Even after Vladimir Putin's brutal attack on Ukraine, some Republican elected officials have been cozying up to Putin and to far-right nut-jobs in the United States. Every party has a Tin Foil Hat Caucus, of course, but the current GOP lacks leaders who are willing to rein in the wackos and keep their party from heading down a rabbit hole.
Republicans haven't paid a big price so far, but playing footsie with extremists is unlikely to end well. For the GOP's critics, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R–Ga.) is the gift that keeps on giving. Last month, Greene spoke to the America First Political Action Conference—a group that's popular among groypers (young, white-nationalist trolls).
To give you a sense of the optics, the attendees reportedly cheered loudly after former Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he's been called the "biggest racist in the country." That flustered Arpaio, who then asked: "What are you clapping for? That I am (the biggest racist) or that I'm not?" They also cheered when he said he's been accused of racial profiling.
Greene praised the conference's founder, Nick Fuentes—the smirking provocateur, who gave these insidious remarks: "Now they're going on about Vladimir Putin and Russia, and Vladimir Putin is Hitler—and they say that's not a good thing." Attendees chanted, "Putin! Putin! Putin!" Last year, Fuentes promised that he'd give the most racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying speech that weekend.
Greene played the victim after receiving expected criticism. She said she would not "turn down the opportunity to speak to 1,200 young American First patriots because of a few off-color remarks by another speaker," although she claimed not to know Fuentes' views. I'm not sure his comrades put America first—and only an ignoramus wouldn't realize what these other speakers were saying.
Nevertheless, she received little GOP pushback beyond a wrist-slap from the GOP's oleaginous House leader, Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.). It's no wonder. Republicans will not criticize Donald Trump. And Trump, who initially praised Putin's genius, gave a call out to Greene at a more-mainstream conservative conference. That crowd gave her a loud cheer—and Republicans no doubt enjoyed her childish heckling of Joe Biden's State of the Union.
Similar nuttiness played out in Arizona. State Sen. Wendy Rogers (R–Flagstaff), also spoke at the disturbing gathering, where she made Greene sound like a squishy moderate. Rogers called Ukrainian President Zelensky a "globalist puppet" who, along with Western leaders, "report to the same Satanic masters." She talked about hanging war criminals.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, whose political action committee helped elect Rogers, at first refused to criticize her remarks. Rogers was better than her Democratic opponent, he said. That was dismaying because Ducey is one the nation's best and gutsiest governors. I chuckle at the time he hung up on Trump as he certified Arizona's electors.
Fortunately, Ducey later issued a critical statement and then the Arizona Senate voted to censure Rogers. It did so by an overwhelming margin, thus reminding us that it's still possible—though admittedly rare—for politicians to police their own.
This problem is just as pernicious on the Left. An avowed socialist came perilously close to winning the Democratic presidential nomination. Liberal Democratic mayors have struggled to condemn the Antifa fanatics who had turned parts of their cities into wastelands. I remember the Cold War days when progressives fawned over Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega, just as some righties now fawn over Putin and Hungary's Viktor Orban.
Given all the talk about Russia, it's a good time to consider the legacy of Alexander Kerensky, the relatively moderate prime minister of the Russian government in 1917. As his regime faced attacks from the Right, Kerensky embraced a "no enemies on the Left" strategy that emboldened Bolsheviks such as Lenin—and led to the overthrow of his government and to a 70-year totalitarian calamity.
The modern lesson is that liberal parties that can't purge themselves of socialists and conservative parties that can't purge themselves of fascists risk destruction by those "allies." Greene is a backbencher, but the list of GOP court jesters keeps getting longer. Eventually, Greene, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, and Matt Gaetz may become the face of the party.
As I explained in a previous column, National Review publisher William F. Buckley convinced 1964 GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater to distance himself from the John Birch Society. That group was, like Buckley, anti-communist, but its leader traded in conspiracy theories (e.g., that Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist agent).
Buckley knew the crazy stuff undermined the anti-communist cause. Goldwater lost the election, but his ideas resurfaced with Ronald Reagan. By then, the Republican Party's conspiratorialists and extremists had been pushed to the margins, but they've recently made a comeback. Yet their idiocy is setting back the cause of freedom. Are there any Republican adults with the stature of Buckley?
This column was first published in The Orange County Register.