The 2020 electoral campaign saw the widespread proliferation of misinformation. According to Media Matters for America, 97 people who had either “endorsed or given credence to the conspiracy theory or promoted QAnon content” were running for elections in the U.S. Of these 97 candidates, 89 were members of the Republican Party. Two of them, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, now serve in Congress.
In June, Republican leaders actually responded appropriately to racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic comments made by Greene, showing some commitment to having accountability within the party. That being said, other Republican members of Congress still endorsed her even after she made these statements, showing a lack of unity in the party’s response to her hateful comments.
Since Greene’s election, the party has been less responsive to her inappropriate comments. Even after the revelation of information about her support for hateful ideas, violence against Democrats and baseless conspiracy theories, Republican leaders failed to speak out against her in a timely manner. Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy met with her this Wednesday and released a statement, mentioning that Greene recognizes “her past comments now have much greater meaning” and explicitly condemned her behavior. This was a necessary and appropriate action, but it came long after she became a controversial figure. It’s important to note that this meeting occurred following a threat from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to strip Greene of her committee assignments, which raises questions about whether or not McCarthy would have said anything had the House Democrats not taken action.
Furthermore, McCarthy’s comments alone appeared to have little impact on Green. Instead of initially apologizing for her behavior, she instead decided to circulate a new lie, claiming in a tweet that Democrats were targeting her because she’s “White, Woman, Wife, Mother, Christian, Conservative, Business Owner,” instead of responding to the accusations against her.
In a speech to the House before the vote on removing her from her committee assignments, Greene expressed regret for her past actions, but stopped short of issuing an apology. Furthermore, she claims that she had stopped believing QAnon’s theories a year after discovering them, but continued spreading conspiracy theories after the date she claims she stopped believing them, which raises the questions about the sincerity of her comments.
Greene did face substantial punishment from the House for actions, being stripped of her spots on the education and budget committees; however, virtually none of the members of her own party voted against her. Despite the objectively false and hateful nature of many of the comments Greene has previously made, all but 11 House Republicans voted against removing Greene from her committees.
The refusal of most Republican leaders to take substantial action against Greene despite the dangerous nature of the lies she has spread is extremely concerning. Given the comments Greene made after speaking with McCarthy, it is likely that verbal condemnation—which came much later than it should have—would not have been enough to have any significant impact on her behavior.
The decision of the House Democrats and 11 Republicans to remove Greene from her committee does send a message about what kind of behavior the House will tolerate; however, the refusal of Republican leaders to take substantial action when asked to by Pelosi—or, ideally, without Pelosi even asking—also sends a message about what kind of behavior Republican leaders are willing to tolerate.
The GOP’s accountability crisis began before Greene. Climate change denial is also a rampant problem within the party at the national level, with almost 60% of the Republican members of the 116th Congress believing that climate change is not real, despite hard scientific evidence and support from both the scientific community and the American public. Given that climate change has already begun to have a significantly negative impact on the global community, the denial of its existence by so many American leaders could not only have serious consequences for the country, but also for the world.
The GOP may be able to heal, and has shown modest signs of improvement in recent weeks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently compared conspiracy theories to being a “cancer” within the Republican Party. While his comments correctly identify some of the problematic ideas that gained traction in the Republican Party, he failed to explicitly name any individuals responsible for spreading lies, which made his comments substantially less effective.
With that being said, accountability still remains a major issue, and one that is setting bad precedents. 147 House Republicans and 10 senators voted against certifying the election results for Arizona and Pennsylvania in the 2020 election cycle despite the lack of evidence of any wide scale voter fraud. Numerous secretaries of state and federal officials have re-counted and vouched for the election results. Even after the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul, have refused to acknowledge that the 2020 election was legitimate. Their refusal to acknowledge the objective fact that there is currently no evidence of widespread voter fraud sets a bad example for future elections that could damage American democracy.
What is perhaps even more concerning than the proliferation of misinformation is the actions that have been taken against Republicans recently for attempting to improve internal accountability. Following her vote in favor of impeaching former President Donald Trump for the second time, there was an attempt to remove Republican House Conference Chair Liz Cheney from her position. While she was able to keep her role by a significant majority, 61 Republicans voted in favor of removing her. The attacks on Cheney’s position raise concerns about how other members of the party may be treated if they take a stand against their more prominent peers.
The Republican Party is facing a credibility crisis that could have a long lasting impact on the country. The GOP should not tolerate its members’ use of conspiracy theories and their rejection of objective facts. Republican leaders need to hold members accountable for spreading lies and speech that presents a threat to others, and publically speak out against those who engage in that dangerous kind of behavior. When it becomes clear that verbal accountability will not be adequate, the party should take substantial action against its members, such as restricting their ability to take part in the public policymaking process. While entities outside of the Republican Party can and should help with the accountability process, the party itself needs to improve accountability as well.