House Republicans Get Cranked Up

QAnon is headed for Capitol Hill.

Trump supporters hold up phones displaying QAnon slogans, a sea of red MAGA hats in the background
Supporters of President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Las Vegas on Feb. 21. Mario Tama/Getty Images

After winning a runoff for the Republican nomination in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District Tuesday night, Marjorie Taylor Greene delivered a message for her soon-to-be colleague in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“She’s a hypocrite,” Greene said. “She’s anti-American. And we’re going to kick that bitch out of Congress!”

Unsporting though it may have been, this manages to be one of the less controversial of many infamous remarks from Greene, an effective lock to win November’s general election in her deep-red, northwest Georgia district. Greene, a construction executive, is someone who over the years has enjoyed uploading videos to Facebook about whatever’s on her mind. She described the 2018 midterms as “an Islamic invasion of our government,” said Black people are “held slaves to the Democratic Party,” and accused George Soros, the Democratic megadonor, who is Jewish, of being a Nazi. More of these videos are being unearthed by the day. Among the latest hits: Greene has had some questions about “the so-called plane that crashed into the Pentagon.”

Where Greene has broken new ground, though, is in her support for QAnon, a vast and ever-morphing conspiracy that holds that Donald Trump is secretly combating a cabal of globalist and Democratic elites who run a pedophile ring and worship Satan. “I’m very excited about that now there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out,” Greene—who, again, will almost certainly serve in the United States House of Representatives next year—said in 2017. “And I think we have the president to do it.”

During the runoff, Republican leadership denounced Greene’s comments, and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise worked to elect her runoff opponent, John Cowan. Cowan was a character in his own right, but he did at least appear to function as a human being within the recognizable conventions of planet Earth. Greene beat him by 15 points. The day after the runoff, Scalise, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Conference Chair Liz Cheney, and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer were all silent. One prominent Republican leader, though, was eager to celebrate Greene’s win.

Some other House Republicans did call out Greene. Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger said there’s “no place in Congress for these conspiracies,” a remark which led Greene to call him “the Mitt Romney of the House GOP.” Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman, meanwhile, said that “if she’s the future of the Republican Congress, we’re in trouble.”

“QAnon is the mental gonorrhea of conspiracy theories,” Riggleman told Politico. “It’s disgusting and you want to get rid of it as fast as possible.”

Riggleman will not be in the next Congress. At a drive-thru convention earlier this year, the freshman Republican lost renomination to a certain Bob Good, who has described himself as a “bright-red biblical and constitutional conservative,” with voters turning against Riggleman because he had officiated a same-sex wedding. Another Republican, Colorado Rep. Scott Tipton, likewise a run-of-the-mill conservative, lost his primary to Lauren Boebert, another Q-curious challenger who owns a gun-themed restaurant and gained local notoriety for defying a coronavirus lockdown order.

There have been numerous other Republican congressional candidates this cycle with QAnon­ sympathies. As in Greene’s case, these sympathies are less substitutes for other prejudicial views than the cutting-edge adjuncts of them. Most of the Q enthusiasts have either lost their primaries or are effectively guaranteed to lose to a Democrat in November, in throwaway districts for Republicans. But some are getting through the door.

This means the House Republican conference in the 117th Congress, which is expected to be the minority once again, is going to be a sight. It’s not just that the replacements are getting more, well, colorful. Where House Republicans are in the political life cycle, combined with specific, Gingrich-era rules that House Republicans impose on their conference, means the party is facing a real depletion of those within the conference who have any idea what they’re doing.

In terms of the political life cycle, House Republicans are going through a similar phase to what House Democrats went through after their loss of the majority in 2010. Following the productive Congress of 2009–10, when Democrats had unified control of the government, Republicans took control of the House and weren’t about to lose it anytime soon. Some powerful, senior members of the caucus—at least, the ones who hadn’t already lost or retired in 2010—saw the writing on the wall and decided to retire (Henry Waxman, George Miller, Barney Frank) or jump to the Senate (Ed Markey).

But Republicans have a separate issue that makes their turnover worse: The conference has term limits of six years atop a committee, a rule that Democrats don’t share. Ahead of the 2018 midterms, House Republican committee chairmen or former chairmen of the Appropriations (Rodney Frelinghuysen), Energy and Commerce (Joe Barton), Judiciary (Bob Goodlatte), Oversight (Darrell Issa), Financial Services (Jim Hensarling), Foreign Affairs (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen), Transportation (Bill Schuster), and Science (Lamar Smith) committees all retired. This cycle, Republican ranking committee members or ex-chairs of Armed Services (Mac Thornberry), Agriculture (Mike Conaway), Judiciary (Jim Sensenbrenner, Doug Collins), Energy and Commerce (Greg Walden), Homeland Security (Peter King), and Natural Resources (Rob Bishop) are either retiring or running for a different office. This doesn’t even count the dozens of other non-chairmen, many of them senior committee members, who’ve retired in the last two cycles, or the dozens that lost their reelections in 2018.

Republicans will wax poetic about why they have these limits: We are citizen-legislators, not career politicians, who come to serve but a brief spell in public service and then return to labor on our homesteads. And committee term limits do relieve some of the congestion that Democrats will complain about, namely how it can take them 30 years in Congress before assuming a chairmanship. But the counterpart to that is that the rules deplete both the expertise and the power of committees—and electorally, they prompt widespread turnover. It’s enough of a problem that House Republicans, with Trump’s backing, have been reconsidering the rule itself.

What House Republicans are looking at next year is a minority in which the people who know how to govern will be gone, and their replacements will include people who either subscribe to or don’t rule out! the dumbest conspiracy theory in existence, or have otherwise been marinated in a very-online conspiracy media bubble that make the days of Fox News as the central misinformation organ look quaint.

This is nothing for Democrats to celebrate. If Joe Biden becomes president, Republicans, just by the nature of cyclical politics, will have a good opportunity to retake the House in 2022. And they thought the House Republicans of 2011 were unmanageable?

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