Republican Chaos Is a State of Being

The party’s status quo is, at best, dysfunctional, leaving the conservative movement with no winners save the opportunists taking advantage of the ideological civil war.

Eoin Higgins

U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) speaks in front of a poster-sized image of Reps. George Santos and Marjorie Taylor Greene cackling.
U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill on November 30, in Washington, D.C. Jeffries took questions on a range of issues, including the possible expulsion of Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) from the House of Representatives. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Let’s talk about hypocrisy.”

That’s how recently-ousted Congressman George Santos (R-N.Y.) opened a barrage of social media posts in early December attacking House Republicans after they voted for his expulsion over multiple ethics violations, including alleged financial malfeasance. Santos, who vowed to file ethics complaints against some of his former colleagues — including Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who he’s accused of insider trading — is just the latest example of the chaotic party politics that are defining modern-day conservatism.

Santos’ expulsion from the House (and his scorched-earth response) could have been a moment for Congressional Republicans to reset the narrative and present themselves to voters as the rational face of the conservative movement. Instead, the chaos surrounding the GOP House delegation has only amplified the party’s fractures.

While Santos is outing former colleagues and airing their dirty laundry, California’s outgoing Rep. Kevin McCarthy, recently replaced as Speaker of the House, went after his chief antagonist Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) for leading the charge to remove him. The exit interview” in which McCarthy referred to Gaetz as crazy” and implied there was an FBI investigation open on the Floridan congressman, came nearly a month to the day after he had a physical confrontation with another GOP rep, Tim Burchett of Tennessee. 

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Meanwhile, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is going on Tucker Carlson’s zombie streaming show on X (formerly Twitter) to attack other members of her caucus for not doing enough to block the Biden agenda. 

They do their committee hearing five-minute clips and post it all over social media and then they send red-meat fundraising emails,” Greene told Carlson at the end of November, and no one does a damn thing to stop the agenda that is literally killing Americans, killing Americans every day.”

These fractures are opening the door for far-right zealots in media and politics to further insert themselves into the process of converting the Republican Party proper into a cesspool of overt hate.

These fractures are opening the door for far-right zealots in media and politics to further insert themselves into the process of converting the Republican Party proper into a cesspool of overt hate.

Today’s Republican Party is dominated and led by a far-right faction that, in substance, isn’t much different from the GOP of the past few decades. There’s little daylight between the political philosophies of current Speaker Mike Johnson and past GOP leaders like Paul Ryan, Dennis Hastert or Newt Gingrich. All believe in slashing government services, all are heavily pro-military and all vehemently oppose the cause of labor. But unlike yesterday’s Republicans, today the party is much more open about saying the quiet part out loud — on race, gender and their fundamental rejection of democracy. They’re also increasingly divided on how best to achieve their common goals. Meanwhile, elements of the Right’s outer fringe are waiting in the wings to take advantage of any establishment misstep.

Outside of Congress, the breakdown is perhaps most evident around Donald Trump’s presidential run. The former president is the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination, and, short of him dying before the convention, there’s not much likely to stand in his way. (If you think Trump potentially becoming a convicted felon is likely to dampen his base’s support, I don’t know what to tell you.) His prospective VP shortlist, first reported by Axios earlier this month, is a rogue’s gallery of extremists, from Tucker Carlson to failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.

Former Rep. George Santos, looking like a cranky teenager in the U.S. Capitol on November 28, 2023.
Former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is seen in the U.S. Capitol on November 28. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Even in the unlikely event Trump loses the Republican primary, the candidates vying to replace him share similar beliefs, just without his commanding lead in the polls. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ opportunistic stunts, such as shipping asylum seekers to blue” states like Massachusetts, use the full weight of the state to crack down on marginalized communities for his own political gain. Trump administration alum Nikki Haley is proposing a ban on TikTok, on the head-scratching pretext that the social media app makes children 17% more antisemitic for every 30 minutes they spend on it. Vivek Ramaswamy, the son of immigrants, is calling to end birthright citizenship and is rapidly mainstreaming the antisemitic Great Replacement Theory.”

The ideologues in power in the party today didn’t become radicalized on their own; we have the fever swamp of both mainstream and alternative right-wing media to thank for that. But now, things have gotten so extreme on the airwaves that Fox News, though still a hotbed of conspiracy, hate and rage, looks like the rational voice of conservative thought compared to upstart, further-right alternatives like Newsmax, which are eating into Fox’s market share and growing in influence with leaders from around the GOP. 

It’s not the first time this has happened. After all, the modern GOP became a force in the 1960s and 70s through the power of direct mail stoking the fires of white resentment over desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement and transforming that political rage into electoral gain. Not much has changed at the baseline of Republican thought since then; nearly everything the party believes is reducible to the culture war over race relations, dress it up as they may in religion and economic issues. 

Culture war rhetoric aside, once in power reality tends to come crashing in. Republican leaders usually grit their teeth and pass spending bills, knowing that shutting down the government is a disastrous ploy that will cost them political support in the long and short runs alike. For those on the margins, this offers an opportunity to agitate, build their brands and maneuver themselves into positions of greater power and influence. 

Just weeks before Santos’s expulsion, after McCarthy was deposed as speaker, Texas’ Chip Roy railed against McCarthy’s successor, the far-right Christian nationalist Mike Johnson, for ultimately voting to pass a spending bill opposed by 93 of the 220 House Republicans who voted on it. Roy warned that Johnson shouldn’t expect much support going forward, and might even see his speakership on the chopping block if working with the White House became the norm. The threat shouldn’t go unheeded; a small minority of Republicans could easily shut the House down. 

The extremism of U.S. conservatives has manifested itself repeatedly in recent years—look to October for a recent example, when members of the GOP caucus who didn’t back Jim Jordan’s quixotic quest for the speakership received death threats.

More moderate Republicans could theoretically join Democrats to seat a compromise candidate as House speaker. But this overlooks the basic reality that making such a move would carry with it a non-insubstantial threat of violence from the GOP’s far-right base. The extremism of U.S. conservatives has manifested itself repeatedly in recent years—look to October for a recent example, when members of the GOP caucus who didn’t back Jim Jordan’s quixotic quest for the speakership received death threats.

If chaos is going to continue to be the natural state of being for the GOP, we can expect the musical chairs of extremism to continue. There’s nothing to suggest it will go otherwise. The only question that remains is how they come together, once again, when it counts — on November 5, 2024 — and what possibilities, if any, these fractures offer the Left. 

If there are soft Republican voters who can be peeled off, or at least demotivated to come out for the GOP, that’s likely a win at the local, state and federal levels. And the more confusion that exists on the Right can present possibilities to progressives if they can coalesce to push for political change, from labor policy to criminal system reform. It remains to be seen if those opportunities are there, and if the Left can avoid its own chaos in the meantime. Otherwise, the GOP chaos will just amount to more sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Eoin Higgins is a writer based in New England whose work has appeared in progressive and mainstream outlets across the country. He is writing a book on how left and left-adjacent media figures move to the right — and the money that’s helping to drive that shift. 

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