There’s a big push right now among corporate media, Democrats, and NeverTrumpers to establish a narrative that the Republican Party is being torn apart in a bitter civil war between its establishment wing and its supposed QAnon wing. It’s about as true as your garden-variety QAnon conspiracy theory, but it’s politically useful, which is why you’re seeing it crop up all over the media right now.
According to this narrative, dangerous right-wing conspiracy theorists and QAnon acolytes make up a sizable portion of the GOP electorate and enjoy broad acceptance among many Republican elected officials and right-of-center media outlets. These people believe all the “lies” and “conspiracy theories” that Trump peddled after the November election—so much so that they launched an “armed insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in a failed attempt to overturn the election results and maybe even kidnap Vice President Mike Pence or murder Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
This “wing” of the GOP is so dangerous, we’re told, we need a 9/11-style commission to investigate what happened on Jan. 6, we might need a new domestic terrorism law, and we’re definitely going to have to figure out how to “de-radicalize” Trump supporters. Half the country has lost its mind, you see, which is why so many legacy media outlets have been publishing very serious essays on “MAGA extremism.” If we don’t address this now then MAGA white supremacist militias will terrorize America—like al-Qaeda, only worse.
Tune into NPR or CNN, browse the pages of The New York Times or The Washington Post, and you’ll hear all of this discussed in detail, ad nauseum. But it’s pure fantasy, almost a kind of conspiracy theory of its own, akin to the years-long conspiracy theories about Trump’s collusion with Russia in the 2016 election, which Democrats and the press still cling to despite zero evidence after years of investigations.
Indeed, the notoriety QAnon now enjoys has more to do with the media building it up than Republicans flocking to its banner. According to Pew Research, last spring during the Democratic primaries, more Democrats had heard about QAnon conspiracy theories than Republicans had (28 to 18 percent, respectively) and by the fall, that disparity had grown, with 55 percent of Democrats saying they’d heard of QAnon compared to less than 40 percent of Republicans. Notably, those most likely to say they had heard about it also reported that they got their news mainly from The New York Times, MSNBC, and NPR.
The reason Democrats and the media want to build up QAnon in the minds of Americans is fairly obvious: to tar all Republicans as crazy conspiracy theorists. That’s an explicit strategy among Democratic leadership in the House right now.
As Politico reported this week, Democratic TV ads launched this week spotlight supporters of QAnon: “It is the first step in a larger plan, orchestrated by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s new chair, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, to exploit the growing friction between Trump hard-liners and establishment Republicans in the GOP base, which Maloney sees as a major weak point for the party.”
No, Marjorie Taylor Greene Is Not A Rising GOP Star
The point of all this is to make all Republican candidates answer for the outlandish ideas of a small sliver of the GOP electorate and exactly one newly elected Republican member of the House, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a now-famous (thanks to the media) QAnon conspiracy theorist and generally kooky lady that the people of northwest Georgia made the mistake of electing to Congress in November.
Corporate media is now presenting Greene as a rising star in the Republican Party and a major figure on the right—the GOP equivalent of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In reality, she’s a political nobody who’s been repudiated by nearly everyone in her own party, and unlike AOC hasn’t been plastered on the cover of fashion magazines and treated like a superstar by the media. Sure, Trump might have once called Greene a rising star at a rally, but the idea that she is somehow representative of a substantial portion of the GOP, or that she holds any real sway over the party or the Republican electorate as a whole, is frankly ridiculous.
(By contrast, AOC, an actual star of the Democratic Party and the top Democratic fundraiser in the House, was roundly mocked on Twitter Wednesday for lying about how much danger she was in during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. She was in an adjacent office building.)
Admittedly, Greene, like AOC, believes and says crazy things, yet she was elected to Congress by a couple hundred thousand Georgians. But so was Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson, who represents Georgia’s Fourth Congressional District in Atlanta’s eastern suburbs. Johnson, who was reelected in November to an eighth term, once compared Jewish Israeli settlers to termites and, in a bizarre 2010 exchange in the House Armed Services Committee, speculated about the possibility that Guam might tip over and capsize from the weight of too many U.S. Marines deployed there.
Before Johnson, that seat was held by six-term Democrat Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who in an April 2002 radio interview claimed the Bush administration received numerous warnings before the attacks, and that the Bush family might have even allowed them to happen for profit. Before that, McKinney claimed there had been widespread voter fraud in Florida during the 2000 presidential election and that Al Gore had really won. She joined a handful of other House Democrats in objecting to the certification of the Electoral College vote, and did so again four years later, objecting to the electoral votes from Ohio.
But McKinney never faced Republican calls to be stripped of her committee assignments or be expelled from Congress, as Greene now faces from House Democrats for views she held prior to being elected. Instead, McKinney was primaried by another Democrat in 2002, punished not by the media or by the opposing party, but by voters in her own district. (She challenged her primary loss in court, claiming thousands of Republicans had voted in the Democratic primary, but presented no evidence of voter fraud and lost the case. Amazingly, she was reelected in 2004.)
Sometimes crackpots get elected to Congress. But the proper remedy is for their constituents to vote them out of office, not for their fellow lawmakers to do an end-run around voters.
The GOP Civil War Is Between Populists and the Establishment
Setting aside Greene and QAnon, there is a tug-of-war underway in the GOP, but it’s not between QAnon enthusiasts and non-QAnoners. It’s between tens of millions of voters who supported Trump and want a more populist Republican Party and establishment figures who wish we could go back to 2015 and pretend Trump never happened.
But that fight is a lopsided one, with a handful of elected neo-conservatives like Rep. Liz Cheney and NeverTrump pundits on one side, and the vast majority of the GOP electorate on the other. A recent Morning Consult/Politico poll, taken weeks after the Jan. 6 riot, found 81 percent of Republican voters still view Trump favorably, with a majority saying they have strongly held positive views of Trump and want him to run again in 2024.
That might be one reason why, despite their personal feelings about Trump, 45 out of 50 GOP senators recently voted to dismiss the former president’s upcoming impeachment trial as unconstitutional. They know the overwhelming majority of Republican voters think the impeachment is a politically motivated stunt to punish Republicans and paint all Trump voters with the broad brush of “insurrectionists” and “conspiracy theorists.”
The long-term question at the heart of the actual conflict in the Republican Party isn’t about QAnon or even about Trump. It’s about whether a post-Trump GOP will go back to being docile in the face of Democratic Party dominance, indifferent about the border and trade, all too eager to embroil American in foreign wars, and quiescent in the culture wars.
A GOP that refused to go back to those days and took up the banner of conservative populism would be a real threat to Democratic control in Washington and the cultural ascendancy of the left. No wonder Democrats and the media would rather talk about QAnon.