With every new outrageous act, Republicans have followed the same pattern—a momentary drawing back while feigning outrage, a testing of the waters while indicating that whatever happened was not so bad, then a plunge into outright support. And with that, the horror show version of the Overton Window moves on. That pattern practically defines the lives of Republicans like Lindsey Graham, who has spent his career porpoising from moments of pretending to have morals, to abandoning that pretense the moment it became inconvenient.
But Gosar, Biggs, Greene, Matt Gaetz, and Lauren Boebert, supporting the violent overthrow of the government that pays them is a full-time job. After January 6, where the nation looked on aghast at the results of Republicans’ embrace of fascist rhetoric, all of these members are heading … up.
This week brought the incredible spectacle of Gaetz—who has made it a point to attend events popular with the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters—traveling to Wyoming to call out Rep. Liz Cheney for daring to speak up against the MAGA insurgency. Gaetz’s visit was a direct in-your-face slap to every Republican who was still holding on to the idea that they could continue as a normal political party. The Republican Party of 2016 no longer exists. It’s not even clear that the party of Jan. 5 is still in sight.
Gaetz and Co. aren’t cowed by their close association with a murderous mob. They are empowered by it. Now they’re relishing the role of enforcer, bringing the message of extremism or else to every Republican who dares think about stepping back from the brink. Gosar isn’t in trouble for declaring that a second Civil War was underway. Boebert’s not in trouble for coordinating with insurgents from the House chamber. The core group of the worst in Congress are not just raising money off their calls for violence, they’re rising in the ranks.
Stunts like Gaetz’s flight from 2,000 miles from his own state to rile up Wyoming Republicans, and state parties acting to call out the own reps for having the gall to recognize the results of the election, have the party divided not between traditional Republicans and Trump supporters, but between those trembling in terror and the cruising sharks. For all intents, the white supremacist caucus is running the party, because the rest have absolutely no idea what to do. They have no leadership, nothing that’s even close to unity, and a sinking feeling that they either slap on an armband, heil Trump, or dissolve.
In the wake of Jan. 6, Republicans had an opportunity to not just rip their party away from Trump, but to draw a line around the cancer in their own ranks. Instead the party has metastasized. At this point, it’s unclear that any surgery, no matter how radical, can save them.