The Struggle for the Soul of the Republican Party: Michele Bachmann, the Extreme Right and the Politics of Fear

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2012 file photo, former presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. speaks in Washington. B
FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2012 file photo, former presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. speaks in Washington. Bachmann will endorse Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Why the party of Abraham Lincoln has chosen to allow bigots and fear to control its discourse on some of the most pressing issues facing our nation puzzles me. Growing up, I associated the Republican Party with two names -- Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

As an Afghan American, my parents would tell me how Reagan helped Afghans in their struggle against the Soviet Union. In school, I was taught it was Lincoln and the GOP whose policies led to the abolishment of slavery and paved the way for the civil rights movement. So what happened?

I'm not alone in my puzzlement. Even Republican Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) expressed his concern with the direction of the party: "I have to say that I'm frustrated by how much we -- I mean the Republican Party -- are willing to give deferential treatment to our extremes in this moment in history."

His comments were in response to outrageous claims made by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and four other members of Congress who recently asked the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and State Department to investigate American Muslim government employees and organizations for "infiltrating" and sabotaging the government -- a page right out of the McCarthy playbook.

Bachmann's absurd accusations expose the extent to which the Republican Party is struggling with its vocal minority, which has taken the megaphone and the reins and is actively steering the party towards irrelevance and extremism. Yet presidential cndidate Mitt Romney has remained silent. Not only has he remained silent, recently he met with the General who was too radical even for President Bush, William Boykin, and has appointed Walid Phares and Michael Bolton as foreign policy advisers.

During this year's Republican primaries, candidates were tripping over each other to call for a ban on Shariah and question the appointment of Muslims to senior positions. Death panels, class warfare, socialism, Muslim infiltration, terror babies and now the legitimate rape comment by Iowa Republican Todd Akin are but some of the bizarre terms used by Republican politicians to induce fear and paranoia. These topics that took center stage on the campaign trail sadly originating from bigots and paranoid commentators from the extreme.

Bachmann's source for her allegations is Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, who the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) labeled a paranoid propagandist. Yet this did not stop Bachmann from hurling allegations based on "evidence" produced by Gaffney against individuals such as Secretary Hillary Clinton's aide Huma Abedin, who has served her since she was the First Lady.

But this time, Bachmann and her cohorts have gone too far for some within her party. Ed Rollins, chair of Bachmann's presidential campaign, blasted her in a Fox op-ed warning that he was afraid that the party would become one of "intolerance and hate." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who led the party in 2008, stood on the Senate floor and declares:

Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity.

Even Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) condemned the remarks as "pretty dangerous."

Although these refutations are encouraging, there sadly has been a host of national Republican leaders who have come out in support of Bachmann and her witch-hunt. The most troubling support comes from two high-level surrogates for Romney, the de-facto leader of the party. Newt Gingrich praised Bachmann and falsely comparing Cold War Soviet spies to American Muslims serving their nation. John Bolton, Romney's foreign policy adviser who once famously said of the U.N. building, "If you lost 10 stories today, it wouldn't make a bit of difference," went on to Frank Gaffney's radio show and proclaimed his support for Bachmann. House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) voiced his support, too. Bachmann herself has raised more than $1 million after this episode.

These contradictions and public sparring vividly illustrate that the Republican Party is struggling to understand its relationship with minority communities. Will the party recognize the demographic shift in age and ethnic populations and mainstream itself to remain relevant on issue such as immigration, national security and pluralism? Or will it allow paranoid fringe elements to further alienate it from where the country is heading and risk becoming like the far-right conservative parties in Europe who have become models for hate and intolerance?

It behooves the GOP, if its wants to govern, to become a party that resonates with the majority of Americans; a party that will be at the forefront of finding solutions to our national security and fiscal problems; and not a party that will allow a minority of bigots and fear-mongers to dominate its discourse.