Our forthcoming book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses the state of the parties.
“The party is his - it doesn’t belong to anybody else,” Marjorie Taylor Greene says of Trump.
“The party is his - it doesn’t belong to anybody else,” Marjorie Taylor Greene says of Trump.— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 5, 2021
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has pinned his hopes for reclaiming the majority in 2022 on never having to choose between the contradictory factions in his own party, no matter how deep the divisions appear.
He defended Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) after she voted to impeach President Donald Trump but also said he was unhappy with her after an outcry from Trump supporters. He said Trump “bears responsibility” for his slow response to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but then, in voting against impeachment, said the president did not “provoke” the violence.
But his insistence on allowing every Republican a place under the GOP’s big tent — including conspiratorial firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — has magnified the Democratic argument that his party is accommodating extremist elements, some in his party fear.
Those worries began to play out Thursday after McCarthy’s decision not to punish Greene subjected Republicans to a public vote, called by Democrats, on whether to strip committee assignments from a colleague who has previously embraced the QAnon extremist ideology, suggested space lasers funded by Jewish wealth may secretly start forest fires and even liked comments wishing harm on Democratic leaders. The vote to defend her role in Congress — 199 Republicans sided with her, to 11 against — will almost certainly be used by Democrats in the coming months as a way of tarnishing vulnerable Republicans who opposed punishing Greene.
At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein points out that Buckley excommunicated the John Birch Society and other extremists from mainstream conservatism.
The response among conservative media organs and right-leaning intellectuals to GOP extremism is very different now. Compared with the Birch era, thinkers on the right are doing “less policing of the borders” between conservatism and extremism, as Bill Kristol, the longtime conservative political strategist, put it succinctly. Buckley’s successors at National Review have condemned QAnon and Greene (even if they’ve blunted that message by relentlessly insisting that conservatives are being unfairly persecuted for their views, as Kabaservice notes). Right-leaning anti-Trump outlets such as The Bulwark have been unequivocal. But the most powerful voices on the right—Fox News and talk-radio hosts—have done backflips to avoid disowning Greene and other radical voices. Tucker Carlson has suggested that criticism of QAnon’s bizarre beliefs represents a step toward “tyranny … and dictatorship.”
Of course, the biggest difference between now and the Birch era is that today’s far-right extremists are operating under an umbrella of protection from a former president who remains the most popular figure to the GOP’s base. “I love Buckley dealing with the Birch Society, but he was able to repudiate a group that never had the support of any president and was sort of repudiated by Goldwater,” Kristol told me. Now most GOP elected officials have concluded that the risk of pushback from Trump is too high to speak out. “They think that the danger of getting in a fight with Trump and splitting the party is so much greater than a little bit of accommodation with some wackos and a little bit of groveling to the Trump base,” said Kristol, one of the leading voices in the conservative Never Trump movement.
Kevin McCarthy’s half-hearted slap on the wrist for Greene this week was a measure of the GOP’s limited appetite for constructing a clear boundary against extremism. The likelihood that the majority of Senate Republicans will soon vote to exempt Trump from any punishment for the Capitol riot underscores that message. As does the likelihood that the large majority of House Republicans will vote to defend Greene when Democrats try to remove her from her committee assignments.
These choices may carry political consequences: In a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey, nearly two-thirds of all Americans, including one-fourth of Republicans, said Trump encourages white-supremacist groups. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week started running ads tying potentially vulnerable GOP House members to both QAnon’s rising presence and Trump’s role in provoking the riot. Democrats believe that the GOP’s tolerance of extremism, symbolized by its acceptance of Greene, will deepen the party’s retreat in the well-educated suburbs that consistently moved toward Democrats in the Trump era. “They can do QAnon, or they can do college-educated voters. They cannot do both,” Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, the new chair of the DCCC, told Politico this week.
First: the controversial freshmen. This list starts with Greene, who was stripped of her committee assignments on Thursday for a litany of past scandals: associating with white supremacists and right-wing militia members; making racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic Facebook posts; calling for the execution of high-profile Democrats; and spreading QAnon and other baseless conspiracy theories (though she publicly disavowed them on Thursday). Unsurprisingly, Greene is quite unpopular with the general public: According to an average of the three polls, she has a 15 percent favorable rating and a 37 percent unfavorable rating. This is due largely to opposition among Democrats, who view her unfavorably by an average margin of 56 percent to 8 percent. But even in the GOP, she is divisive: On average, 24 percent of Republicans view her positively and 20 percent view her negatively.
But Greene is not equally famous among members of both parties. On average, 64 percent of Democrats have an opinion of her (either positive or negative), but only 44 percent of Republicans do. Perhaps that is because Democrats are already using Greene as a bogeyman to motivate their base now that Trump is no longer in office, not to mention that conservative news outlets like Fox News have devoted far less airtime to Greene than the likes of MSNBC or CNN. (In the month of January, CNN mentioned Greene in 472 15-second clips, MSNBC mentioned her in 393 and Fox News mentioned her in 31, according to closed-captioning data from the TV News Archive.2)