They’re afraid that their base, or at least certain elements of it, will literally kill them.
Each party has its own complex internal dynamics, as different factions jockey for influence and attempt to convince the party as a whole to adopt their own perspectives on ideology and tactics. In the GOP, that dynamic is now being shaped by QAnon, the new face of the Republican opposition. As The Post reports:
Even as Trump is set to exit the White House, QAnon’s grip on the conservative psyche is growing. Two freshman Republican members of Congress, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (Colo.), have voiced support for QAnon, while others have tweeted its slogans. State legislators across the country have further lent it credence while also backing Trump’s claims of electoral theft despite a lack of evidence and dozens of swift rejections in court.
QAnon is deranged in its beliefs about the world, opposed to the operation of the American democratic system, and built on the threat of deadly violence against anyone it considers an enemy.
This has now been incorporated into the thinking of every Republican as they navigate each new controversy: not just, “Will this vote anger my constituents and get me a primary challenge from the right?”, but also, “If I oppose my party’s base on this, will they murder me and my family?”
This is not an exaggeration or a metaphor. In December, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate said that if she didn’t support Republican efforts to nullify the state’s electoral votes, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.” With the attack on the Capitol, the murderous threat to the life of every elected official came home for members of Congress.
Don’t forget that just hours after Trump supporters rampaged through the Capitol to overturn the election through violence, eight senators and 139 members of the House — fully two-thirds of the GOP caucus in the lower chamber — voted to reject legitimate electoral votes, essentially telling the rioters that they were right.
Why did they do it? Some might actually believe the conspiracy theories, while others are contemptible opportunists. But others did it because they feared for their lives.
Rep. Peter Meijer (Mich.), one of 10 Republicans who later voted to impeach President Trump for inciting the riot, wrote about a Republican colleague who knew GOP efforts to overturn the election were wrong but joined them anyway. Why? “My colleague feared for family members, and the danger the vote would put them in. Profoundly shaken, my colleague voted to overturn.”
The same fears were at play a week later on the question of impeachment. Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) said on Wednesday that his GOP colleagues are “paralyzed with fear,” noting that in his conversations with Republican members, “A couple of them broke down in tears, talking to me and saying that they are afraid for their lives if they vote for this impeachment.” Tim Alberta of Politico confirmed that, tweeting, “I know for a fact several members *want* to impeach but fear casting that vote could get them or their families murdered.”
For many months, the way QAnon and its lunatic beliefs about a global conspiracy of Satan-worshipping pedophile cannibals were steadily infecting the Republican Party was bizarre and disturbing. But now it is defining the party’s relationship with its base — and the threat of violence is at the core of that relationship.
The public confrontations we now see between conspiracy-minded Trump supporters and members of Congress (both Republican and Democrat — see here or here or here) now have an undercurrent of potential violence that they didn’t have before. Interactions that used to be spirited or even angry now hum with the threat that they could end in murder.
You may recall how, in the summer of 2009, tea party activists mounted a coordinated disruption of town meetings held by members of Congress, at which they shouted loudly that the Affordable Care Act would destroy the last vestige of American liberty. It was unruly and unpleasant, and many members of Congress simply stopped holding town halls.
Nobody likes to get yelled at, or show up on the news looking besieged by unhappy constituents. But back then, most members weren’t literally fearing for their lives. Now they are.
Nevertheless, there are some Republicans, like Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.), who seem to believe that the energy of the QAnon base can be contained and directed; that it’s possible to express just enough sympathy with them to point them where you want them to go while not being so explicitly supportive that you destroy your own credibility. The problem is that this only enhances the extremists’ standing in the party.
Yes, some Republican officials have from time to time condemned QAnon. “There is no place for QAnon in the Republican Party,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) in August. But he said that while defending Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who now says she no longer supports QAnon as she once did, but did announce on Twitter that “On January 21, 2021, I’ll be filing Articles of Impeachment against Joe Biden for abuse of power.”
The relationship the party has to Greene and her equally QAnon-curious colleague Rep. Lauren Boebert (Colo.) shows how they’ve dealt with the extremists in their ranks: first reluctant, then, when their support became too great, indulgent, welcoming the QAnon-adjacent despite some misgivings.
It was because they were afraid: afraid that if they denounced the conspiracy theorists who supported Trump then he would punish them, afraid that their own constituents might turn on them, afraid that their careers would fall victim to another right-wing uprising.
Now they really know what fear is. And we should all be afraid.
An earlier version of this piece referred to a quote by the minority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate. She is the majority leader.