The “lunatic fringe” is the wing of a political or social group that holds more extreme views than the rest of that group. The lunatic fringe tends to hold stronger opinions, as well as more fanatical views.
Merriam Webster notes that the phrase was first used in 1913 and is generally used as a pejorative term. Politicians from both parties like to warn the public that their opponent is being controlled by the “lunatic fringe.”
In 2020, President Donald Trump told audiences that his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, was a puppet of the radical left and that he was being controlled by extremists. “He’s a candidate that will destroy this country, Trump said. “And he may not do it himself. He will be run by a radical fringe group of lunatics that will destroy our country.”
A few years earlier, when Barack Obama was president, some analysts on the right called the president’s nuclear policy “lunatic fringe” stuff. Speaking to the right wing publication Newsmax, Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy slammed Obama’s plan to drastically cut America’s nuclear arsenal. He said,
“The American people, I trust, believe, pray, have enough common sense to realize this is nuts. This is lunatic, fringe, leftist stuff and it’s likely to make the world a much more dangerous place, rather than less … Exercising his responsibilities as commander in chief, taken to its logical, or illogical, extreme, he could disarm the United States entirely.”
On the left, meanwhile, pundits claimed that a “lunatic fringe” in the Republican party hated President Obama with so much fervor that they had managed to infect the rest of their party. Progressives warned that the lunatic fringe must be reined in – or else the country would suffer:
In a country with our history of assassinations, this mostly subterranean sense of rage in a nation awash with guns and with more than its share of deranged souls is scary, dangerous stuff. Worse still, few of the “mainstream” conservatives have raised their voices against the lunatic fringe while some have even abetted it….the climate that has been created by those who compare Obama with Hitler, wave provocative signs, or show up at presidential events brandishing weapons is more than worrisome. This nation has been traumatized by too many tragedies to sit back and allow such sentiments to be whipped up by fanatics and lunatics. It’s time to demand that responsible Republicans denounce such tactics.
“Lunatic fringe” is one of the rare political words which is used just as often by ordinary people as it is by professional commentators. Letters to the editor often mention the “lunatic fringe.” This one, for example, denounces the entire Democratic Party as one big lunatic fringe:
The lunatic fringe, also known as Democrats, has been asleep at the wheel since Donald Trump’s election. Instead of planning for a pandemic, they were out of sight and out of their minds. Their two biggest fantasies, Russian collusion and the impeachment fiasco, were an effort in futility.