Voices: Republicans draw the line at antisemitism – but still can’t risk condemning Trump

Congress McCarthy (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Congress McCarthy (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Earlier this year, extremist Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene made an appearance at the America First Political Action Conference, organized by white supremacist and antisemite Nick Fuentes. Her House colleague Paul Gosar, also known for his far-right bent, addressed the conference via video.

In response, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy only offered tepid criticism of the two, declining to throw out his pledge to reinstate them on their committees when the GOP took the House majority. Mr McCarthy’s decision not to punish either Ms Greene or Mr Gosar is because he “intends to reward” some of the most racist members of Congress,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told me earlier this month.

As we’ve explained before here at Inside Washington, the truth is that Mr McCarthy needs Ms Greene’s support if he wants to become Speaker of the House. That’s why he’s kept her close instead of ostracizing her. If he becomes speaker – for now still a matter of “if”, rather than “when” – he will spend much of his time trying to keep her, Mr Gosar and fellow travelers like Lauren Boebert, Andy Biggs and Matt Gaetz happy, lest they lead a right-wing rebellion to depose him.

When the House returns later this week, don’t expect Mr McCarthy to denounce former president Donald Trump for his dinner with Mr Fuentes and Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, now known for his antisemitic rants.

Plenty of Republicans are exhausted with Mr Trump, many of them blaming his endorsements for blowing their chances in what should have been a layup midterm cycle. Some polling shows that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has closed the gap against the former president; surveys from some states, including Texas, have found that Republicans actually prefer the Florida governor. Mr Trump occupies no office at the moment, and thus has no formal ability to dictate the party line.

Still, Mr Trump is the de facto leader of the Republican Party. He is the most recently-elected Republican president; many Republican voters still believe that Democrats stole his re-election from him, and he has yet to begin traversing the country to make his case to voters.

All of this makes it much harder for GOP leaders to distance themselves from Mr Trump or to vocally denounce him. Retiring Congresswoman Liz Cheney may have denounced his dinner as “indefensible”, but her party colleagues clearly don’t care what she has to say since she overwhelmingly lost her Republican primary in Wyoming earlier this year. The same goes double for her January 6 select committee colleague Adam Kinzinger, who decided not to seek re-election.

Instead, Mr Trump’s allies only went so far. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel responded to the meeting by saying: “As I had repeatedly said, white supremacy, neo-Nazism, hate speech and bigotry are disgusting and do not have a home in the Republican Party. She stopped short of explicitly naming the former president.”

Mike Pompeo, who served as secretary of state in the Trump administration and is considering a White House run, denounced antisemitism on Twitter. Instead of focusing on the right-wing antisemitism of Mr Fuentes and his Groyper army or Ye, he talked about left-wing antisemitism and trumpeted his record of trying to ban funding for organizations that pushed to boycott, divest and sanction Israel. Like Ms McDaniel, he avoided condemning his former boss.

Similarly, The New York Times’s premier Trump chronicler Maggie Haberman tweeted that Mr DeSantis has not come out and denounced Mr Trump’s dinner in Palm Beach, despite it taking place in his state.

Getting rid of Mr Trump is most certainly in Republicans’ best collective interest. He cost them the House in 2018, the White House and the Senate in 2020, and contributed to Republicans gaining only a slim House majority in 2022. But any individual Republican who confronts him risks political death.