Mitch McConnell thought he could ride out the storm. He thought he could keep both of his feet planted firmly on the narrow ground that lays between the anti-Trump and pro-Trump factions of his own party. He thought that once the results of the election had been officially certified and Trump jetted off to his compound at Mar-a-Lago, everyone would just move on with their eyes focused on the future, and that the GOP’s far-right populist brand would reform itself into a more mainstream, more palatable variation of conservatism.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to strip Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments. Greene has a history of making incendiary remarks and promoting conspiracy theories that no self-respecting adult would dare try to defend, and Democrats rightfully concluded that she needed to be held accountable for her outrageous behavior.
In 2017, Greene made a video defending the QAnon community while also attempting to validate its most absurd and dangerous claims. The QAnon conspiracy theory, which has been thoroughly discredited, alleges that there is a global network of devil-worshipping pedophiles that Donald Trump had been trying to dismantle during his time in the White House. A number of QAnon supporters were among the terrorists who attacked the Capitol Building on January 6.
Greene has expressed a number of racist and bigoted sentiments over the last several years as well. She once argued that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in the United States government. She also shared an anti-Semitic video claiming that “Zionist supremacists” were arranging for the migration of large numbers of nonwhite immigrants into European countries in order to dilute and ultimately replace Europe’s predominantly white population.
In 2019, Greene even implied that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should be executed for treason.
Greene’s past rhetoric has been so extreme that even Republican Senator Mitch McConnell was compelled to denounce her, referring to her “loony lies and conspiracy theories” as a “cancer for the Republican Party.”
The ideal outcome to this drama would have been for Greene to have a Plato's Cave moment wherein she realized that all the nonsense she fell for and endorsed—especially the debunked QAnon conspiracy theory—was all an elaborate but false spectacle of light and shadows, apologized for having been gullible enough to believe any of it, and took full responsibility for her past remarks. Instead, she vomited a long, pathetic list of excuses and half-hearted regrets onto the House floor last Thursday, indicating that she has learned nothing from this experience and is, at her core, no different of a person today than she was just a few years ago.
House Republicans don’t seem to have any objection to that, though; only eleven of them voted with Democrats to remove Greene from the Education and Budget Committees.
That a sitting Republican member of the House of Representatives could manage to maintain such strong support within her own party despite her very recent calls for lethal violence against Democrats speaks volumes about just how much of an influence the far-right populist wing—a.k.a. the Trump wing—of the GOP currently holds, and will continue to hold, over the party’s identity. It also exposes the miscalculations of establishment Republicans who likely believed that Trump’s absence would make it easier for them to gradually wrest control of the party away from his most loyal supporters and move it back towards the center.
The man who bears most of the blame for this predicament is, of course, the aforementioned Senator McConnell. Even after it became obvious that Trump had no path to victory, McConnell refused to explicitly recognize Biden’s victory and make it clear in no uncertain terms that the president had lost. His lackadaisical approach towards leading the party through the post-election drama that gripped the country from the day after the election to the day of Biden’s inauguration emboldened the worst elements of the GOP, leading to the violent attack on the Capitol Building and the massive public relations fallout that followed it. He wanted to have his cake and eat it too, but now his plate his empty.
The sad truth for McConnell is that he’s no longer in control. Representative Marjorie Greene, Senator Ted Cruz, Representative Lauren Boebert, Senator Rand Paul—they’re the ones at the helm of the party, and they have no intention of steering it off the path that Trump has placed it on. McConnell has no choice but to tag along for the ride and hope he can keep it from crashing into a ditch. That will prove difficult to do, and perhaps even impossible, given the waning influence of the party’s few remaining moderates, centrists, and traditional conservatives. Representative Liz Cheney’s victory in the fight to keep her position as the House Republican Conference chair suggests that the anti-Trump forces within the party still command some respect among their peers, but is that enough to subdue their pro-Trump counterparts and restore the conservative movement to its former glory? I very much doubt it.
As I explained in a piece published right after the attack on the Capitol, America absolutely needs a functional and loyal opposition to keep Democrats honest. The GOP is still the party in the best position to fill that role. But the character of the party has been so horribly corrupted by Trump and his sycophantic worshippers in Congress that even with the help they’ve received from moderates like Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, conservatives like McConnell and Cheney stand no chance of emerging victorious in the ongoing battle over the GOP’s soul.
The Republican Party is still Trump’s party, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.