GUEST COMMENTARY - "Trump and his allies are a clear and present danger to American democracy."—the Honorable J. Michael Luttig
Speaking slowly but powerfully, Judge Michael Luttig last week may have handed Democrats what has so far eluded them: a winning message for the midterm elections. Given all the revelations to date from the January 6 hearings—as well as five-plus years of Republican malevolence—Democrats can campaign this fall against a GOP full of "dangerous extremists" and run by "dangerous extremists."
The evidence is voluminous, though rarely is it thematically connected. Campaigning against "dangerous extremists" does that. What else can you call political leaders who condone overthrowing a democratically elected government, incite white nationalists yet don't disavow their violence, allow Covid-19 to spread and kill hundreds of thousands of Americans, want to imprison women who have abortions, support unbridled access to automatic weapons, ignore the climate crisis, menace LGBTQ youth, and routinely disregard norms and laws? And are led by an ex-president who—in a first—put his vice president's life in jeopardy.
Republicans respond indignantly to any single example of GOP extremism by resorting to a grab bag of rehearsed misdirections—lying, denying, cherry-picking, gaslighting, what-abouting, culture-warring, or simply counterattacking Biden, Blackness, and wokeness. Already they're polishing up their Hunter Biden talking points and dismissing January 6 as sort of a "third-rate burglary."
The last defense of GOP extremism is simply to change the subject. "People really care about inflation, crime. etc." Of course they do—and they should. And it's politically effective to list that day's inflation rate and pump price and pretend they are Biden's fault.
The best response to persistent misdirection, however, is to repeat a memorable message sustained by a mass of evidence that brands today's Republican Party as the most extreme in our modern history.
To get there, voters need to visualize and understand what happens when violence-prone reactionary authoritarians replace democracy with despotism. An America run by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene means no Obamacare, shrunken and corporatized Social Security, lower real income for average workers, even more school shootings, rising attacks on LGBTQ and Asian Americans, appeasement of Putin, plus emboldened armed militias like the Proud Boys threatening—or actually killing—local election officials.
Should such a GOP agenda triumph—backed by a compliant Supreme Court majority—it would be infinitely more costly to American families than the difference between, say, 8 percent vs. 3 percent inflation (as if Trumpers have any answers to worldwide inflation).
So while the Biden White House will presumably be pushing its positive accomplishments, Democrats need to simultaneously begin assailing the "clear and present danger" of the Republican Party as the only negative message that can work—especially as likely indictments of the Trump cabal and more instances of right-wing violence occur.
Running against "dangerous extremists" can tie together the news about January 6, the likely reversal of Roe, Republicans calling homosexuality an "unacceptable lifestyle choice" while suggesting secession at the Texas GOP convention, and the MAGA mob assaults on Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss.
It can become in 2022 what the "Do-Nothing-Congress" was in 1948—a political hammer that galvanized voters and turned Harry Truman from a sure loser into a surprise winner.
Here are 40 examples—out of hundreds—that justify Judge Luttig's alarm.
- Studying domestic political violence from Columbine to the Buffalo and Uvalde attacks, the Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded that "violent far-right extremists were significantly more likely to be lethal" than left-wing extremists.
- As a result of the January 6 insurrection, seven people died, 140 police officers were injured, some 840 rioters have so far been charged—yet the Republican National Committee criticized the Biden administration for "persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse" and Trump called it "the greatest movement in the history of our country to Make America Great Again."
- Armed white militia invaded the Michigan legislative chambers in 2020 intending to kidnap or kill Governor Gretchen Whitmer because of their fury at her early Covid restrictions.
- Reuters has documented at least 850 threats of vigilantism against state and local election officials in 13 states. "After the president tweeted at me by name," testified Philadelphia Elections Commissioner Al Schmidt, "the threats became much more specific and graphic, and included members of my family by name, their ages, our address, pictures of our home."
- The New York Times analyzed pending gun-safety laws, and found that 446 people may not have been shot to death in mass shootings from 1999 to 2021 if such legislation had been in place. Why should 18-year-olds be allowed to buy an AR-15? The number-two Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, said that many people in his state "liked to use them to kill prairie dogs and varmints."
- Asked by Bill O'Reilly if Putin was a killer, Trump replied, "There are a lot of killers. What, you think we're so innocent?" He described Putin's military threats before invading a peaceful Ukraine as evidence of "genius," then explained away Russia's early military defeats as merely "a great negotiation that didn't go so well for him."
- Blake Masters, the GOP Senate nominee in Arizona, was asked about the main problem behind mass shootings, and he replied, "Black people, frankly." (In fact, it's three times more likely that a mass shooter is white than Black.)
- Before he was endorsed for a New York State congressional seat by House GOP Leader Elise Stefanik, businessman Carl Paladino had said, "Hitler is the kind of leader we need today. We need somebody inspirational [who] has been there and done that."
- An AP/NORC poll concluded that two-thirds of Republican voters believe in the racist "great replacement" theory. And a majority of GOP voters say that "reverse racism" is worse than "racism"—and earlier thought that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
- Governor Ron DeSantis is applauded by Republicans for banning history books that, they argue, might make white school children feel bad about ancestors responsible for racism—while many also defend statues of Confederate leaders that no doubt make Black children today feel bad.
- David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, endorsed Trump twice. Asked about being endorsed in 2016 by America's most well-known racist, Trump replied "I don't know anything about David Duke, okay?… I know nothing about white supremacists."
- "A notorious Hungarian racist who called Jews ‘stinking excrement,' referred to Roma people as ‘animals' and used racist epithets to describe Black people was a featured speaker at a major gathering of American Conservative leadership in Budapest this summer." —The Guardian
RULE OF LAWLESSNESS
- Following the 2020 election, Republican officials in five swing states that Trump lost falsely declared that he won and that they were their states' true electors. These were rejected by the courts. Reporting by CNNand The Washington Post concluded that Rudy Giuliani was coordinating this scheme of "fake electors."
- Local Republicans in several swing states are now pushing for the power to award electors to the presidential candidate not with the most votes but to the one that the state legislature decides should have won.
- Federal District Court Judge David Carter concluded in a March civil case that "Attorney John Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history," calling it a "coup in search of a legal theory" that likely violated two criminal laws.
- Nearly all elected Republicans agree that extensive voter fraud justifies voter suppression laws. But 60 court decisions, every scholarly study, former Attorney General William Barr, and 50 secretaries of state determined there was no significant voter fraud in the 2020 election. But that hasn't diminished the two-thirds of Republicans who still embrace the lie that widespread voter fraud enabled Biden to win.
- On the evening of January 6, 69 percent of House Republicans refused to vote to uphold Vice President Mike Pence's certification of the 2020 presidential election results, which found that Biden won by 74 electors (and 7 million votes).
- Ginni Thomas—who attended the rally on January 6 and tweeted "LOVE MAGA people!!!!"—pressured 29 Arizona Republican legislators to reverse their presidential certification of Trump. Her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has not addressed this conflict of interest or recused himself when he was the sole vote to deny the January 6 committee access to subpoenaed Trump documents.
- According to, respectively, The Washington Post and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Trump told over 34,000 lies and falsehoods in his one term in office and engaged in 48 likely acts of criminality—and still won 92 percent of the 2020 Republican votes for president.
- The GOP president for four years milked the White House for money without objection from his party, charging the Secret Service $2 million to protect him on his own properties. He and family were in an emolumental league of their own, as Jared and Ivanka earned a reported $640 million on the side, and CREW found that Trump was involved in over 3,000 conflicts of interest.
- The Office of the NY State Attorney General filed fraud lawsuits that led to millions in fines and the dissolution of Trump University and the Trump Charitable Foundation, citing a "shameless pattern of illegality." Attorney General Tish James is currently investigating whether Trump engaged in wire fraud by raising $250 million from small donors that seemingly went to an "election fund" that did not exist.
- Donald Trump's national security adviser, campaign manager, campaign treasurer, and personal lawyer were all convicted of felonies. Trump then used his pardon power to whitewash crimes by allies: Eight of his first major nine pardons went to criminals who were either major supporters or prominent conservatives. In 2022, he's repeatedly hinted that if he became president again, he'd consider granting pardons to those convicted of January 6–related offenses.
- Allegations of sexual assault have been made against members of both parties. But Trump is the only politician ever who's been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 40 women, according to the book All the President's Women.
- In his memoir, John Bolton wrote that for Trump, "obstruction of justice was a way of life." Mary Trump had a different take. For him, she said, "cheating was a way of life."
- D. Vance, Ohio Republican Senate nominee, said that he wanted "to make every executive branch employee fireable by the President. The Deep State must end and will be brought to heel." That would overturn a century of civil service law.
- Doug Mastriano, the Trump-endorsed nominee for Pennsylvania governor, announced he might ignore the popular vote in awarding electors if he won and also compared the January 6 attack, which Mastriano attended, to the 1933 Reichstag fire.
- Senate Republicans under Trump declined to follow the custom of only nominating American Bar Association–qualified judges. The GOP confirmed Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a 33-year-old rated unqualified. She later ruled that the Centers for Disease Control lacked the authority to impose a mask mandate on public transportation during a pandemic.
- Forty-nine percent of Republicans, according to a You/Gov poll, think that Democrats are involved in "child sex trafficking." Representative Elise Stefanik called Democrats "pedos"—a core belief of QAnon.
- In summer 2022, nearly all House Republicans voted against bills to put a $35-a-month price cap on insulin, get more infant formula on shelves, and reduce price-gouging by oil and gas firms.
- When a University of Maryland poll asked "which world leader they dislike most," 49 percent of Republicans cited Biden while only 23 percent named Putin.
- In December 2020, Michael Flynn, who had been Trump's national security adviser for nine days, urged Trump to declare "martial law" so the military could take over all election machinery and redo the election.
- At a time of increasing and deadly climate violence, the Trump administration eliminated 82 environmental regulations.
- After Covid vaccines became widely available in the spring of 2021 and anti-vaxxers rallied against them, the 14 states with the highest rates of Covid deaths all had GOP governors. Dr. Deborah Birx, head of Trump's Covid Task Force, estimated that several hundred thousand of the 1 million who lost their lives from Covid died because of administration incompetence and anti-science beliefs.
- Republican Governor Ron DeSantis defends Florida for being the only state not to preorder Covid vaccines for kids under five by saying, "Parents are really frightened about Covid for their kids.… It's because of media hysteria, it's because of a lot of misinformation."
- Many governors of Republican-controlled states are trying to deny abortion access in cases of incest or rape and to prosecute and imprison women who seek abortions for any reason.
- Most Republicans want to impose the religious belief that "life begins at conception," although science says an embryo can't live outside a woman's body until the third trimester.
- Republican congressional leaders oppose many new gun safety constraints because the founding founders created the right to a musket in a "well-regulated Militia" at time when there were no police departments and no automatic weapons.
- Tucker Carlson, the most popular right-wing TV host, said just before the invasion of Ukraine that "I'm rooting for Putin" and described the 2,000 people who attacked the Capitol as "sober, middle-class people who generally love America [and] believe in democracy and that it was taken from them."
- Most Republican leaders disparage opinions on behalf of marginalized people as "cancel culture" or "wokeness" while condoning the use of public money to retaliate against critics (Disney in Florida) and insisting that hate speech online is protected by the First Amendment, which only applies to government censorship.
- Numerous former Trump officials have attacked him in books and statements as a public menace, including Mark Esper, Bill Barr, Omarosa Manigault, John Bolton, Rex Tillerson, Fiona Hill, Alex Vindman, and Stephanie Grisham.
(Mark Green was the first Public Advocate for New York City and is the author or editor of 24 books. His new book, "Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All" (2020), co-authored with Ralph Nader. This article was featured in Common Dreams.)