I asked Rubin which group has done more damage to its own party:
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?
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, “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.”
William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings and a co-author with Elaine Kamarck, also of Brookings, of “The New Politics of Evasion: How Ignoring Swing Voters Could Reopen the Door for Donald Trump and Threaten American Democracy,” wrote by email:
How does one measure “extreme”? By two metrics — detachment from reality and threats to the democratic process — the nod goes to the MAGA crowd over the Squad, whose extremism is only in the realm of policy. I could argue that the Squad’s policy stances — defund the police, abolish ICE, institute a Green New Deal — have done more damage to the Democratic Party than the MAGA crowd has to the Republicans. President Biden has been forced to back away from these policies, while Republicans sail along unscathed. By refusing to criticize — let alone break from — the ultra-MAGA representatives, Donald Trump has set the tone for his party. A majority of rank-and-file Democrats disagree with the Squad’s position. There’s no evidence that the Republican grassroots is troubled by the extremism in their own ranks.
I asked Galston what the implications were of Marjorie Taylor Greene winning renomination on May 24 with 69.5 percent of the primary vote.
Trumpists hold a strong majority within the Republican Party, and in many districts the battle is to be seen as the Trumpiest Republican candidate. This is especially true in deep-red districts where winning the nomination is tantamount to winning the general election. A similar dynamic is at work in deep-blue districts, where the most left-leaning candidate often has the advantage. Candidates like these rarely succeed in swing districts, where shifts among moderate and independent voters determine general election winners. In both parties, there has been a swing away from candidates who care about the governance process, and toward candidates whose skills are oratorical rather than legislative. I could hypothesize that in an era of hyperpolarization in which gridlock is the default option, the preference for talkers over doers may be oddly rational.
They may be talkers rather than doers, but if, as currently expected, Republicans win control of the House on Nov. 8, 2022, the MAGA faction will be positioned to wield real power.