Gosar issued a statement defended the video, which shows the cartoon image of himself flying by jetpack to slay the giant Ocasio-Cortez: “The cartoon depicts the symbolic nature of a battle between lawful and unlawful policies and in no way intended to be a targeted attack against Representative Cortez,” it says, before adding, “It is a symbolic cartoon. It is not real life. Congressman Gosar cannot fly.”
Ruth Bloch Rubin, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, outlined in an email the differences between the squad and the MAGA caucus:
There are a lot of ways that lawmakers can be extreme. They can be extremist in their policy preferences, extremist in their preferred tactics, and extremist in their political messaging. When it comes to policy, it isn’t exactly clear what folks like Greene and Gosar want — they aren’t exactly policy wonks. Members of the squad have done more to communicate their policy priorities — e.g., on issues like policing and climate change — and there, what they want is generally more liberal than what some (perhaps many) in the party are likely to support.
In terms of political messaging, Rubin argued, “it is undeniable that Greene and Gosar have done more to deviate from normal politics — likening vaccination requirements to Nazi rule or running violent ad campaigns — than anything ever said by any member of the squad.”
Which group has done more damage to its own party, I asked Rubin?
If/when the Democrats lose big in the midterms, I think it likely that the squad will face a lot of criticism for pushing progressive policies that are not sufficiently popular with voters (police reform) over those that have greater public support (expanding Medicare, for example).
But, Rubin contended, Biden will also bear responsibility if Democrats suffer badly in November:
In this day and age, it is unreasonable to expect that you can be an FDR-figure without the kind of sizable and stable majorities in Congress he benefited from. The upshot of being an experienced politicians is that you should anticipate this and plan accordingly.
Conversely, Rubin continued,
There is little evidence that Republicans like Gosar and Greene are doing any short-term damage to the Republican Party — long term damage is less clear. And one way we can tell is that Republican leaders (and voters) wasted no time getting rid of the one member whose conduct wasn’t burnishing the party’s brand: Madison Cawthorne. The fact that this hasn’t happened to Greene or Gosar or other MAGAish members suggests they aren’t perceived to be enough of a problem.
Frances Lee, a political scientist at Princeton, argued in an email that extremists can in fact play a constructive role in legislative proceedings:
While not defending the excesses and demagoguery that some of the members you list have engaged in, a couple examples come to mind:
Massie has strenuously objected to the continued use of proxy voting in Congress two+ years into the pandemic as undermining the traditions and character of the institution. For those of us who have long worried about the huge share of members who are only in Washington from Tuesday to Thursday, are such perspectives out of bounds?
Was there any value in Massie’s insistence on holding public debate before Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, a stance that drew harsh denunciation from President Trump himself?
Lee acknowledged that
Members who incite violence against other members or the institution cannot be countenanced. But I would encourage a tolerant attitude toward legitimately elected representatives, even those who hold views far outside the mainstream. It’s always worth considering what their constituents see in them and what, if anything, they contribute to debate. Such members do make Congress a more fully representative body.
Michael B. Levy, who served as chief of staff to former Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Democrat of Texas, pointed out that “There are many similarities in that both groups live and die by their primaries because their districts are one-party districts and neither has to worry much about the median voter in their states.”
Beyond that, Levy continued, there are significant differences: “The squad’s agenda is a basic international social democratic left agenda which joins an expanding social welfare state to an expanding realm of cultural liberalism and identity politics.”
The squad, Levy wrote, “while willing to attack members of their own party and support candidates in primaries running against incumbents in their own party, continues to exhibit loyalty to basic democratic norms in the system at large.”
In contrast, Levy argued, “The MAGA caucus has a less coherent ideology, even if it has a very distinct angry populist tone.” That may be temporary, Levy suggested,
as more and more intellectuals try to create a type of coherent “integralist ideology joining protectionism, cultural and religious traditionalism, and an isolationist but nationalist foreign policy. Arguably theirs is also a variant of identity politics but that is less clearly articulated. As best I can tell, they do not have a coherent approach to economic policy or the welfare state.
Two scholars who have been highly critical of developments in the Republican Party, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, co-authors of the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” were both far more critical of the MAGA caucus than of the squad.
Mann was adamant in his email:
The MAGA Caucus is antidemocratic, authoritarian, and completely divorced from reality and truth. The squad embraces left views well within the democratic spectrum. What’s striking about the MAGA Caucus is that they are closer to the Republican mainstream these days, given the reticence of Republican officeholders to challenge Trump. We worry about the future of American democracy because the entire Republican Party has gone AWOL. The crazy extremists have taken over one of our two major parties.
The MAGA group, Ornstein wrote by email, is composed of
the true believers, who think Trump won, that there is rampant voter fraud, the country needs a caudillo, we have to crack down on trans people, critical race theory is an evil sweeping the country and more. The squad is certainly on the left end of the party, but they do not have authoritarian tendencies and views.
Ocasio-Cortez, Ornstein wrote, “is smart, capable, and has handled her five minutes of questioning in committees like a master.”