This week’s ethical punt by the House Republican caucus could force New York City to consider an unprecedented step: permanently sealing off storied Fifth Avenue because of the potential danger posed there by a former US president, one Donald J. Trump.
Five years ago, Trump, campaigning in the Iowa caucuses, claimed, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.”
The comment was largely dismissed as the braggadocio of an infamous real estate blowhard. Six months later, when Trump said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” that too was widely discounted as “Trump being Trump.”
Now, with the GOP’s refusal this week to clearly disavow first term Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s history of incendiary and radical rhetoric — a clear surrender to Trumpian disruption — is it so far-fetched to suspect Republicans might concoct some pretzel logic excusing a gun-slinging Trump causing mayhem in his former hometown?
The litany of the GOP’s enabling of the ex-president is familiar — and dizzying. The party twice nominated a man who trafficked in the racist birther theory about Barack Obama. Announcing his candidacy in 2015, Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” That December, he called for a ban on Muslims entering the US, a policy he later enacted by blacklisting seven nations.
Trump downplayed the 2017 neo-Nazi, white supremacist violence in Charlottesville by arguing, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” His get-tough immigration policy on the southern border left children, separated from their families, in cages. In a 2018 summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump publicly took the word of Moscow’s strongman over US intelligence agencies on the question of Russian interference in his election.
When unambiguous evidence surfaced in 2019 that Trump bullied the Ukrainian government to help his efforts to dig up dirt on Joe Biden’s family by threatening to block vitally needed defense aid against Russian aggression, only one Republican — Utah’s Mitt Romney — supported his removal.
In the wake of Joe Biden’s victory on November 3, more than half of the GOP members of the House — 126, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — signed on to a ludicrous lawsuit by the Texas attorney general (supported by 19 other Republican attorneys general) to throw out the votes of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
After that challenge and many dozen others desperately waged by Trump to overturn the election failed, 138 members of the House and seven members of the Senate voted to refuse certification of Biden’s victory in either Pennsylvania or Arizona, or both, on January 6. This came hours after a violent MAGA mob had ransacked the Capitol and forced Congress, Vice President Mike Pence, and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris to flee the chambers out of fear for their lives.
Which brings us to this week’s latest GOP disgrace. Reporting in recent weeks brought to light staggering instances in which Greene, already known to be a QAnon follower, supported violence against political opponents, co-signed conspiracy theories, and voiced anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and other racist sentiments.
On social media, Greene liked a comment about putting a bullet in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head, circulated a petition to have her impeached for treason — the penalty for which, she noted, was execution — and stated, “The stage is being set” for the arrest and hanging of Obama over the Iran nuclear deal.
She endorsed false flag conspiracy theories denying 9/11 and school shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida.
Greene also posted an anti-immigration video that blamed the world’s refugee problems on both Muslims and “Zionist supremacists.” The 2018 midterm elections, she said, represented “an Islamic invasion of our government.” The Black Lives Matter movement is equivalent to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Greene argued.
Her most unhinged claim was that the recurring wildfires in California are caused by space lasers operated by the Jewish-owned Rothschild banking firm.
In a chilling preview of the January 6 assault on the Capitol, Greene, in a video just last year, said, “The only way you get your freedoms back is it’s earned with the price of blood.”
Two years ago, despite their cooptation by Trump, House Republicans still knew how to deal with a character like Greene. They had long tolerated Steve King, an extremist Republican from Iowa. But when he told The New York Times in January 2019 he did not understand what was wrong with being described as a “white supremacist,” Minority Leader McCarthy removed him from his committee assignments.
Faced with demands from Democrats that he act in similar fashion with Greene, McCarthy refused. In an hours-long caucus meeting on February 3, Republicans stood by Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, who faced blistering attacks from Trump and his allies for her pro-impeachment vote last month, keeping her on in the number three leadership post by a 145-61 vote — but only in a secret ballot vote. The caucus did not consider Greene’s fate, so it was left to the full House the following day to strip her of her committee assignments in a vote where only 11 Republicans joined the majority Democrats.
Why did McCarthy treat Greene differently than King, where he acted unilaterally? Or at the least, why didn’t he let his caucus take the issue off the table by dispensing with her in a secret tally like Cheney’s?
The reason is that protecting Greene has become a proxy for defending Trump. Even though her QAnon affinities were known during her campaign last year, the former president endorsed her. In the past week, Greene, insisting she would “never apologize,” said she recently enjoyed a supportive phone call with the ex-president.
A week after the Capitol riot, McCarthy showed some spine, saying Trump had to “accept his share of responsibility” for the January 6 violence. But by last week, the minority leader had backtracked, visiting the former president in Mar-a-Lago to kiss his ring and appear in a joint photo op.
One pundit declared that McCarthy’s failure to stand up to Greene makes the first term Georgian the de facto leader of the House Republicans.
More significantly, however, it shows the continued stranglehold Trump has over Republicans in Washington and elsewhere. Next week’s Senate trial gives the GOP perhaps its last, best chance to sever its toxic ties to Trump. The prospect for that happening, however, seems slight. The cost of failure in continued legitimizing of violent right wing extremism is incalculable.
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