Opinion Think you already know crazy? Meet the House GOP Class of ’22.

(Washington Post staff illustration; images by iStock)
(Washington Post staff illustration; images by iStock)

Can we have order in the House?

Not if this crowd takes over.

Much of the public focus in the midterm elections has been on the, er, exotic nature of the Republican nominees in Senate and gubernatorial races, and understandably so. There’s Mehmet Oz’s crudite, Doug Mastriano’s white supremacists, and Herschel Walker’s … well, pretty much everything he says and does. But GOP nominees for the House are no less erratic — just less well known.

There’s the woman from North Carolina who was accused of hitting one husband with an alarm clock, trying to hit another with a car (and also menacing him with a frying pan) and punching her daughter. She denies that, though she also invoked a conspiracy belief that alien lizards control the government.

There’s the man from Ohio who lied about his military record, lavishly promoted QAnon themes, acknowledged bypassing police barriers at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and with 120 gallons of paint turned his entire lawn into a Trump banner.

There’s the man from Michigan who claimed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman participated in a satanic ritual, who once disparaged women’s suffrage, and who, though Black, raised concern about Democrats “eroding the White population.”

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Then there are: the Texas woman accused by her estranged husband of cruelty toward his teenage daughter; the Colorado woman who backed an effort to secede from her state; the Virginia woman who speculated that rape victims wouldn’t get pregnant; and the Wisconsin man who used campaign funds from his failed 2020 race to come to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, where he apparently breached Capitol barricades.

What they all have in common is that they’re in competitive races, which means they could well be part of a Republican House majority in January. And that’s on top of a larger group of GOP nominees in deep-red congressional districts who are a motley assortment of election deniers, climate-change deniers, QAnon enthusiasts and Jan. 6 participants who propose to abolish the FBI and ban abortion with no exceptions, among other things. Some won nominations despite efforts by party leadership to stop them and continue without financial support from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Maybe this is why Kevin McCarthy, the man who as House speaker would have the task of leading this rogues’ gallery, calls his agenda a “Commitment to America.” Many members of his new majority might be good candidates for commitment.

J.R. Majewski, the Trump-backed lawn painter from Ohio, has a different agenda: He wants to “abolish all unconstitutional three letter agencies,” including the CIA. He has said he’s willing to fight a civil war, and he made a campaign video in which he carried a rifle and said he would “do whatever it takes” to “bring this country back to its former glory.”

In North Carolina, Sandy Smith is folding into her plans for the country the domestic-abuse allegations against her: “I never ran over anyone with a car and I never hit anyone in the head with a frying pan. … I am bringing a frying pan to DC, though,” she tweeted in May. (Disclosure: My wife, a pollster, is a consultant to Smith’s Democratic opponent.) Smith also wants “executions” of those who, she falsely claims, stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump.

Maybe this is what John Gibbs, the Michigan Republican who questioned women’s suffrage, had in mind when he wrote as a Stanford student that women don’t “posess [sic] the characteristics necessary to govern” because they rely on “emotional reasoning.”

McCarthy will surely have to put down many an uprising from what might be termed the Insurrection Caucus. Wisconsin nominee Derrick Van Orden, like Majewski and a few other GOP nominees, was outside the U.S. Capitol that day — and was photographed inside a restricted area, though he says he left when things turned violent. And Kelly Cooper, a nominee in Arizona, wants “the prisoners of January 6th … to be released on day one.”

George Santos, a nominee in New York, claimed he was the victim of election fraud in his failed 2020 bid. Sam Peters, a nominee in Nevada who has used the “#QArmy” hashtag and embraced being called the “male” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, characterized those facing charges for the insurrection as “civically engaged American citizens exercising their constitutional freedoms.” And Iowa nominee Zach Nunn, who found it suspicious that Capitol Police couldn’t “stop a bunch of middle-aged individuals from walking onto the floor,” argued that “not a single one” of the defendants was charged with and convicted of insurrection. (That’s because the charge is “seditious conspiracy.”) Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, a nominee from Ohio, was precocious in her false claims of election fraud: She claimed in 2018 that a voting machine had switched her vote in the Ohio Senate race from Republican to Democrat.

Overlapping with the Insurrection Caucus are those with qualifications that might, at best, be called unconventional. Monica De La Cruz, a Texas nominee and top GOP recruit, was accused in a court filing a year ago of “cruel and aggressive conduct” toward her then-husband’s 14-year-old daughter, including pinching the teen to stop her from crying; she denies the claim. In Colorado, nominee Barbara Kirkmeyer once led an attempt by 11 counties there to secede and become their own state. In North Carolina, nominee Bo Hines (who wants a 10-year moratorium on immigration) spoke of a “banana republic” as though the common term for flailing democracies was actually referring to the clothing store of the same name.

Of course, the People’s House has always attracted the eccentric, and even the shady, from both parties. But the would-be Republican Class of ’22 is extraordinary in the number of oddballs and extremists in its ranks. This is no accident: The trend in Republican primaries, accelerated by Trump, has favored those with the most eye-popping tapestry of conspiracy theories and unyielding positions. GOP primaries are dominated by a sliver of the electorate on the far right.

That’s why they produce figures such as Erik Aadland, a Colorado nominee who claims that the 2020 election was “absolutely rigged” and that the country is “on the brink of being taken over by a communist government” — and who has followed various extremist groups, including the Proud Boys, on social media. In New Jersey, Frank Pallotta is again a Republican nominee, after declaring during his 2020 run for the same seat that he stands by the Oath Keepers, a group whose leaders are now on trial over Jan. 6.

Starting in January, a likely narrow Republican majority might have to find consensus among a freshman class that can’t agree on basic facts. Karoline Leavitt, a nominee in New Hampshire, claims that “the alleged ‘existential threat of climate change’ is a manufactured crisis by the Democrat Party.” In Virginia, nominee Yesli Vega argued that it was less likely for a rape victim to become pregnant because “it’s not something that’s happening organically.” Also in Virginia, nominee Hung Cao asserted that more “people get bludgeoned to death and stabbed to death than they get shot,” which is wrong by an order of magnitude.

But these nominees have offered unique policy ideas! Robert Burns of New Hampshire said in 2018 that he would allow abortion only to protect the “life of the mother” — but “we would need a panel in this sort of situation” to decide whether the ailing woman can get the lifesaving procedure.

A real-life death panel! Challenged recently on this position, Burns replied last month: “In response to the death panels, I believe women of color and low economic status deserve second and third opinions before being forced into abortions.” Put another way, a woman would need a second and third opinion before she’s allowed to save her own life.

The House Republican Class of ’22 will be many things, but “boring” is not one of them.

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