Last Sunday, Chris Wallace solemnly called attention to what he regards as a growing embarrassment in Congress: A Georgia representative, Marjorie Taylor Greene, whom Democrats have now stripped of all assignments in their august body because she refuses to keep her mouth shut.
Congresswoman Greene thinks the presidential election on Nov. 3 was full of fraud and requires further investigation. In the past, she has also described George Soros, to the horror of CNN, as a “Nazi,” and promoted QAnon conspiracy views, which among other things would have us believe that the Deep State is controlled by pedophiles and other lowlifes. The ever-imaginative Georgia congresswoman has also trotted out other conspiracy theories that she might have picked up by overdosing on the History Channel. The now-disgraced Congresswoman has stated she “regrets” her QAnon posts, and that she stopped believing in QAnon in 2018. Nonetheless, it would seem Greene has inflicted so much disgrace on her party that two Congressional Republican leaders, Steve Scalise and Kevin McCarthy, have warned her against further misconduct, going on record as deploring her disturbing utterances.
Likewise, Chris Wallace and his guest, former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, seemed visibly shocked by the Congresswoman’s divisive, immature language. Wallace is furious that Republicans are less “outraged” over Greene than they are over Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump a second time.
This last complaint came up again on Tuesday night on the same channel, as former South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy was interviewing former George W. Bush advisor and Republican strategist Karl Rove about their party’s prospects for 2022. Both speakers were deeply troubled by the presence of Marjorie Greene in the House of Representatives and thought that she was shaming a party studded with such promising stars as Liz Cheney and Nikki Haley. Apparently Greene’s fantasies, like her story about the Rothschild family sending lasers to burn down California’s forests, are in Mitch McConnell’s words, “a cancer on the Republican Party” and should be viewed more critically than Cheney’s eagerness to humiliate former President Donald Trump by dragging him through an unconstitutional second impeachment trial.
Cheney’s moves are made to look like acts of conscience. Indeed, it’s the sort of thing one might expect of a rising star in the party, who was destined for great things. House Minority Leader McCarthy, who just returned from reading the riot act to Marjorie Greene, expressed dismay that anyone would call for removing Cheney from her leadership role in the GOP.
Further, the charge that Cheney seems to accept, that Trump was leading an insurrection, is demonstrably false. There is no evidence that Trump was inciting a crowd to attack the government when he addressed them on Jan. 6 and urged his followers to voice their views “peacefully.” If an illegal break in at the capitol building took place, it was planned and began to be executed even before Trump spoke. This has now been confirmed. Why then would Cheney persist in her efforts to humiliate the former president, who was the leader of her party?
Let us imagine as an exercise in counterfactual history that a Democratic congressman voted to impeach Barack Obama not once, but for a second time, and after he left office at that. Would Democratic leaders be sitting around looking for ways to reward their fellow-Democrat? Since Democratic politicians are entirely different from their Republican counterparts, that is, protective of one another and particularly their standard bearer, one couldn’t conceive of Democratic leaders drooling over a traitorous colleague.
It’s interesting to note that unlike the recently elected congresswoman from rural Georgia, Cheney, as the head of the Republican Conference, is the number three ranking Republican member of Congress. Given her support for the Democrats’ efforts to humiliate Trump still one more time, should she remain in that position? That is a question worth pondering.
It is, however, easy to guess why GOP regulars like Karl Rove are passionately defending her while declaiming against Greene. For mainstream GOP operatives from the Bush era, Cheney represents the proper mix of positions: support for corporate capitalists and defense industries and a neocon foreign policy. Greene by contrast embodies the more conservative, populist approach to politics, which the Republican establishment would love to dump. What we see in the contrasting positions that the establishment is taking regarding the two women signals the direction in which it would like to take their party.
Cheney’s vote in favor of impeaching Trump did not hurt her with the party regulars and with many on Fox News. It showed her usefulness in discrediting the party’s now fallen standard-bearer and a base of Deplorables whose votes these regulars would like to keep, but of course without their influence.
It seems Cheney wishes to take her party back to the era when people like the Bush family and her father were in charge of it. In that supposed golden age, types like Greene, who was stripped of her congressional assignments by the party of Maxine Waters, Eric Swalwell, and AOC, would not have been allowed into Congress and certainly would have been kept at a distance socially. It is not only the Democrats, but Cheney and her Republican backers who would love to cancel the populist right.
Paul Gottfried is editor in chief of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is also the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.