GOP eyes path to power by making peace with the far right

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., walks back to her office after speaking on the floor of the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

NEW YORK – Over the course of 24 hours this week, House Republicans voted to defend a freshman conspiracy theorist with a history of violent rhetoric and a mainstream party leader who backed Donald Trump's impeachment.

The seemingly conflicting moves signal that Republican leaders, particularly in the House, are betting they can return to political power by cobbling together a coalition featuring both pro-Trump extremists and those who abhor them. The votes also suggest that Washington Republicans are unable, or unwilling, to purge far-right radicals from their party, despite some GOP leaders' best wishes.

“I do think as a party, we have to figure out what we stand for,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., warning Republicans to “get away from members dabbling in conspiracy theories."

House Democrats voted Thursday to do what their Republican counterparts would not the night before, stripping first-term Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., of her committee assignments and leaving her effectively powerless to influence policymaking. The move follows outrage over Greene's use of social media to promote bigotry, anti-Semitism and violence against Democrats linked to the pro-Trump conspiracy theory group known as QAnon.

The Georgia congresswoman delivered a speech on the House floor before Thursday's vote indicating that she stopped believing in QAnon in 2018. She declined to apologize for her specific claims, which included suggesting that a wealthy Jewish family may have used space lasers to ignite California forest fires for financial gain.

“I never said any of these things since I have been elected for Congress. These were words of the past, and these things do not represent me," Greene said, concluding her remarks by likening U.S. media reports to QAnon conspiracy theories.

QAnon’s core theory embraces the lie that Democrats are tied to a global sex-trafficking ring that also involves Satanism and cannibalism.

The GOP's high-stakes reckoning comes as the party struggles to move past Trump's norm-shattering presidency and the deadly attack on the Capitol he inspired in its final days. With Democrats now controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, the Republican Party's political success — and maybe its survival — depends on its ability to unify its warring factions. And whether Washington Republicans like it or not, those who think like Greene make up a significant portion of the party's base.