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2023 is the year for hunting heretics

The late political analyst Mark Shields was fond of classifying partisans into two types: those who seek converts and those who carry on crusades to root out heretics. Former President Trump is the ultimate heretic hunter. After Trump claimed the 2020 election was stolen, membership in the Republican Party required an oath of fealty to Trump’s “Big Lie,” and anyone who believed otherwise was automatically labeled a RINO (Republican in name only).

Among the excommunicated were former Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), nearly all those who voted to impeach Trump and anyone who testified before the Jan. 6 committee. Today, 65 percent of Republicans say their leaders should accept the premise that the 2020 election was stolen, and any prospective presidential nominee who believes otherwise stands little chance with 2024 primary voters.

Several Republicans are emulating Trump’s strategy of hunting heretics. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who in many ways is a Trump protege, is on the warpath: removing school superintendents who enforced COVID-19 vaccination and mask mandates, falsely arresting former convicts who legitimately voted in 2020, waging war against the Disney Corporation and boasting that he “will never surrender to the woke mob.”

Ironically, the impending Trump-DeSantis 2024 contest has taken the idea of heresy to a new level. Mike Lindell, a.k.a the My Pillow Guy and ardent defender of the “Big Lie,” claims DeSantis rigged his own 11-point reelection victory in Miami-Dade County and promises an “investigation.”

In Arizona, former Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake adopted Trump’s strategy of calling out heretics, asking at one rally, “We don’t have any McCain Republicans in here, do we?” and quickly demanding that they “get the hell out.”

For nearly a week, House Republicans were at war, with the “Never Kevin” Republicans battling the “Only Kevin” Republicans. The spectacle left the Speakership vacant and the 118th Congress unable to convene. Winning on the 15th ballot, Speaker Kevin McCarthy now finds himself under a sword of Damocles, where just one member can call for a vote to name a new Speaker. How long before McCarthy is accused of heresy is likely to rest on those Republicans who enjoy the publicity generated by their crusades against would-be heretics.

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz), Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) realize labeling anyone a RINO outrages the base and gives them a powerful platform. But their primal screams alienate independents who, by their nature, like to be converted. An Associated Press VoteCast survey found just 38 percent of independents voted for Republican congressional candidates in 2022 — a dismal showing in a year when inflation, crime and the border should have given the party lopsided majorities.

Some Democrats also like to hunt for deviants, especially when it comes to abortion. In the House, Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar is described as “the last anti-choice Democrat.” In the Senate, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin was the only Democrat to join Republicans in blocking legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade. In 2020, Joe Biden abandoned his long-standing support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited federal dollars from being used to provide abortions. Today, credible Democratic candidates must adopt pro-choice positions.

But on most other issues, Democrats have found consensus. This began in 2020 when presumptive nominee Joe Biden created intra-party task forces composed of moderates and progressives that gave Democrats a roadmap for governing. The legislation Biden signed during his first two years in office was thanks to a Democratic Party that spoke with a unified voice and seeks to gain converts.

Hunting for heretics is not limited to political partisans. Today’s Catholic Church finds itself divided between two popes. Supporters of the late Pope Benedict XVI decry Pope Francis’s willingness to discuss the role of women, gays and married priests in the church. Such discussions, they believe, amplify Benedict’s denunciation of a “moral relativism,” which he believed “does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

In the United States, there is a contentious debate as to whether pro-choice Catholics should receive Holy Communion. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone officially banned former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) from presenting herself at the altar “until such time as you publicly repudiate your advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution of this grave sin in the sacrament of penance.” Shortly thereafter, Pelosi received communion at the Vatican and was welcomed by Francis himself.  But for admirers of Benedict XVI, a smaller, more homogenous Catholic Church often means expelling those who disagree from the pews.

Banishing heretics is also a common trait of television news viewers. For years, Trump denounced the “Fake News Media,” wishing a Merry Christmas in 2022 to the “LameStream Media” that promotes a “mentally disabled Democrat over the Brilliant, Clairvoyant, and USA LOVING Donald J. Trump.”

Many partisans prefer getting their news from sources whose views they share. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans say Fox News is a credible source, while 69 percent of Democrats find MSNBC credible. Not surprisingly, 76 percent of Fox News viewers believed the 2020 election was unfair to the Republicans, while 92 percent of MSNBC viewers thought the Trump-Biden contest was conducted fairly. What unites viewers of both networks is their delight in hearing denunciations of opponents as heretics or dangerous or, in the case of Fox News, RINOs. Dissenters are banished to other channels.

In short, 2023 is a year where heretics will be hunted, hounded and purged.

John Kenneth White is a professor of politics at The Catholic University of America. His latest book, co-authored with Matthew Kerbel, is “American Political Parties: Why They Formed, How They Function, and Where They’re Headed.”

Tags Adam Kinzinger big lie Catholic Church Jan. 6 Capitol riot Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Media bias Nancy Pelosi Polarization Pope Benedict XVI Pope Francis Pope Francis pro-life democrats Ron DeSantis tribalism Trumpism

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Regular the hill posts

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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