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Opinion What the GOP war over Marjorie Taylor Greene is really about

(Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is shocked — shocked, I tell you — to learn that wild, hateful, violent conspiracy theories have somehow found their way into the Republican Party. And he’s not going to stand for it.

Or, at least, the Senate minority leader will put out a statement denouncing it. Which is what he did on Monday. While not mentioning sometime QAnon adherent Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) by name, he tried to distance his party from some of her more bizarre beliefs and utterances:

“Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” McConnell said. “Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality. This has nothing to do with the challenges facing American families or the robust debates on substance that can strengthen our party.”
Greene responded Monday night on Twitter. “The real cancer for the Republican Party is weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully,” she said. “This is why we are losing our country.”

This is not, as you might be led to believe, a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. McConnell does not want to banish loons and conspiracy theorists from the GOP, because even if he were capable of doing so (which he isn’t), it would mean a dramatic reduction in the size of the party’s base and consequently its ability to win elections.

McConnell and the rest of the party leadership don’t want to lose the loons, they just want them to be quiet.

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So what we have here is a public relations fight, one in which Republicans want to walk a subtle line where they can get credit from the media for condemning Greene, while maintaining just enough outrage among their unhinged base so it turns out to vote in 2022 and helps them win back control of Congress without alienating too many voters in the center.

McConnell is the perfect person for this job, because nobody likes him anyway. Democrats loathe him, and even Republican voters view him as too cynical to trust. They’re happy to have him conniving and scheming on their behalf, but he inspires no loyalty and has no real constituency outside the 49 Senate Republicans whom he leads and the corporations whose interests he so happily serves.

So he can shake his finger at Greene, and Republicans can pretend they’ve lanced the boil of extremism or at least are making a good-faith effort to do so.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized House Republican leadership on Jan. 28 for continued support of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). (Video: The Washington Post)

On the other side, Democrats are doing their best to make Greene the face of the GOP. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is out with a series of ads hitting Republican House members, which link QAnon, Greene, President Donald Trump and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

And House Democrats have told Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that if he doesn’t strip Greene of her committee assignments, they’ll bring a resolution to the floor to do so.

Meanwhile, liberals are scouring Greene’s corpus of social media posts and video rants, finding more bizarre and disturbing things every day. While it’s tough to beat the Jewish space laser conspiracy she advocated, here’s a 2019 video in which she urges fellow extremists to “flood the Capitol building,” saying that “we can do it peacefully. We can. I hope we don’t have to do it the other way. I hope not. But we should feel like we will if we have to.”

So what we have is Democrats saying in effect, “Marjorie Taylor Greene is the Republican Party,” and Republicans saying “No she isn’t.” On Fox News — where unlike McConnell they have a direct line into the brains of the party base — the argument is that Greene is a victim, someone who perhaps has a few outré views but is being oppressed by the tyrannical thought police in the Democratic Party and the media.

In that more subtle portrait, viewers are told to identify with Greene not because of what she believes and has said — all that is waved away as barely relevant — but because like all conservatives, she is oppressed by the all-powerful politically correct left. Should quivering House Republicans submit to Democrats’ demands and strip her of her committee assignments, she will be honored as a martyr to free speech and free thought.

It’s almost unavoidable that this is the ground on which we play out these political conflicts — we’re drawn to the power of personality, especially when the personalities in question are compelling even for being a little crazy. But in the end, Greene isn’t what is so disturbing about today’s GOP, and if they shove her in a closet, nothing about them will change.

Don’t forget that just hours after a violent mob of Greene’s kindred spirits rampaged through the Capitol — destroying property, beating police officers (including one who was killed) and trying to find members of Congress, presumably so they could kill them too — 147 Republicans, including a majority of Republicans in the House, voted in effect to validate the insane lie of a stolen election that drove the mob there in the first place.

That is who the Republican Party is and who it represents. They can try to distance themselves from Greene all they want. But they spent years nurturing the malignant forces that brought her to Congress, and they haven’t stopped yet.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: Please, Joe Manchin, use your powers for good!

Henry Olsen: Republicans’ best move with Marjorie Taylor Greene is to gerrymander her out of her seat

Colbert I. King: The GOP once knew what to do about problems like Marjorie Taylor Greene

Greg Sargent: Marjorie Taylor Greene’s vile new antics highlight a 50-year GOP story

Eugene Robinson: If the GOP is to rise from the ashes, it has to burn first