At this point, the Overton Window should be a known concept for anyone following politics. However, if you’re not familiar with the concept, I’ll give an overview as it will be an important concept moving forward.
Roughly speaking, the Overton Window represents the range of policies and topics that are politically acceptable. You can think of it as a spotlight shining on a surface. In the middle of the spotlight is the brightest, and as you move towards the edges, it dims until the light no longer covers the area. In the middle are the topics that are highly socially acceptable. Everyone can and will talk about it. The conversations are easily viewable. As you move outward, the topics become less ubiquitous and become more taboo.
The center is CNN and FoxNews, while the outside is 4chan and other places we’ve never heard about.
The defining feature of the Overton Window is that it moves, shifts, or stretches. By moving the Overton Window, a previously taboo or unthinkable policy suddenly becomes possible. A goal of political messaging is often to move an idea into The Overton Window. Once it becomes acceptable to talk about has a higher probability of being enacted.
A great example of this in recent history was The Green New Deal in 2019. AOC proposed impossible plans to completely reshape the economy for the sake of the climate. It was laughable. The Green New Deal proposals were so outlandish Senator McConnel actually brought it to a vote, knowing that it would never pass. While it was laughable, the damage was done. We all know about The Green New Deal now. To reference the chart above, The Green New Deal went from Unthinkable to Acceptable, if not sensible to some people. And the closer you can get the policy to the center of the Overton Window, the more likely it will happen.
The Role of the Radical & Why Republicans Need Them
By only discussing topics within The Overton Window, you never actually move the window towards the policies you care about. It’s impossible to advance towards a goal if you stay within The Overton Window. Moving The Overton Window is where the radical comes in. The radical’s job is to promote topics outside the Overton Window to normalize them and move them within The Overton Window.
Here is a prime example:
Nick Fuentes has built a large audience but is squarely outside The Overton Window. He’s been denounced by mainstream conservatives. Here he is pointing out that the mainstream Charlie Kirk now holds a position he used to promote.
Radicals are what drag The Overton Window to more extreme beliefs.
This is something Democrats are better at than Republicans. Democrats allow the radicals on their side to run wild. They even provide media cover for them. A great example of this is when then-candidate Joe Biden said, “Antifa was an idea.” He’s providing cover for the extreme members of the left.
This is something the right does not do. The January 6th protests are an example of this. The Qanon people stormed the capital. They mostly just trespassed and caused some property damage. At this point, the only person who died during the Capitol storming was one of the protestors.
By all accounts, the riots the previous summer were more widespread, had more property damage, and involved cold-blooded murders. Yet Democrats were relatively silent on what was happening because it was the left’s extremes that were doing it. This is not the case for the Capitol Storming. Republicans immediately denounced what happened and provided no cover. Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnel, Nikki Haley, and pretty much every other republican actively spoke out against the Capitol Storming. The Capitol Storming has been labeled an insurrection, but that’s just because Republicans gave the narrative to the Cathedral. To be clear, I’m not certain they win the battle of the narrative if the republicans actually pushed back. But they didn’t even try.
This substack concerns itself with pragmatism. The pragmatic thing for Republicans would have been to provide some cover for the rioters. They shouldn’t support the rioters, but remaining neutral or noticeably silent would likely have been the better move. But this is a feature of Republicans. They’ve very good at policing their own. So good that they don’t allow their radicals to pull The Overton Window in their direction.
They keep the discussion and their ranks within the realms of “decency.” And because of this, Republicans are dragged to the left. If they would allow the “indecent” parts of the right to pull The Overton Window, they may actually win from time to time. That’s what Trump did.
What is to be done?