The quiet takeover of the Tea Party: GOP establishment is now full MAGA

The new MAGA establishment: The former gadflies and bomb throwers are the Republican Party now

By Heather Digby Parton


Published January 27, 2023 9:00AM (EST)

Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made good on his promise this week to exact revenge on Democrats for denying committee assignments to far-right extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Az. He booted two California congressmen, Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, from the Select Committee on Intelligence. AS Speaker, McCarthy has the power to make this move unilaterally. But he is also proposing to kick Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar off the Foreign Relations Committee, which will require a vote of the full House.

The cycle of revenge has officially begun.

It should be noted that the removal of Greene and Gosar, both of whom have addressed white nationalist gatherings and publicly advocated for the deaths of Democratic officials, was decided by a bipartisan vote by the full House. But that was an earlier, more innocent time. A golden era when death threats against Democratic colleagues were considered bad form by at least a handful of Republicans. It was all the way back in 2021, a lifetime ago. In the Republican Party of 2023, Kevin McCarthy's clown show, such behavior is rewarded with plum committee assignments while prominent critics of Donald Trump are politically sacrificed in ritual acts of retribution.

There is no difference now between McCarthy, Jim Jordan of Ohio, a Freedom Caucus founder, and Florida's Matt Gaetz, a former MAGA gadfly. They are all the Republican establishment now. And nothing illustrates that better than the relationship between the Speaker of House McCarthy and his rightwing-woman Greene, whom he vowed to never abandon:

"I will never leave that woman. I will always take care of her ... If you're going to be in a fight, you want Marjorie in your foxhole. When she picks a fight, she's going to fight until the fight's over. She reminds me of my friends from high school, that we're going to stick together all the way through."

That's an interesting thing to say about the woman who recently told a Republican audience in New York that if she had organized the January 6th Insurrection, "we would have won, not to mention it would've been armed."

The New York Times describes this new MAGA establishment this way:

Their political union — a closer and more complex one than has previously been known — helps explain how Mr. McCarthy rose to power atop a party increasingly defined by its extremes, the lengths to which he will go to accommodate those forces, and how much influence Ms. Greene and the faction she represents have in defining the agenda of the new House Republican majority.

It feels as if this has all happened overnight.

The whole Tea Party phenomenon seems sort of quaint now but it had a powerful influence on the Republican Party.

Greene was just elected to the House in 2020. She never even served when Trump was president. During his tenure, she was just an average QAnon housewife pushing conspiracy theories on Facebook. A scant two years later she's being discussed as a possible running mate for Donald Trump in 2024. How on earth did it come to this?

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Well, it was actually a long time percolating in the party.

We can go all the way back to Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and then Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich to see the evolution of what was once the party of Main Street into an ideologically extreme political faction. The seeds were sown all through those eras. But this new MAGA establishment is a direct outgrowth of a specific movement of the past decade or so: the Tea Party.

The whole Tea Party phenomenon seems sort of quaint now but it had a powerful influence on the Republican Party. There were a lot of rationales for its formation, springing up as it did in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, but the real impetus was the election of the first Black president which seemed to send a good number of Republicans into a frenzy of revolutionary zeal.

As is usual when a Democrat wins the White House after a GOP president has run up the national debt, Republicans suddenly claimed to be intensely concerned about deficits, spending and the size of government, which soon came to be symbolized by their rabid opposition to the Affordable Care Act. It was a heavily astroturfed movement, supported by big-money donors like the Koch Brothers, but it was a genuine grassroots movement as well, largely enabled by the right-wing media and emerging social media platforms.

Their organizing was impressive with big marches, cross-country bus tours and, once they got rolling, riotous Town Hall protests against the health care reform. And soon they were electing people to Congress carrying their message. In 2010, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida were both Senate Tea Party candidates. In the House, there were a number of Tea Party winners who signed something they cleverly called "The Contract From America" and went on to form the Freedom Caucus. (Founding member Jim Jordan was a back-bencher elected in 2006 who joined this new "revolutionary" movement.) 

The anti-tax, government-slashing extremists are one with the revolutionary MAGA culture warriors.

The Freedom Caucus went on to engineer the ousting of the Speaker of the House John Boehner, shut down the government more than once and refused to negotiate in good faith or compromise on anything. They were drunk with power and did what they wanted damn the consequences. But then Donald Trump came along and the Freedom Caucus rebels, with their hardcore adherence to free market capitalism, global trade and slashing government programs got very, very quiet. They did get some massive tax cuts in the first year of Trump's term but they were passed by acclamation — there were suddenly no dissenters in the party on that one.

Meanwhile, the MAGA movement, under Trump, took up what was once the undercurrent of the Tea Party movement, the culture war, and brought it to center stage. No longer did anyone have to pretend that all they cared about was spending cuts. They could hate on immigrants and Black people and gays and liberals right out in the open and could do it in the crudest terms possible. Conspiracy theories were encouraged to flourish and loyalty to Trump was the only "issue" they needed to care about.

This new Congress finally brings it all to the fore. It's all come together. The anti-tax, government-slashing extremists are one with the revolutionary MAGA culture warriors. Today Speaker Kevin McCarthy embraces Freedom Caucus member and MAGA heroine Marjorie Taylor Greene while Freedom Caucus founder and MAGA leader Jim Jordan leads a crusade to "take down the deep state" and Freedom Caucus member and MAGA superstar Matt Gaetz plots ways to destroy the economy if they don't get their way. They are all one. These former gadflies and bomb throwers are the establishment now. They are the Republican Party. The metamorphosis is finally complete.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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