JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Democrats are tagging their Republican opponents with extreme labels ahead of the 2022 midterm election, linking the GOP with violence, fascism and Nazis.
They’ve been employing the tactic in tandem with President Biden, who will deliver a prime-time speech Thursday to call the GOP a threat to democracy and a threat to “the soul of America.”
Democratic lawmakers are far ahead of Mr. Biden when it comes to tagging the GOP with extreme labels. They have been making the case all summer that the Republican Party is steering the country toward violence, fascism and the resurgence of the Nazi flag.
One leading target is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Democrats say the Republican governor is an authoritarian and a fascist who has encouraged dangerous fringe groups to emerge in Florida.
They’ve gone so far as to tie him to the sporadic appearances around the state of a small group of men waiving Nazi flags and signs.
Mr. DeSantis is running for a second term as governor and is leading in most polls after signing laws banning “woke” school instruction, blocking COVID-19 mandates and enforcing voting regulations. He’s angered Democrats along the way, most acutely with a 15-week ban on abortion and a prohibition on LGBTQ topics in elementary school classrooms.
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Democrats are eager to block Mr. DeSantis’s bid for reelection to also weaken his chances in 2024 when he stands to pose an even bigger political threat as a leading GOP candidate for president.
Top elected state Democrats, including Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, said Mr. DeSantis was to blame for the appearance of a group of people waving a Nazi flag over a bridge in the Tampa area earlier this month.
“White Supremacists and Nazis have no place in Florida,” Ms. Fried, a former Democratic candidate for governor, said in a tweet that accompanied a video of the group. “@RonDeSantisFL must stop creating an atmosphere where they feel comfortable to walk on our streets.”
Mr. DeSantis’s Democratic opponent in November, Rep. Charlie Crist, stopped short of calling Mr. DeSantis an authoritarian when asked about the label on CNN. Instead, Mr. Crist called him “an autocrat who clearly wants to tell everybody what to do, including women.”
Daniel Uhlfelder, a Democrat who recently lost the party’s primary for Florida attorney general, called Mr. DeSantis, “an incompetent fascist,” and predicted that Mr. DeSantis would get “100% of the Nazi vote in November.”
On Sunday, the Seminole County GOP headquarters was spray painted with the message “Eat S—t fascists.”
No arrests have been made.
Republicans say the extreme messaging is aimed at deflecting attention from rising inflation and other economic problems that are making voters unhappy with Democratic governance.
“From Joe Biden to [New York Gov.] Kathy Hochul to Charlie Crist, you see Democrats with nothing to run on but vilifying their opponents and stoking division and misinformation in the hopes of distracting voters from the record-high costs of living their failed, reckless policies have created,” said Republican Governors Association spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez.
House Democrats, threatened with losing their majority in November, are working to define the GOP as downright dangerous.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, posted a series of tweets Tuesday describing a disturbing phone call to his district office. He said the caller, who identified himself as a gay man, threatened to bring his AR-15 rifle to Swalwell’s office and kill him.
In an earlier tweet, Mr. Swalwell blamed Republican “fascists” for trying to overthrow the government and force women to have babies.
“I hesitate to share this,” Mr. Swalwell tweeted to his 1.4 million followers, “but how else do I tell you we are in violent times & the architects are Trump & McCarthy. Bloodshed is coming.”
A spokesman for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, did not respond to a request for a response to Mr. Swalwell’s accusation.
Mr. Biden’s speech comes more than a week after the president told a crowd in Rockville, Maryland that the Republican Party had begun to embrace “semi-fascism.” Mr. Biden said those who support not only former President Donald Trump but Mr. Trump’s agenda “don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security, they’re a threat to our very democracy” and “embrace political violence.”
Republicans have slung negative labels at Democrats too, and with some success.
They frequently accuse Democrats of embracing socialist policies, which likely helped defeat some swing-state Democrats in the 2020 election. Republicans decried the COVID mandates imposed by the Biden administration and local governments as a form of authoritarian control. And the GOP has tied the party to Antifa, a far-left group that claims to be anti-fascist and has staged violent protests throughout the country.
Towson State College Professor Richard Vatz, who wrote a book about political spin, said the tactic of labeling the GOP as a fascist group may backfire.
He compared it to then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s disastrous 2016 campaign speech in which she said half of Trump’s supporters belong in “a basket of deplorables.”
“Politics is historically filled with name-calling,” Mr. Vatz said. “What it is not filled with, is taking large swathes of the population and trying to discredit them with name calling. The reason it’s not done is not because of the ethics of the politicians. Usually, it’s not done because it’s not very successful.”