Republicans’ disinterest in ostracizing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an extremist who proudly peddles anti-Semitic conspiracies, is devastating for Jewish conservatives.
Despite all they disliked about him, the overwhelming majority of Jewish conservatives were ready to live with the fact that the Republicans had become Donald Trump’s party. Or at least they were, until the Capitol riot discredited him in the eyes of most Americans—even if the GOP base wants no part of either the effort to impeach him or to repudiate his presidency.
But living with the GOP becoming Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s party is quite another thing.
Yet as Republicans ponder how to deal with the furor that has arisen over the Georgia congresswoman’s record of support for the QAnon cult and bizarre conspiracy-mongering, the approximately 30% of American Jewish voters who cast their ballots for Trump last November have found themselves in an impossible position.
How do they stay in a party that is willing to wink at someone who has, among other things, claimed that space lasers directed by someone at the Rothschilds’ bank were responsible for California wildfires?
But as difficult as that dilemma may be, they are far from alone in this respect. Many Republican officeholders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, feel the same way. McConnell has been the most outspoken GOP figure on Taylor Greene and he held nothing back when he denounced her “loony lies” and called her a “cancer” on his party.
In a different time, such a statement would have been joined by the overwhelming majority of the Republican caucuses in both houses of Congress. But while not exactly an outlier, McConnell’s position is being stoutly resisted by many rank and file members as well as getting pushback from a loud and angry party base who distrust him as insufficiently Trumpist.
Many, if not most, Republicans are in no mood to offer up any sacrifices, even one as unattractive as Taylor Greene, to mainstream sensibilities or what they consider to be the liberal establishment’s ruthless cancel culture that they believe is targeting all of them.
What makes all this especially frustrating for those who are demanding that the House GOP caucus take action against Taylor Greene is the contrast between her position and that of another conservative extremist, former Rep. Steve King of Iowa, only two years ago.
After years of tolerating King’s flirtations with white supremacists, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy had had enough of him in January 2019. King was stripped of all committee assignments and the following year, the party establishment went all out to support a successful primary challenge to him.
In doing so, McCarthy won the high ground in the debate about extremism since, at the same time, Democrats decided to go easy on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for her invoking of anti-Semitic memes with her claims that Jews had bought Congressional support for Israel (“It’s all about the Benjamins”) and dual loyalty.
By comparison to Taylor Greene, King was a relative moderate. But while some in the conservative base spoke up in his defense, most agreed he was a liability.
But after an initial rebuke of Omar, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went easy on the popular Muslim immigrant who, along with other members of the left-wing “Squad,” had caught the imagination of the Democratic base. Rather than face censure, Omar and fellow BDS supporter Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Minn.) were celebrated by pop culture, including fawning interviews by late night comedians and a cover shoot at Rolling Stone Magazine.
Jewish Republicans in particular have never let go of their resentment over the way even pro-Israel Democrats refused to ostracize Omar as well as the willingness of the media to treat her as a victim rather than a hatemonger after she was attacked by Trump.
But two years later, the shoe is on the other foot and it is the Republicans who are showing reluctance to discipline a congressional newcomer with a loud following.
The nature of the Republican Party has also changed. Far from being a bastion of Wall Street and big business (both of which came down heavily on the side of Biden last year), the GOP is now largely a working class and populist party.
By giving voice to disenfranchised and largely ignored sectors of society, especially those who have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic while the educated classes prospered or at least held their own, Republicans are finding a broader-based audience for conservative ideas. But that same populist spirit also leaves it vulnerable to Trump’s more extreme supporters.
After four years of Trump, the notion that party establishment figures and moderates don’t fight back against their liberal foes has become orthodoxy among many conservatives. Trump’s vision of politics as a war to the death in which apologizing for mistakes and criticizing your own side is forbidden has caught on to the point where it is second nature for the party base.
That belief has become even more entrenched in the weeks since the Capitol riot.
Trump’s post-election behavior as well as his rhetoric on Jan. 6 was indefensible. But conservatives believe the reaction to the disgraceful riot and the violation of the Capitol on the part of Democrats has not so much been an overreaction but an attempt to weaponize the actions of a few in order to discredit their entire party.
They see the rhetorical inflation of a mob action into an “insurrection” in which, by implication, anyone who raised questions about election count irregularities or even just those who loyally stuck with Trump are seen as accomplices to domestic terrorism, to be intolerable.
At the same time, they regard the willingness of Democrats and mainstream media outlets to portray them as insurrectionist extremists after soft-pedaling the violent riots and looting that took place during some of the “mostly peaceful” Black Lives Matter protests last year as proof of the hypocrisy of their opponents.
They believe the same outlets acted as partisan protectors for President Joe Biden during last year’s campaign by ignoring unflattering stories about his son’s questionable business dealings abroad. They see the decision of internet giants and social media companies like Twitter to censor Trump and others on the right and de-platforming its rival Parler, while turning a blind eye to hate from the left and Islamists, as further proof that their rights are in peril.
All that leaves conservatives in no mood to police their own side of the aisle. And with Trump seeming to come down on Taylor Greene’s side, McCarthy may think he’ll pay a far heavier political cost for disciplining her than for giving her the same kind of pass that Pelosi gave Omar. That may be true even if Democrats agree with McConnell that her statements show her to be a member of the radical fringe rather than merely an ideologue.
Tolerance of a sort for Taylor Greene may be just one more sign of the impact of tribal war politics. Many Republicans will answer all criticism about her with whataboutism in which the sins of the Democrats will be used to excuse those committed by the GOP.
That’s especially discouraging since should Taylor Greene retain her committee assignments and avoid being expelled, she will, as was the case with Omar and the Squad, wind up having far more influence and publicity than any normal freshman legislator would have.
The impact of such a stand will be devastating to Jewish Republicans, especially after they expended so much effort assailing Democrats over their toleration for BDS supporters, whom they believe are guilty of spreading and legitimizing anti-Semitism.
And as much as McCarthy has reason to fear the wrath of Trump and his loyalists, by failing to isolate Taylor Greene he will be assisting liberals who will be happy to treat her as the face of the Republican Party in the same way that Republicans have sought to run against AOC and the Squad.
But those tactical problems pale before the dilemma that acquiescing to Taylor Greene’s popularity with the base poses for Jewish Republicans. For four years they answered criticism of Trump by citing the fact that the GOP has become a lockstep pro-Israel party, as well as philo-semitic.
But so long as the “Jewish Space Laser” lady is allowed to call herself a Republican, they will have no credible answer to Democrats who say their party tolerates extremists who peddle anti-Semitic conspiracies.
Worse than that, just as Omar has helped legitimize one form of prejudice against Jews, Taylor Greene’s continued presence as a member in good standing of the GOP caucus will do the same for a particularly toxic variety of right-wing extremists. That’s the sort of thing that no amount of whataboutism or partisanship can excuse.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of the Jewish News Syndicate and a columnist for the New York Post. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin.