House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy gushes about ‘unity’ as he embraces extremism

Top Republicans are looking for big gains in the House in 2022, and they’ve decided that their best path to those gains is to welcome extremists to their party. Make that: to keep welcoming extremists to their party.

That’s the message they sent when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy first refused to discipline Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for her violent rhetoric, anti-Semitism, and embrace of conspiracy theories, and it’s the message they put an exclamation point on Thursday night when all but 11 Republicans voted to keep her in her committee assignments. Those assignments included the education committee, despite Greene’s harassment of survivors of the Parkland school shooting and her claims that the Parkland and Sandy Hook shootings had been hoaxes.

To McCarthy, the fact that Republicans voted both to keep Rep. Liz Cheney in leadership despite her vote to impeach Donald Trump and to protect Greene’s committee assignments is big evidence of the unity that will carry the party through 2022 successfully. “The number one thing that happened in this conference was unity,” he said after the five-hour meeting to fight over two women’s political fates. “Two years from now, we are going to win the majority.”

Both Democrats and Senate Republicans think McCarthy might be making the wrong bet in keeping the QAnon, insurrectionist far-right under the tent of the Republican establishment.

”House members never like us judging them, but I do think as a party we have to figure out what we stand for,” Republican Sen. John Thune said. “I think we’ve got to be the party, as I said, of ideas and policies and principles, and get away from members dabbling in conspiracy theories.”

”It’s only going to get worse unless we do something about it,” an unnamed adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told The Washington Post. But McCarthy doesn’t think the direction of his caucus is bad and getting worse, apparently. He didn’t have to make a decision between Cheney and Greene this time, and he seems to see that as a road map for the future.

The question is whether Democrats—facing the traditionally very difficult midterms for a party with a first-term president—can find the right message to voters. One Democratic group is already running ads saying “The QAnon conspiracies sound wild. But the danger is real” as they tie McCarthy to Greene’s offensive statements, including her denial of 9/11.

”You can do QAnon, and you can do swing districts, but you can’t do both,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. His Republican counterpart, Rep. Tom Emmer, though, said “This is the same QAnon playbook they tried in 2020, and they lost 15 seats.”

A few other things happened in the 2020 elections, mind you. And it’s not just QAnon. It’s Proud Boys and other hate groups. It’s the non-Q things Greene and Rep. Lauren Boebert and Donald Trump himself will do and say between now and November 2022. QAnon is an easy shorthand, but the full constellation of awful things that shorthand encompasses is pretty staggering, and not terribly popular with voters.

But it should be undeniable that Democrats need a message beyond QAnon. Passing a strong COVID-19 relief package, including a minimum wage increase, would be one great message. Competently administering vaccinations and getting the country back on track would be another. Democratic policies are popular. Get them into place now and then spend the next 20 months or so hammering the contrast between those accomplishments and Republican efforts to block those popular polices and Republican embrace of extremism. There should be plenty of material to work with on the Republican side—it’s getting the material on the Democratic side in place that’s the priority right now.