The majority of Republican candidates running for higher office right now have either expressed doubt about the legitimacy of the 2020 election or said outright that they believe the election was stolen.
New York Times political reporter Robert Draper says the party's embrace of lies and conspiracy theories has opened the door to fringe actors, who have become among the party's most influential leaders. He points to Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as a prime example of the party's extreme new direction.
Greene has expressed support for QAnon conspiracies and reportedly endorsed the idea of executing Democratic leaders. While campaigning for office in 2020, she posed with a custom AR-15 pistol in her campaign ads and presented herself as a "Trump mini-me," Draper says.
"This seemed outlandish to sort of run-of-the-mill Republicans, but the base wanted a MAGA warrior to send from their district to Washington, and that's what they got," Draper says.
In his new book, Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind, Draper writes that in the time since Trump left office, the Republican Party has plunged deeper into conspiracy mongering — and the notion that Democrats are not just wrong, but also evil. He says the GOP's stubborn embrace of the stolen election narrative undermines democracy and plays straight into the hands the nation's enemies.
"When we're having these kinds of troubles at home, every day that there's trouble, this is a good day for Russia," Draper says. "Russia has a compelling interest in the decline of America as a voice worldwide, in its promulgation of democracy."
On Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy's early obsession with Donald Trump
Kevin McCarthy, in his 20s, according to a childhood friend who I interviewed back in Bakersfield, Calif., where McCarthy is from, was utterly obsessed with Trump, utterly obsessed with this author of The Art of the Deal. And so he had long felt that Trump had a way of not only capturing what it was that he stood for and developing a brand, but negatively branding the other side. And so McCarthy, to me, is emblematic of the establishment wing of the Republican Party that has enabled not only the rise of Trump, but the sustaining of Trump as a powerful force that far from criticizing him, as Liz Cheney has, for example, that they've largely felt that now we can use Trump. "Trump will be sort of the tip of our spear to get conservative policies done," or at minimum, "We can't stop the guy, so we'll go to ground." ... The care and feeding of Donald Trump is something that McCarthy eagerly signed on to do from the moment that Trump took office.
On how Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene won her congressional seat in 2020
Marjorie Taylor Greene is a native of Georgia. ... She had not been any kind of participant on any level in the political process really until around 2017, 2018. She became an adherent to the QAnon conspiracy theory, and after that began to show up on Capitol Hill as a kind of confrontational journalist, as she would put it, basically harassing Democratic staff members, but was unknown by the Georgia political establishment. And indeed, she told me that Republicans in that state viewed her as "a three-headed monster" when she decided to file [to run for office].
But she was a self-funder and then ultimately moved to a more conservative district, the 14th District, in northwest Georgia, when that [seat] became vacated in December of 2019. And it kind of caught the party and the Georgia media unawares, [when she] suddenly won in the primary. Then opposition research files came out indicating that she had posted in the past all these offensive and conspiratorial theories online. That didn't stop her from winning, but she came to Washington in January 2021 with the expectation from most of us, allegedly smart people, that she would soon be ... given essentially that one term, otherwise [be] ignored by the Republican Party and would be out the door. That did not occur. In fact, in many ways the opposite occurred. It's kind of a case study in the Republican Party in the post-Trump era, and thus forms a central foundation of my book.
On House members fearing for their physical safety after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol
There was a genuine fear of these gun-toting new members of Congress, like Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and people who are Democrats genuinely fearing for their safety, to the point where a senior staffer on one of the committees circulated a memo saying that she wished to see occupational safety worker guidelines applied to the U.S. Capitol, suggesting that it was an unsafe work environment, and in no other private business, would this kind of cavalier talk about bringing in weapons to the Capitol and demonizing the people who disagree with you be tolerated. The fear was not just the usual, "We disagree with them. We think they're wrong," or even, "We're revolted by them." It was a real fear. And it was one of the driving factors in Speaker Pelosi insisting on putting magnetometers just outside the floor of the House.
On Marjorie Taylor Greene being stripped of her two congressional committee assignments due to her incendiary comments
Two important things happened in the wake of her being stripped of her committee assignments: One was that she proceeded to be a fundraising dynamo. In, I think, the first quarter [she] managed to raise $3.2 million, which is unheard of for a House freshman and just simply had never happened before. And indeed, by the end of 2021 would outraise all but three of her House Republican colleagues, and two of those three are Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, two members of leadership. So that a freshman would do this is kind of remarkable.
But the other thing that I think got a lot less notice but still was significant, was that she began to use all of these procedural means of slowing down the House proceedings and basically forcing people to do a roll call vote when they just wanted to do a voice vote. This just seemed to be a pain in the neck. Republicans and Democrats alike were annoyed by it. But where did she get this idea from? She told me she got it from Mark Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff, who had also been previous to that, the chair of the House Freedom Caucus.
And so what this indicates to you is that far from being a marginalized person, here's Marjorie Taylor Greene in active contact with a crucial member of Trump world. And, by the way, the day that she was stripped from her committee assignments, she got a sympathetic call from former President Trump. So there she was, still in the heart of the MAGA universe. And as she said, the day after she was stripped of her assignment, the party is still Donald Trump's. He's not going away. It's nobody else's party. And that would prove to be true.
On Greene now using more extreme rhetoric than Trump
Trump has always been all over the map when it comes to [vaccines], because he's very proud of Operation Warp Speed, when the research and development of the COVID vaccines began and then accelerated under his administration. So he'd like to take credit for that on the one hand. But on the other hand, he recognizes that a very significant portion — if not an outright majority — of the Republican base is distrustful of the COVID vaccines. And Marjorie Greene has said everything from, "They are, at best, ineffectual" to ... "They are killers." And so, after a while, you began to see Trump say nasty things about the vaccines of which he was a chief promulgate in 2020.
Trump also would often talk about radical socialists, but seldom use the word "communist" to describe Democrats. Marjorie Taylor Greene had no such timidity. And as early as June of 2021 was saying in a press conference that I attended that she believed that there were active members of the Communist Party in the Democratic House. And now that's become something that not only Trump has said, but that others have said, too. So Greene in her effort to be relevant by mastering the so-called attention economy of the Internet, has, in a lot of ways, been more outrageous than Donald Trump has.
On Republicans who believe the election was stolen
There are hours of my life that I'll never get back, talking to people who embrace this conspiracy theory that the election was stolen, but not one of them has given me any kind of coherent explanation of who did the stealing. Was it Biden? Kamala Harris, the CIA? [Brad] Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia, a Republican? Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state in Arizona, a Democrat? I mean, this is quite a cabal here. But no one's gotten to the bottom of it. No one can explain it.
Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Maureen Pao adapted it for the web.