Howard Lehman: The Republican Party has become the Anti-Party

Today’s GOP is against democracy, law enforcement, local control and education.

(Niki Chan Wylie | Special to The Tribune) A crowd gathers at a candlelight vigil for democracy at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building on Jan. 6, 2022.

Labeling the violent attack against the U.S. Capitol by the National Republican Committee as “legitimate political discourse” was the last straw.

Although my family has deep roots in the Republican Party (my great-uncle was a conservative Republican senator from Oregon), I believe that our two-party political system has veered away from necessary healthy and balanced parties.

Members of the Republican Party need to wake up to the fact that this established party has “jumped the shark.” Extremists have taken over the party, and they are taking it down a rabbit hole from which the party will struggle to escape. The Big Tent theory of an effective two-party system is being undermined by extremist rhetoric and policies of the Republican Party.

What is most troubling about this brand of extremism is not the healthy expression of competing political ideologies and policies within our traditional democratic institutions, but fanatical opposition to these institutions and values of a democratic society. Indeed, the Republican Party has become an Anti-Party.

Many examples exist. First, Republicans are anti-education. They have turned against public education and teachers by attempting to ban books and prohibit open discussion of relevant issues. They are anti-history by whitewashing history, ignoring historical experiences and/or diminishing our past.

Second, the Republican Party is anti-local control. In areas of public health, public education and local electoral system, this party seeks to undermine the legitimate use of authority at the local level. Republicans are striving to overturn local elections, school board decisions and public health alerts. What ever happened to the party of small government and local control?

Third, the Republican Party stands against public health. At the start of the pandemic, the leaders and supporters of this party minimized the virus, shamed those who sought to protect themselves and others, and undermined the efforts to vaccinate Americans. In Utah, we have legislators who explicitly threaten the public’s health with laws prohibiting the use of public health mandates.

Fourth, leaders of the Republican Party (and, by extension, its members) are anti-judicial system. Oddly, this party of “law and order” stands against the judiciary and the police. Its leaders over the last several years have explicitly and directly weakened the independence of the judiciary, attacked individual judges, and aligned themselves with extremists who have been convicted of violent behavior, including those who attacked the Capitol police.

Fifth, the Republican Party is against the free press. In labeling the media as the “enemy of the people,” the party’s leaders are not promoting a policy based on the First Amendment, but they have become the vanguard of the anti-free expression movement.

Finally, the Republicans constant attacks against the police, the judiciary, the media, our intelligence community and local control over the electoral process have led directly to the most distressing element of the Anti-Party: the view that the 2020 election was illegitimate and the attack against the U.S. Capitol was simply “legitimate political discourse.”

The Republican Party is anti-law and order, anti-free elections, and anti-peaceful “political discourse.”

The Republican Party is lost and out of control. Supporters of the Republican Party need to wake up to the fact that their party no longer is in favor of democratic policies but stands against these policies and institutions of our democratic society. By being led by extremists, the Republican Party is becoming marginalized in U.S. politics and is in danger of being placed on the ash heap of history.

It probably is too late for disgruntled Republicans to save their party. Instead, they will need to separate themselves from this Anti-Party and create a new political party that represents a Big Tent of supporters of our democratic institutions and values.

Howard Lehman

Howard Lehman is a professor of political science at the University of Utah.