US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, holds up a "Stop the Steal" mask while speaking with fellow first-term Republican members of Congress on the steps of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, 4 January 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

The Republicans’ reality problem

MAGA cultists are leading the Republicans into unreality

Artillery Row

Should House Republicans jettison Marjorie Taylor Greene for being an ignorant bigot? Of course not. Imagine how empty the halls of Congress would be if ignorance and bigotry were conditions for entry. But neither should Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, defend Taylor Greene, or her Republican colleagues give her a standing ovation – which, disgracefully, is what happened on Wednesday.

A party can remain tolerant and sensible while carrying a few crazies

The Democrats are calling Greene the unacceptable face of the post-Trump Republicans – as if any kind of Republican Party would be acceptable to the post-Trump Democrats. The Republican leadership is writhing astride the fence: embarrassed and appalled but unwilling to alienate the MAGA wing of the party. Yesterday’s compromise – keeping the moderate Liz Cheney while insulting her, keeping the maniac Taylor Greene while insulting the other party for indulging anti-Semites too – is the worst of both worlds.

Rep. Greene, in case your internet is down, is the freshperson Representative from Georgia’s 14th District. If conspiracy theories spread from mouth to mouth like herpes in a college dorm, then Rep. Greene is a super spreader. She has endorsed Pizzagate, 9/11 conspiracies, false-flag shooting theories, and the loony’s special of the day, QAnon. More imaginatively, she believes that Covid-19 is spread by a “Jewish space laser” controlled by the Rothschilds.

While the parties manoeuvre with the midterms in mind, Rep. Greene responded to the spotlight with a realism that seems otherwise to elude her. She has appealed to her followers for cash. So far, she has raked in $300,000, as well as the endorsement of Republican representatives who think tomorrow’s party belongs to them. Her fundraising ingenuity suggests she has a long career in Congress ahead of her. She won’t be alone.

Marjorie Taylor Greene falls in the rich and lamentable tradition of elected officials with disgraceful opinions. Robert Byrd, a Democrat, was an “exalted cyclops” in the Klan. Steve King, a Republican, saw the upside of “white supremacy”. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat, is an accomplished Jew-baiter. Ilhan Omar, also a Democrat, is notably short of brotherly love when it comes to the Jews.

What did Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, and Colonel Gaddafi have in common, apart from fear of Islamism? They both supported the terrorists of the IRA. If King’s post 9/11 prescriptions for Islamists were applied to King himself, he wouldn’t be in Long Island. He’d be in Cuba, in an orange jumpsuit.

Kevin McCarthy defends Taylor Greene by reminding the Democrats that, as the party who put Ilhan Omar on the cover of Rolling Stone and in a seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, they should deal with their own Jew-haters first. True enough – but defending your own side’s crazies by pointing the finger at the other side’s crazies only accelerates America’s downward spiral of unreality and extremism.

Stupidity and malice are baked in the cake. They’re as much a part of human nature as intelligence and compassion. In politics, they’re the bedrock of bipartisanship: the last common ground where extremists of the right and left can meet and give each other meaningful looks.

Americans have a God-given right to believe whatever nonsense they like and tell the neighbours about it on Facebook. The question isn’t “Are there extremists in Congress?” It’s “Are there too many extremists outside Congress?” and “How do the parties handle their extremists?”

A majority of Americans won’t vote for a Republican Party defined by white nationalism and tinfoil-hatters

It’s the voters, after all, that elect the creeps and cranks. A party can remain tolerant and sensible while carrying a few crazies. But a people cannot remain free and democratic if they lose their grip on reality and retreat into fantasy. And that is what the Republicans’ MAGA wing are inciting, whether it’s Marjorie Taylor Greene’s “Jewish space laser”, or Josh Hawley’s raised fist to the mob at the Capitol gates on 6 January, or Matt Gaetz’s reality-television stunt in Wisconsin.

Ignorance and bigotry are contagious. They spread by close association. When Nancy Pelosi posed on the cover of Rolling Stone with the Squad, she disgraced herself and her party. The same went for promoting Ilhan Omar to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Marjorie Taylor Greene to the Committees on Education and Labor. The rising tide washes the flotsam to ugly prominence, and it leaves a stain.

The rising stars of both parties are beyond shame. So, as Kevin McCarthy demonstrated this week and Nancy Pelosi demonstrates every week, are their leaders. But it was the voters of Georgia’s 14th District who put Greene in Congress. It’s for them to see the error of their votes, just as the voters of Iowa’s 4th District eventually dropped Steve King.

Here it’s customary to mention the little Austrian chap with the funny moustache. A third of Germans voted for the Nazis in 1932. It was enough to tip Germany from a democracy to a dictatorship. Have a third of Americans lost their grip on reality today? Quite possibly.

After a year of Covid and a close-run, disputed election, the numbers can only have gone up. We’re lucky that part of the craziness of America’s crazies is that they divide their numbers between two parties. Imagine what they could achieve if they joined forces.

We’re also lucky that, barring an economic collapse of the kind Germany suffered, a majority of Americans won’t vote for a Republican Party defined by white nationalism and tinfoil-hatters – however appealing the tax breaks may be. They won’t vote for a Democratic Party driven by identity politics alone – but they might if the welfare money is big enough. And luck is a limited commodity.

A party can only ride its luck so far. The Republicans can swing the midterms by feeding their base with MAGA fantasies, but they’ll lose in 2024 for the same reason. A democracy can only ride its luck so far too.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover