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How dangerous are the MAGA mavericks? Crazy politicians are nothing new

In America, this is normal. Credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

In America, this is normal. Credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images


July 25, 2022   5 mins

The Republican House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, is a political lifer who has represented the most conservative district in California for the past 15 years. He has every reason to feel confident about his party’s future. According to most polls, the House of Representatives will return to Republican control after the November 2022 elections, which means that McCarthy will replace Nancy Pelosi as the most powerful person in the chamber.

Yet McCarthy also appears to face a big problem. He already can’t control some of his wilder junior colleagues, including far-Right representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, who are a constant source of embarrassing headlines. Now, a new wave of MAGA mavericks — including Mayra Flores, a “far-Right Latina” known for sharing QAnon hashtags — are on their way to join them. 

There’s no doubt that these new Republican members will be controversial. But the question for followers of the American political scene is, how much will they really matter? A quick look at the recent history of the GOP suggests that the answer is: not much. Loose-cannon legislators are nothing new, and while they might cause headaches for party elders, they almost always vote with mainstream Republicans on the issues that really matter to the party. In other words, for all the sound and fury about an emerging QAnon caucus, don’t expect the Congressional Republican Party to change much any time soon. 

McCarthy’s trouble with his party’s Right began in earnest earlier this year, when an audio recording circulated in which he could be heard discussing the need for Donald Trump to resign after the January 6 riot. Whereas most in the press derided McCarthy for his cowardice in only criticising Trump behind closed doors, some of the Trumpiest members of the House saw the recording as evidence of McCarthy’s disloyalty. The minority leader drew harsh criticism from the far-Right Freedom Caucus, a group founded in 2015 to advocate for an “open, accountable, and limited government” that now serves as the home base for many of the party’s most truculent young members. 

The Freedom Caucus is certainly a colourful group. Take Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who chanted “build the wall” in unison at President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in March. Later that month, the pair found themselves in a heated argument about Greene’s decision to attend the America First Political Action Conference in February alongside Iowa Congressman Steve King. King, of course, was taken off U.S. House committees by McCarthy and the GOP leadership after asking when the term “white supremacist” became offensive. 

King, however, is a moderate compared to the conference’s host, Nick Fuentes, a Holocaust denier and veteran of the 2017 Charlottesville riots who claims that “having sex with women is gay”. Breaking bread with Fuentes was apparently too much for Boebert. But Boebert is no stranger to controversy herself. In addition to voicing support for QAnon, the Colorado Republican has recently come under fire for abandoning her then-sister-in-law after a 2020 off-roading accident that occurred two months prior to her victory in a Republican congressional primary. She’s also been fending off salacious — and seemingly spurious — rumours that she used to work as a sugar-daddy call girl.

The Freedom Caucus was also home to Madison Cawthorn, the troubled MAGA stalwart who recently lost his primary after falling afoul of the DC Republican establishment, which he had accused of tolerating orgies and cocaine use among its members. The establishment fought back with a classic “dirty tricks” operation, digging up salacious rumours and passing them on to sympathetic journalists. The same American Muckrakers PAC that is now attempting to smear Boebert released documents and videos suggesting Cawthorn was sexually harassing his male second cousin, and someone leaked to The Daily Beast that Cawthorn’s chief of staff had received tens of thousands of dollars in outside money beyond what is permitted by House ethics rules. Cawthorn, having made himself into an annoyance, was unceremoniously shoved out of Congress. 

As strange as that saga was, Cawthorn’s brief tenure speaks to the fundamental strength of party politics in the American system. Crazies may get elected, but they live and die based on their ability to make themselves useful to the party. Rising MAGA candidates such as New York’s Carl Paladino, who called Adolf Hitler “the kind of leader we need”, and Washington’s Loren Culp, a former police chief who tweeted his support for hanging a black man who could be seen on video pushing a senior citizen down the stairs, may generate bad press, but they will vote with the party much of time — and if they make more trouble than they’re worth, they’ll be kicked to the curb. Trump himself was a shining example of this phenomenon: Although he exasperated Republican grandees, he was able to secure their support by pushing party priorities like tax cuts and conservative Supreme Court appointments.

This isn’t a new problem. Every few years, a new generation of GOP radicals emerges to shock liberal sensibilities, but the party’s priorities remain the same. The “Republican Revolution” of 1994, engineered by Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich, broke the so-called “conservative coalition” of conservative Republicans and “boll weevil Democrats” that had worked together since the New Deal. But while Gingrich’s “Contract with America” contained novel proposals like term limits, these never came to fruition. Instead, the party hewed closely to its post-Barry Goldwater identity: Bill Clinton was forced to move to the right on issues such as crime and welfare, and his Republican successor, George W. Bush, worked with the GOP to pass sweeping individual tax cuts, expand the surveillance state, and conduct military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some legislators elected in 1994 evolved into establishment figures and major power brokers, while others were quickly defeated following gaffes and controversies.

The Tea Party movement, which coalesced in 2009 following CNBC reporter Rick Santelli’s call for a “Chicago Tea Party” to chasten big government, underwent a similar evolution. It failed miserably in its goal of shrinking the US federal government, but it succeeded in launching new Republican political careers, including those of pundit Glenn Beck, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and the aforementioned Iowa Congressman Steve King. At the time, some commentators saw the Tea Party as the voice of America’s forgotten heartland, but political scientist Robert Putnam was nearer to the mark when he observed that the Tea Party’s activists were simply Republican voters who wanted increased border security, restrictions on immigration, and a renewed infusion of some elements of traditional Christianity into public life. They were, in Putnam’s terms, “super-Republicans”, even if the rhetoric they used sounded alarmist, extremist, or unorthodox.

Even Trump himself — the seeming bĂȘte noire of Jeb Bush and all the other corporate Republicans he crushed in the 2016 primary — was another outgrowth of the Tea Party era. His rise to fame was built on the back of a quixotic campaign to determine the national origins of then-President Barack Obama coupled with clever tweets about things like Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank’s protruding nipples. Trump’s own reputation as a charismatic, unorthodox speaker with a socially libertine lifestyle led many to believe he could be all things to all MAGA hat wearers. But controversies and crises aside, this avowed fan of “Two Corinthians” came through on taxes and abortion, the core Republican political issues since Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in 1980. Despite his rhetorical disdain for Mitt Romney and other old-guard leaders, Trump, once in office, delivered the goods that the party had long promised its base.

At the end of the day, then, Kevin McCarthy need not worry about what Carl Paladino and Loren Culp will do to the Republican Party. It will keep doing what it does best, asserting issues of public morality and low taxation that resonate with its long-term base, which is gradually assimilating more Latino voters. In doing so, it will be reasserting the power of historical continuity and frustrating the hopes for a more genuinely populist course espoused by “post-left dissidents” and members of the “New Right”. But McCarthy, who has served in Congress through the Speaker of the House tenures of John Boehner and Paul Ryan, surely knows that failing to find the right mix of velvet glove and iron fist could empower challengers and cost him his own position of authority. Political fortunes are always rising and falling in America, even if the partisan song remains the same. 


Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work

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Ray Mullan
Ray Mullan
1 year ago

After several years of hysterical overreaction in the progressive media, this sketchy demonisation of conservatives as “alt–right” and “far–right” has long since become more than a little tired — Certainly more so when we see the appallingly entitled behaviour of progressives applauded by the shills of an increasingly irrelevant legacy media.
I have heard the twice–mentioned Marjorie Taylor Greene speak on Tim Pool’s podcast several times this past year (this episode from just last Thursday) and she seems like a 
 well 
 very straightforwardly normal woman with her head screwed on.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
1 year ago
Reply to  Ray Mullan

Amen, brother. One could anticipate just what one got when clicking on this click-bait. WYSIWYG.
“Far right,” “crazy,” etc. It’s witless and lazy.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chauncey Gardiner
Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
1 year ago

It’s “analysis”, apparently. Says so in a big black box with white letters at the top, so it has to be that.

Last edited 1 year ago by Dustin Needle
Gil Harris
Gil Harris
1 year ago

The democrat party IS the official party of crazies—but God forbid we call them out. Ultra leftists constitute more than a third of the dems in Congress. But that is considered just fine for the mainstream media which sadly overlaps with Unherd a bit too much in terms of fairness on this issue. In November, the American people will decide. The Red Wave is clearly coming; just how large it will be is the only question.

Last edited 1 year ago by Gil Harris
Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago

Now can we have an article about the “crazies” in the Democratic Party? Neither party is free of them.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

We’ve had a load of them on unherd – so quit the whattaboutery and suck it up. Half of the Republican party are in thrall to a narcissistic moron who tried to throw democracy under a bus to remain in power.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
1 year ago

Maybe I judge people too harshly for sounding like they’re writing from a far-trade coffee roaster in Portland, Oregon but in this case my suspicions may be reasonable.

Now, a new wave of MAGA mavericks — including Mayra Flores, a “far-Right Latina” known for sharing QAnon hashtags — are on their way to join them

I have heard of Mayra Flores but I have not heard the terms “far-Right Latina” or “QAnon hashtags” before. And for good reason. My search for an explanation led me to this peculiar piece in Rolling Stone magazine which is ostensibly about QAnon hashtags but, through some editorial miracle, doesn’t provide any examples of QAnon hashtags posted by Ms. Flores or any other far-Right Latina. It’s like the epidemic of “racist tweets” after England’s loss in the Euro 2020 football final. We’ll just have to take the word of the Guardian editorial staff that it’s really a thing. Anyway, this is a long way of saying, I don’t know who Oliver Bateman is, but I know my time is too valuable to find out.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sisyphus Jones
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago
Reply to  Sisyphus Jones

Most people struggle to perceive, let alone understand or correct, their own biases. The modern ‘left’ whether it’s called progressive, or socialist, or labor, or liberal, or w/e is best defined, not by party or by policy, but by the use of and adherence to collectivist logic, the individual’s rights are inferior to collective wants, needs, and goals, i.e. people should all wear masks not because they fear COVID or are at risk, but in order to protect those who are, and society as a whole. Collectivists are at a disadvantage as they have to convince everybody or at least a large majority to go along with their scheme or it becomes impossible. They are also the least likely to notice or care how their embrace of collectivist logic affects their perceptions of reality. They are the most likely to subtly or less than subtly enforce compliance to particular dogmas amongst themselves. The liberal echo chamber is a beast that feeds itself.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Jolly
Dave Corby
Dave Corby
1 year ago

I am excited by Mayra Flores and all of these new so-called ‘far-right’ members.
My experience is that Latinos are mostly God-fearing hard-working people with strong family values—natural members of the Republican party if they did but recognise it.
The constitution is a fabulous document and if more Latinos see how it can be a blessing to them then the USA is saved from its current dire socialist trajectory.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago

“the far-Right Freedom Caucus”
” political scientist Robert Putnam was nearer to the mark when he observed that the Tea Party’s activists were simply Republican voters who wanted increased border security, restrictions on immigration, and a renewed infusion of some elements of traditional Christianity into public life.”
Ignore this author. He knows nothing about Republican politics.
The TEA in TEA party stands for Taxed Enough Already. It was a completely grass-roots movement formed arond this single issue. It got tremendous support and as soon as it was seen to be a powerful movement wannabe bandleaders jumped out in front of the parade (Sarah Palin and others) and attached all sorts of conservative issues to it. In effect this turned it into a run-of-the-mill conservative movement and it slowly faded away.
Similarly, the Freedom Caucus was originally a libertarian-minded group that later expanded its goal of shrinking government by focusing on immigration and other culture war issues.
The real crime is that both of these movements were co-opted by more conservative status quo Republicans and essentially neutered of their original function.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

I stopped bothering to read this article when it referred to the Freedom Caucus as ‘far right’ and as evidence cited Wikipedia.
Edit: Even the Wikipedia page (quite unexpectedly) doesn’t refer to the Freedom Caucus as far right.

Last edited 1 year ago by robertdkwright
0 0
0 0
1 year ago

Not sure what “far right” means. Is there a “near right”? If there’s a “far left”, does that mean there’s a “near left.” Far or near, both parties are mirror images of the other, including the fact that both have problems with dissidents i.e.Taylor-Greene on the one hand and AOC on the other.
And both parties, I might add, are totally useless.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 year ago

“She’s also been fending off salacious — and seemingly spurious â€” rumours that she used to work as a sugar-daddy call girl.”
Deft use of the switchblade. Well done.

Donald Sheltic
Donald Sheltic
1 year ago

The problem presented by the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene (and AOC) is that they are the fools who cheerfully give the other team something motivational to post in their locker room. So that each wing of the country becomes increasingly convinced that all those tens of millions of voters who voted for the other party are not just wrong, they are downright evil.
This is rather new, in that new communications technologies provide amplifiers for these fringe types, quite a contrast from the Walter Cronkite era. So I would not look to history for reassurance.
Of course, all of this is great by the anti-democratic left and the anti-democratic right. The more people so enraged by crazies of the opposition, the more people unable to think in a meaningful way about our nation’s actual problems. And if the nation doesn’t address its problems, then the Greenes and the AOCs can dream that out of the ashes of our nation will rise a whole new America, more in their image.
I am not at all reassured that the crazies do, in the end, vote for their party. That’s not the point at all. I want America to be great, for my kids and grandkids, as it has been through my life. Ever more extreme partisanship is highly unlikely to bring that about.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago
Reply to  Donald Sheltic

Exactly right – thank you Donald. The calm centre needs to be regained, politics is not a sport, let alone a blood sport. Both sides need to call out the excesses of their own party – Democrats need to stop with the authoritarian political correctness, the absolute assumption of moral superiority; and the Republicans need to get wise to and expunge Trumpism and the deep intellectual, political and psychological corruption it brings (most comments here are not reassuring). Both parties need to clean up the political systems and foster creative co-operation instead of….whatever we have now.

Last edited 1 year ago by Dominic A
Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
1 year ago

Someone should write a QAnon sing along.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sisyphus Jones
Vince B
Vince B
1 year ago

These people are dangerous because they are in positions of national leadership and do not take that role, or their duties, seriously.
Taylor Greene, as just one example, merely wants to “own the libs,” and send them to their fainting couches. If she truly believes that Jews are using lasers in space to start forest fires, she is clinically insane. But of course she doesn’t believe that. She, like others profiled here, just want to signal to other angry, alienated Normal Americans, “It’s all over. You owe your nation and yourself nothing but a lark.” It is a form of nihilism.