We used to have two rational, credible political parties in this country. Politics stopped at the water’s edge. People at the extremes were disappointed, but both parties respected civility, played by the rules, and respected the Constitution.

Dana Milbank warns us that the Republican Party has slipped off the edge into the muck of extremismism. Trump was the pied Piper, but he was preceded by other zealots like Newt Gingrich. And it has only gotten worse.

He writes:

This past weekend’s massacre in Buffalo has put a deserved spotlight on Elise Stefanik, Tucker Carlson, Newt Gingrich, Matt Gaetz, J.D. Vance and others trafficking in the racist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory.

But the problem goes well beyond the rhetoric of a few Republican officials and opinion leaders. Elected Republicans haven’t merely inspired far-right extremists. They have become far-right extremists.

A new report shows just how extensively the two groups have intertwined.

The study, released on Friday by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a decades-old group that tracks right-wing extremism, found that more than 1 in 5 Republican state legislators in the United States were affiliated with far-right groups. The IREHR (which conducted a similar study with the NAACP in 2010 on racism within the tea party) cross-referenced the personal, campaign and official Facebook profiles of all 7,383 state legislators in the United States during the 2021-22 legislative period with thousands of far-right Facebook groups. The researchers found that 875 legislators — all but three of them Republicans — were members of one or more of 789 far-right Facebook groups. That works out to 22 percent of all Republican state legislators….

The far-right groups range from new iterations of the tea party and certain antiabortion and Second Amendment groups to white nationalists, neo-Confederates and sovereign citizen entities that claim to be exempt from U.S. law. The IREHR largely excluded from its list membership in historically mainstream conservative groups such as the National Rifle Association and in pro-Trump and MAGA groups, focusing instead on more radical groups defined by nationalism or antidemocratic purposes.

I worry for the future of our democracy. I don’t think—as some do—that we are on the verge of a civil war. Only one side would be armed. But January 6 might be a harbinger of worse to come.