“Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared on February 1.
McConnell’s statement to The Hill is the kind of declarative denunciation any political leader should be able to make. But coming from the de facto leader of the loony toons — a party that has given rise to and encouraged conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory — it felt like too little, far too late.
“Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane, is not living in reality,” McConnell said. “This has nothing to do with the challenges facing American families or the robust debates on substance that can strengthen our party.”
Without naming any names (perhaps that would have been too bold), McConnell effectively admonished Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a newly elected freshman congresswoman, for continuously espousing dangerous conspiracy theories. McConnell scolded her for “not living in reality,” but failed to acknowledge that the alternative reality she lives in is home to many members of his own party — a paranoid world of shadows that festered under his leadership.
McConnell’s statement was a clear attempt at distancing himself from Taylor Greene’s increasingly erratic statements and antics. He couched his admonishment as concern for the party, yet he and his fellow Republican leaders mostly sat back as the QAnon phenomenon took hold. McConnell and company are happy to accept the votes of QAnon believers; they just don’t want to deal with the messiness of actually having to work alongside them in the halls of Congress.
Unfortunately, Taylor Greene’s position as an elected official gives her a high-profile platform to promulgate her dangerous lies. She was appointed to two House committees: Education and Labor and Budget. Taylor Greene’s antics have received a barrage of media coverage. And at the end of the day, her vote counts just as much as any other congressperson’s. Though she attempted to walk back some of her most incendiary earlier statements ahead of a House vote to strip her of her committee appointments, it was — once again — too little, too late.
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In the end, only 11 Republicans voted alongside Democrats to strip Taylor Greene of her committee assignments, which demonstrates just how much bigger this problem is than one congresswoman (who still holds her seat). It’s Trump apologist Sarah Huckabee Sanders running for Arkansas governor, and conspiracy theorist ally Kelli Ward serving as the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, which will remain a battleground state. It’s Taylor Greene’s new colleagues, Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert, arguing with U.S. Capitol police over her insistence she be allowed to carry a firearm onto the House floor, and Illinois Representative Mary Miller saying “Hitler was right” about winning over young people. (Miller ultimately apologized, saying her comment was misinterpreted.) It’s the fact that House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney received harsher criticism for voting to impeach Donald Trump than Taylor Greene has yet to face from her own party.
In recent years, the Republican Party has made concerted efforts to draw women voters by recruiting more women candidates, but many of the new female stars on the right are deeply aligned with the nativist, paranoid, and downright dangerous brand of politics espoused by Donald Trump.