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 respond appropriately to racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic comments made by Greene, showing some commitment to having accountability within the party. With 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 slow to respond 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, Greene has continued to show an unapologetic attitude about her past remarks and is instead spreading a new lie, which raises the question of whether or not her private conversation with McCarthy—or his public statement—are going to have any impact on her behavior moving forward. Instead of issuing some form of apology for her past behavior, she is now claiming that the Democrats are trying to take away her committee assignment because of her identity, not because of what she’s done. After meeting with McCarthy, she claimed in a tweet that the Democrats take issue with her because she’s “White, Woman, Wife, Mother, Christian, Conservative, Business Owner,” showing that Greene is choosing to circulate a new myth instead of responding to the accusations against her.
Political parties should be able to publicly hold their own members accountable for spreading misinformation, inciting violence and making hateful commentary without being threatened by an opposing party.
The proliferation of conspiracy theorists into the GOP’s ranks is not the only misinformation problem facing the Republican Party. 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.
In former President Donald Trump’s second House impeachment vote, 10 Republicans took a stand against him, showing that they were willing to publicly recognize his role in the attacks on the nation’s Capitol and publicly pursue accountability measures. With that being said, the vast majority of Republicans still didn’t vote in favor of impeachment, demonstrating that accountability is still an issue.
What is perhaps the most concerning is the fact that 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 of 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, without presenting any evidence supporting their claims. Their refusal to acknowledge the objective fact that there is currently no evidence of widespread voter fraud sets a bad precedent for future elections that could damage American democracy.
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 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.