along with some never Trump Republicans in an attempt to isolate Trump supporters as being outside the mainstream of the American political process,” said Richard Manning, president of the Republican-aligned Americans for Limited Government, in an April 3 email to The Epoch Times.
Others argue that the talk of “MAGA Republicans” is, in actuality, unifying and necessary.
“The term ‘MAGA Republicans’—as used by President [Joe] Biden, Chuck Schumer, and other prominent politicians—does not aim to divide the country as many critics claim,” said David Carlucci, a Democratic strategist, in an April 4 email to The Epoch Times.
“Instead, it is meant to rally all Americans regardless of party affiliation against an ideology that has sought to dismantle our democratic institutions.”
Biden Leads and Some Republicans Follow
Biden helped to normalize, and step up, rhetoric aimed at “MAGA Republicans.”
As early as August 2022, the commander-in-chief took aim at Trump loyalists in the GOP using the memorable “MAGA Republicans” branding.
He didn’t stop there.
He claimed that the “philosophy” behind support for former President Donald Trump amounted to a kind of “semi-fascism.”
That language met with plaudits from Never Trumper Bill Kristol.
Kristol, an influential early advocate of the Iraq War, is the son of the late “godfather of neoconservatism,” the ex-Marxist Irving Kristol.
“You know what you call a movement that’s semi-OK with violence against its opponents? Semi-fascist,” Kristol wrote on Twitter in late October 2022, just before the midterm election.
In the judgment of one anonymous GOP strategist who spoke with The Epoch Times, that sort of labeling “adds fuel to the fire of partisan divisions in this country.”
Yet Democrats’ relatively strong performance last November may have convinced them the approach worked.
“If you want to see the effectiveness of ‘MAGA Republican’ rhetoric, look no further than the 2022 midterms where several ultra-vocal MAGA Republicans like Kari Lake, Dr. Oz, and Herschel Walker lost their elections,” said Carlucci, the Democratic strategist.
Carlucci cited December 2022 polling from Vanderbilt University showing that only 34 percent of Republicans “say they are ‘more of a supporter of the Make America Great Again, or MAGA, movement’ than they are a ‘supporter of the Republican Party.’”
The anonymous GOP strategist acknowledged that some of that language seeks to link a range of Republicans to “the most unpopular figures on the right.”
Andrew Cuff, communications director at the political agency Knight Takes Rook, thinks Democrats’ “MAGA Republicans” tactic succeeded thanks in part to the leadership of some top Republicans.
“Tiny minorities of establishment Republican leaders approved and encouraged these attacks, lending credence to the notion that feckless Republicans who have given up fighting are more ‘sane’ and ‘civil’ than the ‘extreme’ majority of their party.
“It’s abundantly clear that the GOP establishment prefers the role of controlled opposition under Democrat rule than to be dislodged from power in their own party,” he told The Epoch Times in an April 3 interview.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in February accused “MAGA Republicans” of contributing to a lack of GOP unity—an expression of concern that is difficult to take at face value, but one wholly in keeping with a wedge strategy.
For now, backing for Trump among Republicans seems to be on the rise, if recent polls on the upcoming 2024 contest are to be believed.
The upshot: Biden’s speeches still target “MAGA Republicans.”
In one March 15 speech, he opined that “MAGA Republicans” are “different.”
“This is not your father’s Republican Party,” Biden added.
MAGA and ‘Extremism’
Talk of MAGA Republicans’ “extremism” has also escalated.
The White House’s March 27 response to Republicans’ recent budget proposal asserts it is the product not merely of “MAGA Republicans” but of “extreme MAGA Congressional Republicans.”
In a March 24 press release, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) referenced “Extreme MAGA Republicans” no fewer than 13 times.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans want to ban books on the Holocaust. Ban books on the Holocaust. Extreme MAGA Republicans want to ban books on Martin Luther King Jr. Extreme MAGA Republicans want to ban books on the LGBTQ journey in the United States of America,” Jeffries said.
“Most folks don’t view all these Republicans as extremist,” the anonymous GOP strategist told The Epoch Times.
“This ideology should not speak for the entire party, but with all the noise caused by figures like Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and of course former President Trump, it is particularly concerning that MAGA extremism will become the overwhelming voice of the Republican Party,” said Democratic strategist Carlucci.
“The use of the word “extreme” continues to serve as an effective slur against Republican candidates,” said Cuff.
“Extremism,” he said, is a “national security trigger word.”
Cuff tied that rhetoric to Biden’s Sept. 1, 2022, “Dark Brandon” speech, which saw him deliver remarks against a blood-red backdrop while flanked by U.S. Marines.
“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” Biden said in his remarks that day.
“He tied it [extremism] with the MAGA label in order to connect it with President Trump and his MAGA movement,” Cuff said.
He noted that it followed the administration’s actions on parent protesters at school boards and an FBI memo targeting “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology.”
“The words are chosen very carefully,” Cuff said.
The neocon ex-Republican Kristol was, if anything, ahead of the curve when it came to alleged “extremism” among his opponents.
“If the term ‘MAGA Republicans’ works, fine. But wouldn’t it be easier just to call them extremists? Why the ‘MAGA’ complication?” he asked in a July 1, 2022 Tweet, responding to a Politico story on Democrats’ use of the “MAGA Republicans” label in their midterm messaging.
MAGA-Baiting Across Ticket
MAGA-baiting has takers at lower echelons of the Democratic Party too.
During her unsuccessful campaign for reelection as Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot accused opponent Paul Vallas of having “MAGA Republican ways.”
Even closer to the ground, members of the Chicago City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus, which includes numerous open socialists, referred in scathing terms to Vallas’ backing from what they called “MAGA Republicans.”
Legacy media outlets—even those outside the United States—are also echoing the “extreme MAGA Republican” rhetoric that has been issued by leading Democrats.
A March 4 U.S. politics article in the Guardian, a UK paper, claimed that one of Trump’s speeches at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was aimed at “MAGA Republicans.”
A November 2022 analysis in the Washington Post asked, “Can MAGA Republicans learn to love democracy again?”
In January of this year, Jennifer Rubin—like Kristol, a Bush II-era neoconservatism who distanced herself from the right after Trump’s election—opined in the Washington Post that Republicans have embraced the ways of “extreme MAGA Republicans” in the months since their mediocre midterm performance.
House Republicans targeted by the language of “extremism,” “semi-fascism,” and more have pushed back.
“We are addressed as MAGA extremists, extreme MAGA Republicans, and I would like to make just a clarification point—it’s Ultra MAGA. That’s what we prefer,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said in Congress several weeks ago.
Just days ago, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) accused Biden of having “functionally gaslit” Trump’s indictment by “saying Extreme MAGA Republicans were dangerous.”
“It’s Biden’s government that we are currently investigating for super-charging the notion of domestic violent extremism,” he said in an interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News.
SpaceX founder and Twitter CEO Elon Musk has also questioned Biden’s rhetoric.
In a March 27 Tweet, the president attributed opposition to one policy he supports to “extreme MAGA House Republicans.”
“Is it accurate to refer to those making the proposal as ‘extreme MAGA,’” Musk wrote in response.
He tagged the site’s “Community Notes” account, which often corrects and adds context to Twitter posts.
Carlucci thinks the apparent resonance of Democrats’ “extreme MAGA Republicans” rhetoric should serve as a wake-up call for Republicans.
“The midterms tell us that independent voters are fed up with MAGA ideology and that the Republican Party should reclaim its narrative from its extreme side,” said Carlucci.
Cuff believes the language hints at a broader campaign of repression from the Left.
“Ultimately, the goal is to treat the entire Republican base as domestic extremists, extralegally surveil and censor them, and instill the mass fear of arrest and repression to which many prominent Republicans, including former President Trump, have already been subjected,” Cuff said.
One thing seems clear: extreme rhetoric, including accusations of extremism, triggers a reaction.