After four years of refusing to hold Donald Trump accountable for his lies, conspiracy theories and hateful rhetoric, Republicans passed up another chance to purge those forces from their ranks Thursday when they overwhelmingly opposed Democrats’ efforts to rebuke Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The GOP is complaining that Democratic leaders are not only overreaching but also setting a dangerous precedent in both punishing Greene and pursuing a doomed-to-fail impeachment trial for an ex-President in the Senate next week.
But genuinely unprecedented events have forced Democrats to take action. Despite national outrage about Trump’s undemocratic actions, only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach him last month. And most Republicans balked Thursday at punishing Greene for espousing the dangerous lies and violent rhetoric that threaten the future of their party, with only 11 House Republicans joining Democrats in voting to kick Greene off her committees.
Before being elected to Congress from Georgia, Greene compiled a long list of unhinged comments and social media posts, including endorsement of violence against and assassinations of top Democrats, 9/11 trutherism and denials of school shootings. For weeks, she was unrepentant – at least until her fate was sealed Thursday, when she showed shades of contrition on the House floor – though her combative speech adopted many of the outlandish tropes of Trumpism.
Paradoxically, by seeking to punish Trump and Greene, Democrats may actually be helping to perpetuate the cycle of victimhood and complaints about “cancel culture” that each uses to crank up the anger of their radical base. Greene has seized Trump’s mantle by remaining defiant and insisting that she will not apologize for her mistakes in interviews and social media posts. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the move by Democrats to take away the congresswoman’s committee assignments a “partisan power grab.”
Rather than taking full responsibility for her actions in her Thursday speech, Greene said the media that exposed her lies and lunacy is as bad as the QAnon conspiracy theory she espoused. She called Democrats – rather than Trump’s rioters who invaded the Capitol on January 6 – a “mob.”
“It’s not just me they want to cancel. They want to cancel every Republican,” she tweeted on Thursday before the vote. “Don’t let the mob win.”
The Trump playbook
Greene is following a familiar playbook. Trump has long used the idea of victimhood as an anchor of his appeal to grassroots supporters who feel ostracized from the Washington establishment. In fact, one of the pillars of his defense in his Senate impeachment trial next week will be an argument that Democrats are trying to cancel his right of free speech – which he used to discredit a fair election and to send a mob to sack the Capitol. That’s a message Greene echoed with her mask on Thursday, which read, “Free Speech.”
Greene’s loss of her committee assignments may actually give her an opportunity to portray her rebuke as the result of standing up to liberals and even “establishment” members of her own party. She has told her supporters she has raised at least $1.6 million during the uproar over the past week. And she’s now sure to become a star of right-wing conservative media and the Republican primary circuit while establishing a template for how an extremist, conspiratorial, outsider can swiftly gain fame and political power in only a few weeks in Washington.
While just 11 House Republicans voted to remove Greene from her committee assignments Thursday night, 61 voted the night before to remove Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking member of the conference, from her leadership position over her vote to impeach Trump.
Rather than showing contrition on the eve of the vote to oust her from House committees, Greene told The Washington Examiner that in removing her from her assignments Democrats “don’t even realize they’re helping me. I’m pretty amazed at how dumb they are.”
She argued that the loss of her committee assignments would give her more time to help future candidates of her ilk in the 2022 midterms. She has said she hopes to keep driving the Republican Party further to the right in Trump’s image, telling the Examiner that Trump is “sick and tired of weak Republicans that won’t fight.”
Apparently looking to score points as an outsider, she also called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “Mr. Big Turtle” and described McCarthy as “all talk and no action” in the interview.
“The entire Marjorie Taylor Greene disaster has been a meteor headed directly at the GOP conference since she won her primary. She should have been put on the bench then,” said Republican strategist Rob Stutzman. “But the President liked her – and liked the Q crazies because they liked him. GOP leadership needs to get onto cutting this craziness out of the party or it will proliferate.”
“Think of Greene as a virus. Forceful and decisive action has to be taken to prevent the spread,” Stutzman added. “It’s difficult to see majorities in either chamber in 2022 if this defines us.”
Republicans could have taken more forceful action to drive Greene and her radical sentiments from their party at any time in the last few months – or over the past year when she was running for Congress. Instead, Greene got a standing ovation from many in the House Republican Conference meeting Wednesday night. Similarly, a majority of the House GOP voted not to certify President Joe Biden’s election, relying on a fantasy of lies by Trump and ignoring his failure to produce any evidence of fraud.
The former President on Thursday declined to answer for his seditious behavior, turning down a request by House impeachment managers to testify for his trial. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Republican senators will punt on casting judgment on the unprecedented insurrection incited by an outgoing President – by taking refuge in the dubious claim that the trial is moot because he’s a former President.
Charting their 2022 path
The furor over Trump and Greene shows that even with the ex-President out of office, most of the Washington GOP is not willing to take issue with the radical fringe that festers among its most loyal voters.
By backing Greene and refusing to take action against her reprehensible rhetoric, McCarthy has made clear that he believes the path to victory in the midterm elections lies in the support of those who manage to keep extremist voters within their ranks.
“In the House, I tell you what I think’s going on. I think they’re trying to play both sides,” former Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich said on CNN’s “The Situation Room” on Thursday. “They don’t want to aggravate the people who sort of sign up to QAnon and these conspiracy theories. They don’t want to aggravate them but they also want to win the majority. It’s all a fight for power.”
McCarthy’s approach also means that the hopes of establishment Republicans, especially in the Senate, that the end of Trump’s presidency will lead to an ideological reset for the party are likely to be dashed, in the short-term at least.
For many in the party, Trump’s unrepentant departure after trying to tear democracy down with false claims of vote fraud and Greene’s rocket to fame as a “Make America Great Again” heroine are a nightmare scenario.
The direction of the GOP raises the question whether its endless quest to appease its most agitated base activists will yet again squander its support among more moderate voters in the suburbs where elections are won.
“I do think as a party we have to figure out what we stand for, and I think we’ve got to be a party of ideas and policies and principles and get away from members dabbling in conspiracy theories,” South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune told CNN’s Manu Raju on Thursday. “I don’t think that’s a productive course of action or one that’s going to lead to much prosperity politically in the future.”
As establishment Republicans in the Senate fret at the pandemonium being unleashed by their House colleagues, Democrats are already making an aggressive effort to brand Greene and her ilk as the authentic face of the GOP.
“The House Republican Conference has been taken over by QAnon caucus, the crackpot caucus and the conspiracy caucus at the same time,” Democratic House Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries told CNN’s Erin Burnett Thursday night.
“The party of Lincoln is gone. The party of Reagan is gone. The party of John McCain is gone. This is now the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene.”