Sep 17, 2020

Radical left vs. radical right.

Radical left vs. radical right.

Plus, a question about how to track your ballot.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum. You can read Tangle for free, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to subscribe. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 12 minutes.

Which side is getting more extreme? Plus, a question about tracking your vote.

Photo: Marc Nozell from Merrimack, New Hampshire, USA

Reader feedback.

Several readers responded yesterday to this sentence: “There’s a real chance his Supreme Court nominees overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion illegal again.” This was sloppy writing on my part. To be more precise: overturning Roe v. Wade would not make abortion illegal. Roe v. Wade protects abortion as a constitutional right — overturning it would open the door to make it illegal in the states.

Hannah from Los Angeles, California, wrote in to note that Trump’s tax bill — which I said saved a lot of Americans money — actually did serious harm to her financial situation. "As part of my business, I pay an agent and a manager and union dues. 21.25% of my salary, which I am happy to do because my union gets me a much higher wage, great health care, a pension, and my agent and manager get me jobs. Thanks to the tax bill, that 21.25%, which I never see, is no longer tax-deductible. Neither is my home office. My internet. My travel for research. My books. My boyfriend's lighting and camera equipment. It goes on and on. We’ve lost thousands. The only option we have is to incorporate, which costs a couple of grand a year. There are years I make a lot and years I make close to nothing. That regular bill would harm me significantly."

Quick hits.

  1. Yesterday, Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director, pleaded with Americans to embrace face coverings. “If we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, we’d bring this pandemic under control,” he said. “[W]e have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.” Redfield also said a vaccine may not be widely available until late spring or early summer of 2021, though one could be available for frontline workers and first responders as early as November or December.
  2. In a press conference after Redfield’s testimony, President Trump once again contradicted him. Trump said a safe and effective vaccine would be ready as early as next month, with mass distribution coming shortly after. He said Redford was “confused” in projecting a longer time frame and also disagreed about the effectiveness of masks, saying he called Redfield to tell him so.
  3. Michael Caputo, the HHS spokesperson who claimed scientists were putting together a “resistance unit” for “sedition” against Trump, says he is taking a 60-day leave of absence "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family."
  4. Hurricane Sally has brought massive flood damage to the Gulf Coast. “The National Weather Service said ‘historic and catastrophic flooding’ unfolded from west of Tallahassee to Mobile Bay in Alabama as seawater charged ashore and rivers jumped their banks,” The Washington Post reported.
  5. New York City schools are once again delaying the start of in-person classes. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a deal that will raise taxes on residents making more than $1 million a year in order to meet the budget shortfall caused by COVID-19. The tax rate on earnings over $1 million will increase 1.78%, from 8.97% to 10.75%.

What D.C. is talking about.

The radicals. As the election approaches, both the left and right continue to claim that the other side is descending into a fringe political group.

For many Republicans, the proof of a radicalized left has become clearer as violent civil unrest breaks out in cities like Portland, Seattle, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. Many elected Democrats took longer than people had hoped to condemn the violence in the wake of the George Floyd and Jacob Blake shootings, and the election of progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018 or the strong cohort of support for Sen. Bernie Sanders is proof of the party’s leftward lurch.

For Democrats, proof of right-wing radicalism began with the “birther” movement against former President Barack Obama and culminated in Trump — who was one of the loudest supporters of the false conspiracy theory — being elected. Since then, the president’s calls for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States and his attempts to build a border wall were proof of his extremism. Today, the rise of the QAnon conspiracy theory on the right, including several Republican candidates who have embraced the conspiracy, is driving the left’s arguments about a radicalized right.

We’ll examine some arguments from both the left and the right about the other side’s radicalization.

What the left is saying.

In Business Insider, Anthony Fisher argued that the right’s tacit approval or outright embrace of the QAnon conspiracy theory has completed the rotting of conservatism.

“In praising adherents of the deranged QAnon conspiracy theory on Wednesday — as well as publicly endorsing two overt bigots who won their nominations to represent the Republican Party in November's congressional elections — Trump has officially made the GOP the party of the internet scumbag,” Fisher wrote. “Mainstream Republicans for the past four years have held their noses during Trump's most embarrassing tantrums, ragestorms, and racist blurts. They've dutifully swallowed their pride and surrendered their spines. In doing so, they've allowed the rot on the fringes of the right to seep further and further into the party's core. The FBI has called QAnon a domestic-terrorism threat, and Facebook has barred hundreds of QAnon accounts it's said attempted to incite violence.”

Marjorie Greene, one of the “QAnon candidates” who won a primary in Georgia, despite sharing conspiracy theories and promoting racist narratives on her Facebook page, is a perfect example of the evolution, Jeet Heer argued in The Nation.

“The response of the GOP to Greene echoes the way the party handled Trump in 2016,” Heer wrote. “At first there was some trepidation about Trump, with a few voices denouncing what he was doing to the party. But eventually, Republicans made their peace with Trump when they realized that they had to support him as their standard-bearer or suffer humiliating defeat as a divided party.”

Norm Ornstein, a longtime Democratic operative, took a much more zoomed out view of the Republican party and his experience engaging it. In early August, he wrote one of the definitive pieces on the radicalization of the Republican party for The Atlantic. “I have seen up close the changes in our politics and culture,” Ornstein wrote. “Nothing has been more striking or significant than the transformation of the Republican Party, from a moderately conservative party to a very conservative party to something else entirely.”

In his piece, Ornstein points to past Republican administrations for contrast. The party of Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and proposed health care reform plans similar to the Affordable Care Act. At one point, they were considering a guaranteed annual income “on a par with Andrew Yang’s universal basic income.” President Ronald Reagan cut deals with Democrats that increased taxes and bolstered Social Security reform. There were, for a long time, reasonable and moderate fixtures in the party.

“In recent years, the GOP has thrown away its guiding values and embraced its darkest instincts. It has blown up long-standing norms in the Senate, creating divisions that outstrip anything I have seen before; done nothing about rank corruption in the White House and the Cabinet; accepted the politicization of the Justice Department and lies from the attorney general; avoided any meaningful oversight of misconduct; and failed to curb attacks on the independence of inspectors general,” Ornstein argued.

“The GOP now distinguishes itself by inaction. It has stood and watched as this administration separated children from their parents at the border, mistreated asylum seekers, botched its response to a hurricane in Puerto Rico, attacked science, and opened new avenues for toxic materials in our air and water. It said and did nothing about Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and is actively blocking efforts to combat a recurrence in 2020. It has refused to pass a new Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder eviscerated the legislation, which, reflecting the GOP of the past, had passed the House unanimously. It has refused to deal in any fashion with urgent problems such as climate change, immigration, global competition, hunger, and poverty. It confirmed nominees who lied to the Senate, who inflated résumés, and who failed to meet minimum qualifications for the job. It confirmed judges who were unanimously rated unqualified by the American Bar Association.”

What the right is saying.

In The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger argued that the left “has turned certifiably insane, if one definition of irrational behavior is the refusal to recognize the damage being done, primarily to black and Hispanic neighborhoods, by catastrophic violence.”

“After the shooting this week of two cops in Compton, south of Los Angeles, a small contingent of anti police protesters stood outside a hospital chanting, ‘We hope they die!’” Henninger wrote. “Mr. Biden tweeted criticism of both incidents as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘entirely counterproductive.’ Up to now, the conventional liberal/media/Democratic story line has been that ‘most’ of the protesters are peacefully objecting to racism and police practices. But it has become impossible not to see something else that falls between carrying signs and looting stores… Embarrassed and perplexed by the decadeslong persistence of crime and incarceration in inner-city neighborhoods, progressive legal theorists proposed ‘decriminalization’ as an alternative. They essentially redefined crime as something closer to a behavioral problem. And they blamed the police function for incarceration rates.”

In 2019, Peter Wehner argued in The Atlantic that “the GOP is hardly the only party that is undergoing some alarming tectonic shifts. Liberals wondering why conservatives who worry about Trump don’t join the Democrats should consider what is happening on their own side of the aisle.”

Wehner sees specific policy goals gaining steam on the left: The Green New Deal, which would “put the federal government in partial or complete control over large sectors.” Medicare for all, which would “would wipe out the health-insurance industry and do away with employer-sponsored health plans that now cover roughly 175 million Americans.” Making college tuition free or debt-free, which would cost $50 billion a year for the federal government alone and “would transfer money from less wealthy families whose children do not attend college to wealthier families whose children do.” Abolishing ICE, which upholds immigration laws. Reparations for African Americans. And “opposition to any limits on even third-trimester abortion.”

Wehner argues these policies have been ushered in by the ascent of politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT-I), a “self-proclaimed socialist” who “was treated like a curiosity and even a bit of a crazy uncle by Democrats” but got 13 million votes in the 2016 primaries and “electrified Democratic audiences” in a way Hillary could not.

Much of the conservative concern about leftist radicalism is also taking place on college campuses, where the right argues that professors and conservatives continue to be silenced or attacked by the mob of leftists.

“The left uses an armamentarium of tactics to silence conservative speakers,” Raymond Berger argued in the Times of Israel. “These include: threats of violence that discourage schools from considering conservative speakers in the first place; demands that scheduled speakers be ‘uninvited;’ outlandish claims that the conservative speaker is a racist, white nationalist or bigot; and shouting, screaming and being disruptive, or physically barring them from entering the lecture hall.”

In The National Review, Michael Dougherty argues that Democrats are preparing to be “sore (and violent) losers” if Trump wins the 2020 election. Dougherty argues that what makes the left’s extremism more dangerous is that the left has the institutional power to excuse that extremism whenever it pops up — and to downplay its genuine threat.

“Progressives feel secure in making all but open threats of violence and revolution because they know that the heads of domestic security agencies are on their side, they know that the most powerful voices in media and academia are at the ready to craft apologies for their violence,” he wrote. “And they know that their reputations will be restored or even burnished after committing violence on behalf of their causes. The modern American conservative movement was a populist and democratic movement because it had to be. The modern Left knows where its power lies as well — with the already powerful.”

My take.

For all the op-eds, hot takes, talking points and politicizing of this issue, there’s very little discussion of the data — the political science — on radicalization. And we have a lot of it. Lee Drutman recently wrote one of the best paragraphs about political parties I’ve ever seen, which I think is worth including to frame this discussion:

“The problem is that political parties are not singular entities capable of easily changing course. They are, instead, a loose coalition of office-holders, interest groups, donors, activists, media personalities and many others, all jockeying and competing for power. Think of a giant tug of war in which all the tugs have been toward more extreme and more confrontational versions of the party.”

When it comes to the tug of war, it’s clear the far-right wing of the Republican party is winning in a way the far-left wing of the Democratic party is not. Fox News, Breitbart, and talk radio are dominating the direction of the Republican party — and helped President Trump become president. Activist groups are increasingly seeing their policy positions become law — from the NRA to anti-immigration outfits. There are dozens of data points from the last decade to back this up.

First, there is the ideology score that was developed by Kenneth Poole and Howard Rosenthal. It looks at how Republicans and Democrats drift away from the center in both the House and Senate, based solely on how they vote. Here are the latest charts for the House and then the Senate:

It’s not difficult to see the difference in how House and Senate Republicans have diverged further from the middle than Democrats. There’s also been some interesting examination of this trend at the local level, even pre-Trump. In 2013, local Republican party leaders said they preferred extreme candidates to centrist ones by a 10-to-1 margin. Democratic party leaders at the local level preferred extreme to centrist candidates by a 2-to-1 ratio.

In politics, partisan voters tend to uniformly follow the leaders of their party on the issues. We’ve seen this with Trump, as he has totally reshaped the party’s view on foreign policy issues like Russia, or financial issues like the growing debt and — especially — compromise. Among Democrats, 58% say finding common ground with Republicans should be an important part of a president’s focus. Just 41% say pushing for policies only Democrats want should be the focus, even if it means getting less done.

Among Republicans, only 45% support Trump finding common ground and 53% say focusing on policies only Republicans want should be the focus. Among Republicans who “follow government most of the time,” the numbers are even starker: only 39% are interested in compromise with Democrats while 61% want Republicans to push through their agenda even if it’s harder to get things done. The numbers are nearly inverted in favor of compromise — 58-41 — among Democrats who follow politics closely.

This is visible more anecdotally, too. Moderate Republicans in Congress like Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney and John McCain were all left behind by the party. There has been an exodus of moderate Republicans from Congress, and now more moderates are deciding to opt out of even running, because they see no place for themselves in the Republican party.

Even in the extreme examples cited by both sides, the comparisons feel imbalanced. Yes, Democrats have elected the AOCs or the Rashida Tlaibs (infamous for her “f— Trump” acceptance speech), but there seems to be a substantive difference between, say, wanting to defund the police and believing Democrats run a cabal of pedophiles with the Hollywood elite (a theory now-victorious Republicans in Congress have expressed belief in).

The real-world impact is overwhelming, too. According to federal law enforcement, right-wing radicalism is far more violent and prevalent across America than left-wing radicalism.

In practice, Democrats have largely rejected the radical wing of their own party. Bernie Sanders got 13 million votes in 2016 when running against one of the most historically unpopular Democrats of all time, Hillary Clinton. But Joe Biden mopped the floor with the field running on a moderate platform. And for all the hoopla about 2018 progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and The Squad, it was moderate, left-of-center Democrats who drove the massive “Blue Wave” in the House.

The comparable situation on the left here might be if Bernie Sanders were president, AOC was the Speaker of the House and a bonafide leftist who wanted to abolish ICE was running our immigration policy. Instead, it’s Donald Trump who is president, Stephen Miller who is crafting our immigration agenda, and far-right ideologues like Mark Meadows who are running the show in the White House. The far right has a grip on the Republican party in a way the far left can only dream of.

It’s absolutely true that there are fringe left-wing ideas growing in popularity across the Democratic party, and I generally abhor the aversion to dialogue a lot of folks on the left seem to have these days, but every signal points to a Republican party whose radicalism and departure from the center is happening more intensely and more broadly than anything on the left.

Blindspot report.

As part of a partnership with Ground News, an app and website that uses data to rate the political lean of stories and news outlets, I’ll be featuring parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what stories folks on the left and right miss each week because of their biased news diets.

The right missed a story about the Trump administration secretly withholding millions of dollars from an FDNY 9/11 health care program.

The left missed a story about Russia developing a nuclear-powered cruise missile that could “circle the globe” for years.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.

Your questions, answered.

Q: With the alarming numbers of rejected mail-in ballots being recorded in North Carolina, disproportionately from people of color, is there a way for those individuals to find out if their ballot was rejected and then vote in person on election day?

— Jonah, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tangle: For those of you out of the loop, Jonah is asking about 1,700 North Carolina ballots that have been rejected across the state so far. As it turns out, there is a way to track these ballots: it’s called BallotTrax.

Funny enough, a Tangle reader reached out to me last week because he is working with a PR firm that is promoting BallotTrax. We were supposed to connect on a call this week so I could get some more information, but then this question came in — so I figured I’d plug it now. The state elections board in North Carolina has also promoted BallotTrax, telling voters it’s the best way to keep track of the status of your absentee ballot.

From the Fayetteville Observer:

“Users can be notified when their ballot is received by their local board of elections. BallotTrax will also alert users if there is an issue with their ballot and be informed how they can fix it. If you don’t want to use BallotTrax, voters can go to the NCSBE’s website to confirm their ballot has been accepted or they can reach out to their county board of elections.”

Not every state is using BallotTrax yet, but there are other ways to track your ballot. The most obvious one is to go through your state election website. Pretty much every state in America has a service that allows you to track the progress of your absentee ballot and ensure it was counted. For example, here’s the one in Pennsylvania.

Reminder: You can ask a question anytime, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in. I try to answer a reader question in every newsletter.

A story that matters.

A new survey of 14,043 white adults living in the suburbs has drawn a major correlation between how safe they feel and who they plan to vote for. According to the survey, conducted by SurveyMonkey and reported on by Axios, “White suburbanites who feel ‘very safe’ in their communities are more likely to favor Joe Biden, while those who feel only somewhat safe move toward President Trump.” 55% of white women who say they feel very safe are planning to vote for Biden while just 36% will vote for Trump. But 34% of white women who say they feel “not safe” will vote for Biden while 42% will vote for Trump. Among white men, the difference is even starker. Of white men who feel very safe, 44% will vote for Biden and 49% will vote for Trump. Of white men who feel not safe, just 25% will vote for Biden and 52% will vote for Trump. SurveyMonkey chief researcher Jon Cohen says there is "a clear connection between anxiety around security, and support for Trump over Biden.”


  • 78%. The percentage of Americans who say they have heard/read a lot about ongoing confrontations between law enforcement and protesters in cities.
  • 64%. The percentage of Americans who say they have heard/read a lot about how increased mail in voting could affect the presidential election.
  • 49%. The percentage of Americans who say they have heard/read a lot about Donald Trump’s criticism of and the White House’s actions toward the USPS.
  • 40%. The percentage of Americans who say they have heard/read a lot about attempts in Congress to pass another federal relief and stimulus bill.
  • 30%. The percentage of Americans who have “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence that the 2020 presidential election will be held fairly.
  • 31%. The percentage of Americans who have “only a little” or no confidence that the 2020 presidential election will be held fairly.
  • 31%. The percentage of Americans who think that the theory of evolution is the most likely explanation for the origin of the earth.
  • 32%. The percentage of Americans who think that the account of creation as told in the Bible is the most likely explanation for the origin of the earth.
  • 18%. The percentage of Americans who think that intelligent design (evolution has happened, but by intelligent design) is the most likely explanation for the origin of the earth.

See you tomorrow?

I am doing my best to keep Tangle free for everyone who wants it — but I also have to run a business. To that end, paying subscribers get special Friday editions while anyone can access the regular Monday through Thursday Tangle for free. Friday editions are different, though: They include personal essays, fully transcribed interviews with interesting people in the political world, deep dives on specific topics or insider updates about Tangle. To become a paying subscriber and get Tangle in your inbox tomorrow, click below.

Subscribe now

Have a nice day.

A young boy in Indianapolis, Indiana, has been cured of sickle cell disease after a stem cell transplant. Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disease that can lead to arterial and blood vessel blockages and other serious health issues, including chronic pain — approximately 70,000 to 100,000 Americans have the disease. Elliot Preddie, a 12-year-old boy, received a stem cell transplant from a matching donor, and a year later is disease free. About 3,000 Americans die of the disease every year because they can’t find a closely matched donor.

Subscribe to Tangle

Join 100,000+ people getting Tangle directly to their inbox!