By Brian Klaas
On May 24, 2017, a Republican candidate for Congress assaulted a journalist. He grabbed the reporter’s neck with both hands, slammed him to the ground and began punching him. What did the journalist do to provoke the attack? He had asked the candidate a question about his position on health-care reform. The candidate — who initially lied about the attack — was arrested. He ultimately pleaded guilty to assault.
What happened next illustrates the core problem with the modern, Trumpified Republican Party. The candidate who performed the assault was elected in the 2017 special election, reelected in 2018, and is now Montana’s governor. His name is Greg Gianforte.
Gianforte’s ascent tells you everything you need to know about today’s Republican Party. Disqualifying, extremist behavior isn’t just tolerated in the modern GOP — it’s encouraged. If America is going to have a functioning center-right party — and it sorely needs one for democracy to survive — then Republicans need to find a way to stop rewarding violent thugs, crackpot conspiracists, and those who troll Democrats on social media rather than solving problems.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and recently elected Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) offer an instructive comparison. Before winning a seat in Congress, Boebert had been arrested and summoned at least four times. Another time, she failed to show up for a court appointment, telling the judge she had forgotten which day of the week it was. “I am now aware today is Friday,” she explained.
Nonetheless, Boebert knocked off Scott R. Tipton, a five-term Republican incumbent in the primary. Tipton was unapologetically pro-Trump, but not extreme enough for Boebert.
Since getting elected, Boebert has established herself as a GOP firebrand. She soared to national prominence with a viral campaign ad in which she pledged to “carry my Glock” to Congress. Just hours before a violent mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6., Boebert wrote on Twitter that “Today is 1776.” When the mob left, Boebert then voted to overturn the results of November’s presidential election. Despite being one of the most junior figures in the House, she has been rewarded with high-profile interviews on Fox News. More than a half-million people follow her on Twitter. She is a national Republican star because of her extremism.