You may be under the impression that the most important high-society event in New York is the Met Gala, where celebrities from the world of entertainment, media, fashion and politics dress to the nines in avant-garde couture and come together to get their pictures taken and be seen mingling with their fellow famous people. It's quite a spectacle. But it has nothing on the demented carnival of the New York Young Republican Club's annual gala, which was held this past weekend. It didn't have the glamour of the Met's event, but it had its own luminaries in attendance — and while the fashion may not have been avant-garde the politics were certainly striking.
According to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, it was a gathering of some of of the most divisive figures of the far right including Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr., the white nationalists Peter Brimelow and Lydia Brimelow of VDARE, provocateur Jack Posobiec of "Pizzagate" fame and Project Veritas founder James O'Keefe, among many others, including elected Republican officials:
Republican speakers repeatedly voiced an anti-democracy, authoritarian ideology, and extremists in the audience cheered wildly. White nationalists such as the Brimelows of VDARE and leaders from extreme far right European parties like Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD), whom German officials placed under surveillance for their ties to extremism, and Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), ate and drank in the same room as newly elected Republican congresspeople, such as Long Island and Queens-based George Santos, Georgia-based Mike Collins and Florida-based Cory Mills.
It sounds like the speeches were exciting, starting off with the address by the organization's president, Gavin Wax, who declared:
We want to cross the Rubicon. We want total war. We must be prepared to do battle in every arena. In the media. In the courtroom. At the ballot box. And in the streets. This is the only language the left understands. The language of pure and unadulterated power.
That seemed to set the tone for the evening. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia made the threat explicit when she said that if she and Bannon had been in charge of the Jan. 6 insurrection, they "would have won." But she didn't stop there:
Marjorie Taylor Greene’s January 6th comments at last night’s New York Young Republican Club Gala:
“I got to tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won. Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.” pic.twitter.com/KtiecOAlgd
— PatriotTakes 🇺🇸 (@patriottakes) December 11, 2022
There was a time when a member of Congress might think twice about making a comment like that. Even today, you can sense that there were people in the crowd, despite the cheers and whistles, who understood that she had pushed beyond even the boundaries of this chummy right-wing gathering by saying such a thing in public. Basically, Greene said that if it had been up to her, the insurrectionists would have stormed the Capitol with guns blazing and executed the coup plot successfully. Fortunately for all of us, she was brand new in Congress at the time and was not intimately involved in the planning, so that didn't happen.
Greene is now one of the most powerful and influential members of Congress and she hasn't quite completed her first term. She has been working the levers of the power effectively, agreeing to endorse presumptive Speaker Kevin McCarthy, reportedly in exchange for investigations, committee assignments and her ability to keep the extreme right on board. She's been pretty clear about what she expects, telling the New York Times, "I think that to be the best speaker of the House and to please the base, he's going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway. And if he doesn't, they're going to be very unhappy about it."
Greene, who tweeted last September that "Joe Biden is Hitler," with the hashtag #NaziJoe, is on a roll and there's no way any member of the GOP House leadership will dare to cross her.
If it had been up to her, Greene suggested, insurrectionists would have stormed the Capitol with guns blazing and the coup would have been successful.
So where does this leave Kevin McCarthy? The oddsmakers and pundits believe he's unlikely to lose the speakership contest, but it isn't going to be the cakewalk he was expecting. He's got Greene's endorsement, with all the baggage that entails and the inevitable trouble it's likely to bring him down the road. But at the moment, there are at least five Republican members who say they definitely won't vote for him. That means if every member shows up that day, he can't win. The GOP margin is that thin.
Now McCarthy has an announced opponent, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who leads the far-right House Freedom Caucus. Biggs can't get anywhere close to the necessary 218 votes either, and he knows it. But according to HuffPost's Arthur Delaney, Biggs has a theory: If the right can defeat McCarthy, another candidate will emerge to take over, much like what happened back in 2015, when McCarthy was shoved aside for "consensus candidate" Paul Ryan. This is a total fantasy: There's no nationally-known boy wonder just waiting around — as Ryan, a former vice-presidential nominee, was seen at the time — and Greene, along with several other Freedom Caucus members, are already backing McCarthy. In fact, she has thrown down the gauntlet, saying: "The Freedom Caucus is responsible for making Paul Ryan speaker. Is this group going to do something like that again?"
You can see McCarthy moving closer to Greene in real time. On Sunday he pledged to drag 51 former Intelligence officials in front of a House investigative committee to answer for a letter they signed about the brouhaha surrounding Hunter Biden's laptop. Their letter didn't directly claim that the infamous 2020 New York Post article was Russian disinformation, but suggested that, given what had happened during the 2016 campaign, it might be. McCarthy and friends are reacting to the "Twitter files," with the so-called revelations about Twitter's decision to suppress the Post story for a couple of days, which Republicans now claim was the reason Trump lost the election. (These things don't have to make sense, they just have to "feel" right.)
McCarthy knows that all of this is ridiculous, and knows that continuing to relitigate the 2020 election is a losers' game for Republicans. (We can see how well that approach played out in the midterms.) But he's trapped. He has to do everything he can to keep Greene on his team while desperately trying to persuade other far-right fanatics not to sabotage his narrow majority. The result is that he's being forced to move further and further to the right just to remain standing. The extremists don't much like him, but they're all he's got.