Extremist politicians aren't a "both sides" issue — it's strictly a GOP phenomenon

Republicans want to overturn elections and spread disease — while progressive Dems just want better social programs

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published January 25, 2022 1:06PM (EST)

Ted Cruz, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ron DeSantis (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ted Cruz, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ron DeSantis (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Could there be two politicians more different than Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Cruz not only voted for Donald Trump's coup but continues to use conspiracy theories to support it. Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, is a progressive who is both honest and committed to using democratic systems to advance a forward-looking agenda. Cruz is a notorious online troll who deliberately provokes liberals with lies and culture war nonsense. Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly spoken out about the toxicity of such trolling behavior, and how it leads all too often to real life threats of violence, including against her.

So comparing these two is a little like comparing Audrey Hepburn and Ted Bundy simply because both have Netflix documentaries about them. Yet that's exactly what Axios did on Tuesday morning, with an article headlined "America can't quit polarizing politicians."

RELATED: Mocking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's trauma is really about covering for Trump's violent coup

Axios writers Neal Rothschild and Sara Fischer draw a false equivalence between Ocasio-Cortez and Cruz because both "garner the most attention online" to point to American politics as "a breeding ground for more extreme politicians to run — and sometimes win — elections."

It's only been a year since a Republican president attempted to overthrow democracy to install himself illegally as president, summoning a violent mob to the Capitol to help with the task. And even though Trump's entire party continues to support his coup and is engaging in what amounts to a national effort to make sure the next one succeeds, far too much of the mainstream media has reverted back to the comfy bothsiderism that treats the two parties as moral equivalents. And so Ocasio-Cortez and Cruz are treated as one and the same, even though the latter is a wholly destructive force who deliberately stokes chaos, radicalizes his followers, and works against democracy — while the former is trying to be a positive force standing against all of that grotesque behavior. 

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It is true that both Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez are "lightning rods" who draw as much attention from their opponents as their supporters, but again, a moment's thought exposes how glib such a comparison is.

Cruz openly trawls for negative reactions from his political opponents, so he can use them to brandish his trigger-the-liberals credibility. The attention Ocasio-Cortez gets from the right is mostly unwanted. Right-wing pundits and editors understand their audience is flush with racist misogynists who are furious that a woman of color has come so far based on her smarts and her charisma. Plus, she's conventionally attractive, and nothing sets off right-wing male anger more than being reminded of all the hot women out there that want nothing to do with them. There's a real blaming-the-victim vibe to Axios' piece, which is especially gross considering the very real danger Ocasio-Cortez was in during the Capitol insurrection — an insurrection that Cruz helped foment with his lies and trolling. 

This disparity is seen across the other politicians Axios highlighted for drawing the most engagement when there are news stories about them. The other two most attention-getting among the GOP were Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Both have drawn attention for being aggressively pro-COVID-19, anti-democracy, and obnoxiously racist. Taylor Greene, for her part, is so bad that she got herself banned from Twitter. Meanwhile, the biggest draws on the Democratic side that Axios could point to, besides Ocasio-Cortez, are Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. It's disingenuous to ignore that both these women draw huge amounts of negative attention from right-wing media, which brandishes the images of both to provoke their largely male audiences into fits of misogynist outrage that has very little to do with the behavior of either. Pelosi, in particular, acts in bland ways, but the very existence of a woman with that much power is a reliable source of conservative ire.

RELATED: Twitter permanently bans Marjorie Taylor Greene's account for spreading COVID misinformation

This article follows one from Monday that played the same game, but with open congressional seats instead of social media traffic. "Perfect storm brewing for extreme politicians" read Axios' Monday headline, noting that many of the open seats in the 2022 midterms heavily favor one party over the other. This, according to Stef W. Kight and Neal Rothschild, is dangerous because such places "produce the deepest-red Republican or deepest-blue Democrat," which is supposedly a problem because "Congress already finds it difficult to compromise on anything or get things done."

Again, what is being held out as a "both sides" problem is actually just a Republican problem.

Indeed, many of the seats that are open in 2022 are already held by truly extremist candidates — but only on the right. For instance, Reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama and Jody Hice of Georgia hold two of the reddest seats Axios looked at. Both are openly pro-insurrection and big proponents of Trump's Big Lie. Brooks was even one of the speakers who riled up the crowd on January 6 before they stormed the Capitol. Hice is leaving his seat to run for secretary of state in Georgia, campaigning unsubtly as someone who is willing to steal the election for Trump. He contrasts himself with the current GOP secretary, Brad Raffensperger, who rejected demands that he falsify votes to throw the election to Trump. 

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Meanwhile, the two Democrats from the bluest districts who are leaving Congress are Rep. Karen Bass of California, who wants to fight homelessness and enact police reform, and Rep. Jackie Speier of California, who has been working to fight abuse of power and sexual harassment in Congress. It's unlikely that they will be replaced by anyone who stokes violence, wants to undermine democracy, defends the insurrectionists, wishes to spread COVID-19, or advocates for Trump's Big Lie. But that cannot be said about the likely candidates vying for open seats in red districts — or the incumbent Republicans, for that matter. After all, the majority of currently seated Republicans in the House voted to overthrow Joe Biden's election and install Trump illegally as president. 

There is simply no "both sides" narrative to what is often euphemistically called "partisan polarization." America has one political party, the Republicans, wholly devoted to extremism, authoritarianism, and trolling. The other party, the Democrats, has a range of politicians, from centrist to progressive, who all fall within the range of normal political views and none of whom oppose democracy or support violence. People like AOC aren't "provocative," so much as they appeal to a bunch of normie Democrats who have a positive and progressive view of politics — and the negative attention they get is largely from rabid right wingers who are tearing this country to shreds. There's no equivalence here, just one party that is trying to destroy the U.S. as we know it and another party that has some people in it that are trying to stop them. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Alexandria Ocasio-cortez Commentary Jody Hice Marjorie Taylor Greene Mo Brooks Nancy Pelosi Ted Cruz