There are many issues that could and should be prominently raised in this fall’s election campaigns. But there is one overriding theme that rises above all else, and that is the radical extremism of the Republican Party.

Conventional wisdom is that a nonpresidential year election is primarily a referendum on the party in the White House. Like a lot of conventional wisdom in the age of Trump, that’s not likely to be the case this year. This election should predominantly be a referendum on the threat that the Trump-dominated Republican Party poses to our freedom, our security and to our very democracy.

Under Trump, who by all account remains the putative leader of the GOP, the Republican Party has devolved into a mixture of violent extremism, authoritarianism, lawlessness and, in some cases, just plain crazy (such as their devotion to baseless conspiracy theories and their association with QAnon).

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the radical extremism of the current Republican Party and its threat to American democracy more than its love affair with Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban. Orban is the Putin loving, Nazi ideology spouting Hungarian prime minister who has destroyed democracy in that country and boasts about doing so. He was the featured keynote speaker at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, one of the largest and most important Republican gatherings. His tirades against democracy received a thunderous standing ovation from the assembled Republicans.

Many Republican candidates in this year’s election are, simply put, radical extremists. Every party has its fringe element, but what makes the current Republican Party different is the widespread predominance of radical extremist Republican candidates and their acceptance, even normalization, by the party. What characterizes these Republican radicals is their hardcore opposition to freedom of health care choices for women, their attacks on democracy and their bigotry.

Here are just a few examples: North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the likely Republican candidate for governor, says he wants to keep science and history out of school classrooms. Doug Mastriano, the GOP candidate for Pennsylvania governor, bused supporters to attend the Jan. 6 insurrection. In Arizona, Republican candidates for governor, attorney general and secretary of state all say they would have refused to certify Joe Biden’s victory in that state, denying the will of the voters. The gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, is so extreme that she enthusiastically endorsed a candidate in Oklahoma, Jarrin Jackson, who is widely reviled for repeatedly making anti-Semitic and racist speeches. Not to be outdone, the likely Republican candidate for Senate in New Hampshire, Don Bolduc, wants to repeal the right of voters to choose their U.S. Senator.

One especially disturbing trend in the Republican Party is the use of threats of violence to try to get its way. Republicans have largely tried to downplay and even extol the criminal attempt on Jan. 6, 2021, to violently stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election. Trump has said if he is again elected president, he would grant a full pardon to all the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.

Their violent attack on democracy is not confined to the insurrection in Washington. Reuters news service has documented almost 1,000 threats by Trump supporters against elections workers, egged on by persistent Republican lies about the legitimacy of the last election. A leading Republican senator, Lindsay Graham, has threatened violence if the law is enforced in the ongoing investigation of Donald Trump for criminal violation of the Espionage Act.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden recently seconded the warning that “Around the world … I’ve never come across a political force more nihilistic, dangerous and contemptible than today’s Republicans. Nothing close.”

Spencer Black served for 26 years in the state Legislature. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Democratic leader. Since leaving the Legislature, Black has been vice president for conservation for the national Sierra Club and adjunct professor of planning at UW-Madison.

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