Good for John McCain for taking on the crazy — this time in the form of a witch hunt directed at State Department official Huma Abedin by five Members of the House. And even better for other Republican politicians and leading conservatives, most notably Speaker John Boehner, who have spoken up in support of McCain.
The story is that Michele Bachmann and four other Republicans made nutty allegations of “infiltration” of the State Department by Muslim Brotherhood, in particular through Abedin, a longtime Hillary Clinton aide. McCain blasted all of that yesterday, and several others have spoken out today, with Boehner condemning this kind of neo-McCarthyism: “she has a sterling character and I think accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous.”
So far, so good. Now: will there be any lasting consequences for Michele Bachmann, Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Thomas Rooney, and Lynn Westmoreland?
Because that’s really the question. If Bachmann and the others continue to be treated as party politicians in good standing, then they’re not going to change — and others will have an incentive to join them. Sure, they risk being swatted down occasionally, but that’s just a minor cost of doing business if it doesn’t lead to anything else.
Indeed, that outcome would leave people such as McCain, Boehner, and other “respectable” Republicans with a nice win-win situation: benefit from the crazy when it helps them, and benefit from slamming it every once in a while when they decide it goes over the line.
What could they do? Certainly, within the House there are a variety of sanctions available, including ones involving committee assignments. There’s another possibility: cutting off the oxygen by discouraging Republican-aligned media outlets from featuring Members who have misbehaved. Boehner doesn’t have a formal veto of who gets to go on Fox News, but I strongly suspect that party leaders can have a fair amount of influence on such choices. Conservatives can make it clear that Bachmann and the others don’t speak for them, perhaps lessening the temptation of the Republican-aligned media to book them.
When Senate Republicans censored Joe McCarthy, it really worked: he ceased to be a leading voice in the party. That’s probably harder to do today, given the multiplicity of media outlets…but it’s still most likely possible, and there are quite a few options. If leaders avail themselves of them, this week’s flap could mark the beginning of a permanent break between the Republican Party and the crazy that they’ve embraced for the last few years.