The core weakness of the Republican Party, on raucous display


Why is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) in Congress?

The 2020 campaign that brought him to Washington in the first place wasn’t focused on the policy proposals Green wanted to implement as a lawmaker. His campaign instead focused mostly on fringe rhetoric and condemnations of the DC establishment, including members of his own party. This came as Republican leaders such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) criticized Green’s past comments that were racist or supported the QAnon conspiracy theory.

But it didn’t matter. Green easily won the primary and then the election in a district that supported Donald Trump by a 3-to-1 margin. So now she’s in Congress — and was a key McCarthy ally in the race to be elected House Speaker. His willingness to bombard his perceived opponents has made him a force in Republican politics, one that McCarthy clearly finds useful to keep close.

In other words, Greene is in Congress because his style of protesting the Republican base was effective in winning primaries in deep-red districts, winning pro-Trump polls, and gaining access to the center of Republican institutional power. And this, indeed, is the central weakness of the Republican Party, as became clear in last year’s midterm elections: It is very good at energizing its base and not very good at appealing to everyone.

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President Biden delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. This annual event is the Congressional Prom, a chance to dress up and fancy up with lots of expectations that people will be on their best behavior. Ahead of this year’s rerun, McCarthy warned his caucus to behave, reportedly reminding them that the country was watching.

To continue the prom analogy, it’s a bit like the principal telling Jocks that the local news will be filming the dance and not acting. Guess what the jocks are going to do?

And so Biden’s speech was repeatedly punctuated by jeers and catcalls from the Republican side of the aisle, with Green often the most vocal. Biden handled the obstacles with great skill. McCarthy can be seen making a variety of facial reprimands — pursed-lip shushes, eyebrow-raising cautions — to no apparent effect. The staff offered to make noise.

There are probably two reasons why they chose to do this.

One is clear: they hoped to draw attention to themselves. When Rep. Joe Wilson (RS.C) accused Barack Obama of lying during a 2009 speech to Congress, he became the focus of media attention for days. At the time, of course, this departure from decorum was surprising and unexpected. Donald Trump’s tumultuous, confrontational campaign trail in 2016 has yet to be completely cleaned up. In the context of the modern Republican approach to politics, Wilson’s intervention seems almost dignified.

So the odds were good on Tuesday night that if you pulled off something crazy, you could be the jock interviewed by a Channel 6 reporter. But what happens when all the jocks compete to be the wildest? What happens on air is a bunch of jocks ruining the prom. Some accused Biden of lying last night, it seems; The media barely bothered to find out who did it except Green.

The second motivation for disrupting Biden is implicit: Many Republican elected officials are simply accustomed to treating their opponents with contempt. Green has espoused the views of QAnon and contemplated the executions of prominent Democrats. Given the rare opportunity to come face-to-face with Biden, should we expect him to witness his speech?

We should not be surprised that McCarthy’s warning about the behavior of his caucus went unheeded. We should not be surprised that his efforts to stop the tumult for the moment were ignored. We shouldn’t be surprised that on Wednesday morning he excused the disruptions as evidence that his caucus is “excited”. After all, the story of McCarthy’s tenure as leader of his party has largely been about his failure to fence the party’s flanks from Trump on down.

There is only one large element of his party that focuses on fighting the left, on fighting Democrats or other elites over Fox News hits or punchy tweets. They do it for the same reasons some interrupted Biden’s speech: they want attention or they’re just behaving the way they’ve grown accustomed to behaving. There is a Pavlovian element here. Green and others have been able to garner Republican votes by stoking Republican anger. In districts where Republicans win easily, it works just fine. In an effort to garner the attention and support of Republicans nationally, extremism is a boon in this regard. But in winning a contested race? Less so.

The 2022 midterms presented a challenge here. Biden was quite unpopular, but the Democrats did well. In part, this was a function of Republican candidates running in swing states that alienated moderate voters: Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Kyary Lake in Arizona, Herschel Walker in Georgia. These were the candidates who won the party’s primaries and, while offering Trumpian rhetoric, who lost in the general because, even in what should have been a good year for Republicans, they were seen as too toxic.

The State of the Union address is barely in the rearview mirror, so it’s probably too early to draw firm conclusions about its impact. Most Americans didn’t see it and would rely on later reporting to find out about it. But those who watched saw a pattern that mirrored the midterms: a president they might not like facing an unusually disdainful cadre of Republicans.

McCarthy’s problem is his party’s problem: His base breeds and expects aggressive anti-democratic rhetoric, and the conservative media and many elected officials are scrambling to deliver it. They—the media and the politicians—are largely immune to any negative effects. Green will not lose the Republican primary if she gives Republican voters what they want. And no Republican will lose the general election in this district.

Perhaps your assumption is that some Republicans would also find resentment offensive. Probably. But that’s why you have answers like the one co-host Brian Klamid offered on “Fox & Friends” Wednesday morning: Biden. Greed He screamed in this. After all, it is the fault of the Democratic president.

The system moves forward.

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