House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been facing a giant dilemma—his GOP caucus might have to run on policy in 2022. No seriously, what would that even look like? McCarthy has no idea. Ever since he began eyeing the leadership post in early 2018 upon the announcement of Paul Ryan's retirement, McCarthy and his entire caucus have done nothing but bear hug Donald Trump's racist, xenophobic electoral strategy.
Echoing Trump's fixation on caravans, Black Lives Matter activists, the Squad, and "rat-infested," "Democrat-run" cities, McCarthy and his lieutenants have been running on the politics of fear and racial division for the entirety of Trump's tenure. Throughout the 2018 and 2020 cycles, Republicans ran more than a thousand ads aimed directly at stoking racial divisions, according to an ad tracker compiled by the immigration group America's Voice. The House GOP's new 2020 crop of extremist loving right-wingers and adherents of QAnon—a rebranded Nazi cult—is simply the metastasization of Trump's hate politics.
And that's how McCarthy has found himself between a rock and a hard spot—namely, whether to double down on the white panic and racial resentment that fuels Trump's political appeal or actually stage the GOP's 2022 comeback effort on competing in the field of ideas to solve the nation's problems. At base, that's what the battles over the futures of Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney come down to. The choice over whether to demote Greene by stripping her of committee assignments or Cheney by stripping her of her leadership post is really just a proxy war over fealty to Trumpism or an unfamiliar return to something at least resembling pre-Trump conservatism.
And just to be clear, Trump's obsession with stoking racial divisions and promoting fact-free conspiracies actually hasn't played particularly well at the polls. House Republicans lost a historic 41 seats to Democrats in 2018, with voters overwhelmingly rejecting Trump's desperately racist "caravan" ploy leading up to the midterm election. And while House Republicans won some of those seats back in 2020, most of them didn't do so based on targeting immigrants. "Of these 41 frontline Democrats, 31 won reelection and of the 10 losses only two (IA-01 and NM-02) races saw anti-immigrant ads that were unrelated to any specific vote they took in Congress, and one (CA-21) where the Republican David Valadao won back his seat employing pro-immigrant ads," writes America's Voice in an analysis of GOP ads over the two cycles.
On top of that, Trump also lost at the ballot box largely due to his dishonesty and penchant for pushing baseless conspiracies—in this case, his insistence that COVID-19 wasn't that deadly, shouldn't be taken seriously, and the threat was largely over, according to Trump's own pollster Tony Fabrizio.
Fabrizio's 27-page analysis found that Trump’s loss came down to him hemorrhaging support among white voters. The report focused on voters in 10 states, five of which flipped toward Biden—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. In those states, Biden held a double-digit advantage over Trump in terms of voters' views of his trustworthiness. But Trump's persistent coronavirus lies were really his undoing. "Coronavirus (CV) was the top issue in both state groups – more so in “Flipped” states – and Biden carried those voters nearly 3 to 1," the report concluded.
With those dynamics in mind, McCarthy—a natural-born GOP leader—has embraced the path of least resistance. Rather than using the moment to break with Trump and chart a new course for 2022, McCarthy rushed down to Mar-a-Lago last week to kiss Trump's ring and renew their vows. He then proceeded to give Rep. Greene a plum assignment on the House Education Committee despite her unconscionable harassment of school shooting victims and dangerous promotion of theories that mass shootings are staged. Greene—who has also endorsed assassinating Democrats—is truly a blight on the nation.
But since McCarthy didn't have the moral grounding or backbone to do the right thing, House Democrats have taken matters into their own hands. After Republicans proved unwilling and incapable of taking a stand for basic decency, Democrats announced they would take the highly unusual step of forcing a vote on stripping Greene of her committee assignments. That means every House Republican would have to go on record either rejecting Greene and potentially drawing a primary opponent or supporting Greene's abhorrent personal conduct and brand of politics—which in some districts could imperil their general election prospects.
The hapless McCarthy, who held a call with his caucus Wednesday, had a chance to lead his members out of this crisis by demoting Greene and ending the need for the explosive vote. As one might guess, he failed.
Following a phone call on Wednesday with McCarthy, Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced it was "clear there is no alternative to holding a Floor vote" and the resolution to strip Greene of her committee assignments would therefore take place on Thursday.
But congrats to McCarthy, who over the past week has ensured that 2022 will be an extravaganza of Trumpy division and conspiracy rather than a debate about ideas. He really dodged that bullet.