May 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The GOP's angry midterm rhetoric

Frequency of select words/phrases in GOP congressional communications, by cycle
Data: Quorum; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

The Republicans' use of action words like "fight," "defend" and "destroy" in press releases, social media posts, floor statements and newsletters has increased substantially between the 2018 midterm election cycle and 2022, according to data compiled by Quorum.

Why it matters: The GOP is adopting more polemical rhetoric to both secure renomination of its candidates and to try to end the Democrats' control of Congress and the White House. The language channels the rhetoric of former President Trump.

  • Trump's base has embraced politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who portray themselves as right-wing scrappers willing to take on the establishment in both parties.

By the numbers: Beyond the action words, Republicans have fully embraced more severe terms to describe their opponents: words like "far-left," "radical," "corrupt" and "lies" have seen some of the largest increases.

  • Other terms that have taken on new meaning or significance in recent years have become commonplace in the GOP lexicon, such as "woke," "cancel" and "censor."
  • And "impeach," which had little use to Republicans when Trump was president, has risen drastically in popularity with President Biden in office.

Flashback: Several Republicans who've faced spirited challenges to their right have changed their tone, shifting from playing up their bipartisan credentials to positioning themselves as conservative firebrands, Axios reported last month.

  • Rep. Van Taylor (R-Texas) dubbed himself "Mr. Bipartisan" in 2020 when he had a tough Democratic foe in a swing seat.
  • He shifted to claiming he was "standing up to the radical left" earlier this cycle as he faced conservative primary challengers in a safe GOP district.
  • Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), known for his low-key demeanor, has run ads this year touting endorsements from Trump and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a prominent firebrand who calls Boozman "our conservative fighter" in the ads.
Go deeper