The show of force from Donald Trump‘s most ardent congressional supporters started almost immediately after 13 House Republicans voted in favor of a large infrastructure measure this month, handing President Biden one of his most significant triumphs of his presidency.
“Traitor Republicans,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) declared in a series of tweets that included their office phone numbers after saying that all members of her party who “hand over their voting card to Nancy Pelosi to pass Biden’s Communist takeover of America will feel the anger of the GOP voter.”
Others spoke out as well. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) threatened to “primary the hell” any Republican who voted for the bill.
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said on Twitter, “Time to name names and hold these fake republicans accountable.” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) recently told a pro-Trump podcast that there was never a moment during the infrastructure debate in which Republicans could collaborate with Democrats: “They were going to win it all, or we were going to win it all.”
The ongoing dispute in the House GOP conference about how and if to penalize members who support anything endorsed by Democrats demonstrates how an emboldened core of far-right House Republicans is gaining clout in Congress. These legislators are portraying themselves as a branch of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign, with the goal of further purifying the House GOP conference.
This MAGA team is mostly made up of newly elected lawmakers and individuals who lack typical power structures such as committee chairmanships or leadership positions. However, they have risen to prominence — particularly on the political right — because to enormous social media followings, regular appearances on pro-Trump media, and burgeoning funding networks that benefit from every controversial tweet or TV hit.
Most importantly, they have the backing of the former president, the most popular person in the Republican Party, who celebrates them and repeats their heated speech at rallies.
They have grown in power thanks to the support of House Republican leaders, who have either endorsed their viewpoints or kept relatively mute when other members of the party objected to their approach. And they’re exercising their power as polls show Republicans on pace to take control of the House next year, giving them a potentially crucial voice in whether House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) becomes speaker.
In addition to targeting Republicans who supported the infrastructure bill, which triggered a wave of threatening calls to their offices, these lawmakers have led the charge in recent weeks to recast the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the effort to overturn the 2020 election results as defiant acts by patriots, not insurrectionists; oppose mask mandates in the House; and defend Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-AZ) for posting an altered anime video depicting him killing.
When Democrats tried to penalize them for violent or extreme statements, practically the entire Republican conference rallied to their side, demonstrating their power or fear of crossing them.
When the House voted in February to remove Greene from her committee assignments, just 11 Republicans voted with the Democrats, despite the fact that other GOP members publicly condemned her previous violent and conspiratorial remarks. This week, that number decreased to two on a motion to reprimand Gosar and remove him from his committees, and most members’ public statements focused on targeting Democrats rather than Gosar’s behavior.
“I think I have the support nationally, and it’s because I speak what regular people say. I speak what Republicans say at home, and you know, at dinner. I’m saying what they say in their breakfast meetings before work,” Greene said. “I’m saying what they’re saying at church and saying what they’re saying in their Bible studies. I’m saying what these parents are saying, when they’re going to their school boards.”
The impact of Trump supporters reflects the structure of today’s Republican Party, which regards the MAGA squad as superstars rather than the fringe they may have represented in the Reagan, Bush, and McCain eras.
For House Republicans, this means that members who have allied with white supremacists, used violent political rhetoric, spread Trump’s false claims about the election, and compared pandemic public health restrictions to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews are becoming a larger part of the party’s public face — a role that may only grow if Trump continues to embrace and publicly support them.
“It stuns me and surprises me that some of the voters still send these people back. But that’s their choice and, as frustrating as that is to me, if that’s who they sent, then their voices are going to be heard here,” said Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), whose views align more with the party’s pre-Trump brand of conservatism. “It’s the job of the voters to discipline — it’s the job of the voters to decide who gets to come [to Congress] and who doesn’t get to come.”
Some House Republicans pushed back against the notion that Greene, Boebert, and their colleagues wield undue power, noting that none of the 13 members who voted for the infrastructure bill have been punished in any way by the party, even though their offices have received threatening and vulgar messages from voters.
“I don’t think it represents the mainstream, and sometimes the minority part of a party is the loudest,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), who voted for the roads, bridges and broadband funding.
The MAGA squad’s heightened position in the party was on show Thursday, when Trump and McCarthy flocked to their side a day after the House censured Gosar.
Rather than move on from the issue about Gosar’s actions, McCarthy told reporters that if Republicans regain control of the House in the November elections, he would not only restore Gosar and Greene’s committee assignments, but will also likely give them more prominent roles.
“They may have other committee assignments. They may have better committee assignments,” he said. “I think with Gosar, those are the ones he wants. Taylor Greene, she was just a freshman. I know she has requested others. She has the right to serve on committees.”
Later in the day, Trump gave Gosar a resounding endorsement. The former president made it plain that he supported the troubled Republican, who has sparked controversy at almost every step, including a major role this year at an event held by an activist who has championed racial segregation and dismissed the Holocaust.
“Congressman Paul A. Gosar has been a loyal supporter of our America First agenda, and even more importantly, the USA,” Trump said in a statement. “Paul is a Congressman who is highly respected in Arizona, strong on Crime, Borders, our Military, and our Veterans. He continually fights for Lower Taxes, Less Regulations, and our great, but under siege, Second Amendment. Paul A. Gosar has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
Trump’s backing has been critical to the group’s ascent and in stopping McCarthy and other GOP leaders from responding to their radical and provocative rhetoric.
Even though Trump is not personally close to Gosar, Trump told aides on Wednesday that he was pleased McCarthy kept his members united in favor of Gosar throughout the censure vote. According to these aides, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to characterize his private statements, he has grumbled at times that McCarthy does not treat Greene, who acts as an opening act at the former president’s rallies, as well as he should.
According to a participant in the room for the conversation, during one of his last meetings in the White House, he complimented her to McCarthy and others as “terrific.”
“Isn’t Marjorie Taylor Greene wonderful? Isn’t she terrific?” Trump said.
According to two Trump advisors, Trump has talked with Greene the most out of the group of House loyalists, often screaming about Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and his choice not to endorse Trump’s phony allegations about election fraud in the state. Because she is popular with the audience, the former president’s team has invited her to several rallies, breaching the traditional restriction of having speakers solely from the state where the event is located.
Others in the organization have Trump connections on whom they may depend.
Cawthorn spoke at Trump’s 2020 reelection convention, while Boebert recently traveled to Mar-a-Lago for a dinner and photographed with Trump wearing a “Let’s Go Brandon!” dress, which is code for a harsh attack of Biden. She has previously attended the club, and Trump has hailed her as amusing, but they do not communicate on a daily basis, according to individuals acquainted with their connection.
Gaetz has been an outspoken supporter of Trump since his election to the House in 2017. He was a leading defender of former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s refusal to cooperate with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
The House voted in October to hold Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for failing to comply with the committee’s subpoena, and the Justice Department indicated this month that it would prosecute him for failing to cooperate with the panel’s request for information.
Gaetz is being investigated by the Justice Department for an alleged sexual contact with an underage girl. The Florida congressman claimed that he is being unjustly singled out because of his strong ties with Trump.
Gaetz and Greene, along with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), have also been leading proponents, with the support of popular Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, of an effort to rally Republicans to the defense of people arrested for their roles in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, likening them to political prisoners and visiting the jail where many are being held to argue they are facing harsh incarceration conditions because of their support for Trump.
“If you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants,” Greene said during a late-October appearance on Bannon’s podcast, discussing the attack on the Capitol and the summer of 2020 racial justice protests in cities across the country. “So there is a clear difference between Jan. 6 and the Marxist, communist revolution, the antifa, BLM Democrat ground troops waged on the American people in 2020.”
According to three sources familiar with the conversation, McCarthy attempted to soften the criticism thrown at the members during a closed-door meeting of the conference last week, saying that it was a diversion from the party’s attempts to concentrate its criticism on Democrats.
McCarthy’s soft touch with Trump supporters hasn’t gained him their love, and some have stated they wouldn’t vote for him as speaker if Republicans win the house next year.