Predictions for 2022

Carl P. Leubsdorf

DALLAS (Tribune News Service) — In the pre-Trumpian era, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Paul Gosar would have been treated as right wing curiosities, fringe figures outside the mainstream of the Republican Party.

Few in the political world would have taken them seriously. But the radicalization of the GOP under former President Donald Trump has elevated their role, along with other far-out GOP House members and state political figures.

Because of their ties to the former president, they now epitomize the GOP to at least as great an extent as elected leaders like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy. The rise of fringe figures validates the concern of many of us that one unfortunate aspect of Trump’s election would be to empower the racists, anti-Semites and other hate groups who have always been present in American society but were mostly rejected by its leaders. When one sees some of the people Trump has embraced and the way House Republican Minority Leader McCarthy avoided rejecting Boebert’s and Greene’s incendiary views, that fear seems to have been realized.

House Republicans voted unanimously [last] week against Rep. Ilhan Omar’s bill condemning Islamaphobia that Democrats brought up after Boebert’s recent remarks about the Minnesota congresswoman that used anti-Muslim tropes. Greene has also been condemned for making anti-Muslim comments.

And given the way the former president is using his continuing political influence, their role could be further enhanced.

Trump signaled in 2016 he would tolerate the views of such groups by refusing to reject an endorsement from neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. He doubled down as president by his comments during the violent 2017 clash in Charlottesville, Va.

After a white supremacist protesting the removal of Confederate statues drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one, Trump condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” He later said there were “very fine people on both sides.”

His statement was widely seen as conferring equivalence on both the white supremacists and their opponents. It drew widespread condemnation across the political spectrum.

Former Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, in an unusual joint statement, declared, “America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms.” Former Vice President Joe Biden said Trump’s statement prompted him to reconsider his decision to retire from politics and seek the 2020 Democratic nomination.

“With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And at that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime,” Biden said, vowing to restore “the soul of America.”

When Trump became president, advisers persuaded him to name mostly traditional appointees. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis could have served under other recent chief executives.

But over time, Trump replaced them with political loyalists like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He named two chiefs of staff, Mick Mulvaney and Mark Meadows, from the House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative Republicans in Congress and a group that had repeatedly undercut GOP leaders.

Perhaps the No. 1 symbol of Trump’s embrace of questionable political elements is Steve Bannon, a former investment banker and movie producer whose Breitbart News was a major purveyor of ultra-conservative ideology, untruths and anti-establishment activism. He became a key 2016 campaign adviser and then Trump’s chief White House strategist but proved unfit for the rigors of day-to-day governance and soon left.

After the 2020 election, he re-emerged as a key figure encouraging Trump’s rejection of the results. He said on a podcast that he told Trump on the eve of the Jan. 6 demonstrations, “You need to kill this (Biden) administration in the crib.” Bannon now faces criminal contempt charges for refusing to talk to the House committee investigating the insurrection.

In his post-presidential period, Trump seems only interested in boosting Republicans who accept his lies that he was cheated out of the presidency in a rigged election. It’s understandable he would oppose Republicans who openly criticized him, like Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger and others who voted for his impeachment.

But he also turned against conservatives like Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who supported his policies but refused to override Georgia’s vote favoring Biden. Trump said even Democratic rival Stacey Abrams “might be better than having your existing governor.” Former Sen. David Perdue, who lost his re-election race in January in part due to Trump, challenged Kemp with Trump’s blessing and promptly filed a legally questionable lawsuit seeking inspection of 2020 absentee ballots.

In Arizona, Trump is backing former television anchor Kari Lake’s gubernatorial bid. Lake continues to seek decertification of Arizona’s election results and said Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who might become her Democratic opponent, “should be locked up.”

In Alabama, Trump endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks for the Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Richard Shelby. Brooks was a speaker at the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol, urging the crowd to “carry the message to Capitol Hill.”

And Trump backed Gosar after the Arizona Republican’s clash with Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The House censured Gosar after he posted an anime video showing him killing a character representing Ocasio-Cortez and threatening Biden. But McCarthy and the rest of the GOP leadership opposed the censure as hypocritical, citing past critical statements from Democrats.

The next day, Trump endorsed Gosar for re-election as “a loyal supporter of our America First agenda,” In Donald Trump’s GOP, no one is too extreme if he backs the former president.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may send emails to carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency. © 2021 The Dallas Morning News.

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(1) comment

KRobbins

In the pre-Trumpian era, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Paul Gosar would have been treated as right wing curiosities, fringe figures outside the mainstream of the Republican Party.

They’re the tail wagging the dog in the Republican House. McCarthy, Scalise and Stefanik are totally feckless. Those 3 may not be as extreme as the extremists in their party, but what are the chances that one, two or all three are replaced when the Q Caucus gains additional members in 2022?

The Senate is looking to be just as bad with Walker and Greitens running. In Ohio, Vance and Mandel are competing to see who can be Trumpiest.

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