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McConnell Condemns QAnon, Except When He Doesn’t

His denunciation of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene means nothing if he won’t apply the same standards to Donald Trump.
February 4, 2021
McConnell Condemns QAnon, Except When He Doesn’t
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following the weekly Senate Republican caucus luncheon on November 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger / Getty)

So now Mitch McConnell tells us that Marjorie Taylor Greene’s views are a “cancer” on the Republican party and on the country. Odd that he neglected to make that point when one of his preferred candidates in the Georgia runoff, Kelly Loeffler, campaigned with Greene.

McConnell, who swallowed his concerns about Greene when his own power was at stake, is now leaning heavily on the other body to clean up its act, denouncing “looney lies and conspiracy theories.” McConnell’s deputy in Senate leadership, John Thune, chimed in too, describing the challenge the Republican party faces: “They have to decide who they want to be,” he told CNN, “Do they want to be the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility, free markets, peace through strength, and pro life, or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon?”

The party’s dilemma, we’re told, is captured by two members of Congress. On the one hand, you have Liz Cheney, the three-term, at-large representative from Wyoming and the third-ranking Republican in the House. A former deputy assistant secretary of state, she is known for her interest in national security, child protection, and, until the attack on the Capitol, reliable support for Donald Trump.

Cheney faced a challenge to her position in party leadership because she voted to impeach Trump after the attack on Congress. The Wyoming GOP put out a statement calling Cheney’s vote to hold Trump accountable for the worst sedition in 160 years a “travesty.” The execrable Matt Gaetz flew from his home district in the Florida panhandle to Cheyenne to hold a rally against her, which featured a phone-in from Donald Trump, Jr. After a marathon House Republican Conference meeting Wednesday, Cheney ultimately survived the attempt to oust her by a vote of 145 to 61.

And then, on the other hand, we have Marjorie Taylor Greene, representative of all that is insane in America. She believes that the Parkland shootings were staged, that QAnon is right about pedophilic cannibals populating the Democratic party, that Nancy Pelosi should be murdered, that Trump won the 2020 election, and that Jewish space lasers caused the California wildfires last year. (You don’t think fires start themselves, do you?) Her Republican primary opponent, Dr. John Cowan, described her this way: “I’m a neurosurgeon. I diagnose crazy every day. It took five minutes talking to her to realize there were bats in the attic.”

Weighing Cheney against Greene, the Republican party has dithered. At the same meeting in which Republicans voted to keep Cheney as their conference chair, they also hailed Greene with a standing ovation. In responding to demands that the party strip Greene of her committee assignments as they did to Steve King, Andy Biggs of the ironically named “Freedom Caucus” fumed:

The Democrats’ moves to strip Congresswoman Greene of her committee assignments for thoughts and opinions she shared as a private citizen before coming to the U.S. House is unprecedented and unconstitutional. All self-righteous Republicans, beware: If this can happen to Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, it can happen to any one of us.

Well, there you have it—the perfect path to discrediting all Republicans. Biggs, Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and others are throwing their arms around Greene and confirming that her crazed rantings are indistinguishable from other Republicans. Fox host Tucker Carlson made a similar case recently when he mocked those who warn of Greene’s vicious, contemptible conspiracy-mongering:

This new member of Congress has barely even voted, she just got there the other day. But CNN says she has bad opinions. Therefore, she’s the greatest threat we face. Now if you’re skeptical about any of this, our advice is keep it to yourself. Because free inquiry is dead, unauthorized questions are hate speech.

Welcome to anti-anti-QAnon. “Free inquiry is dead,” proclaims Carlson to an estimated 5 million viewers. And by the way, not everything right-wing politicians and pundits oppose is “unconstitutional.” Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution provides that “Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.” Greene richly deserves expulsion, yet the present proposal is only to limit her participation in committees.

We have reached the farcical moment when even to criticize a tinfoil-hat conspiracist is denounced as “silencing.” No one is fining or jailing Greene for her opinions. To deny her a seat on the House Education and Labor Committee is not exactly the Gulag.

Look, it’s great that a number of Senate Republicans are speaking forcefully about quarantining QAnonism. Todd Young was refreshingly frank:

The people of her congressional district, it’s their prerogative if they want to abase themselves by voting to elect someone who indulges in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and all manner of other nonsense. But I’ve got no tolerance for people like that. In terms of the divisions within our party, she’s not even part of the conversation, as far as I’m concerned.

But these senators might want to consider the elephant in the room. Who phoned Marjorie Taylor Greene to express support after her “Rothschild space laser” comments became public? Who called her a “rising star” of the GOP? Who said QAnon people “love their country?” And who is it that all of the aforementioned senators seem poised to acquit again?

Greene is the easy target for these newly fastidious Republicans. They opened the tent long ago to the villains, liars, and conspiracists when they welcomed the ringmaster. With one side of their mouths, they denounce the looney haters, but with the other, they seize a fig leaf to disguise their fear of convicting Trump. If they want to cleanse the Republican party of the poisons that are rapidly killing it, they can vote to hold the man who first infected it with QAnon, “election fraud,” and much more, accountable. That, not restraining Greene, is the lustration the party needs.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is Policy Editor of The Bulwark, a nationally syndicated columnist, and host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast. She can be reached at [email protected].