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Why Republicans’ interest in the M&M’s ‘controversy’ matters

In the last Congress, it was Dr. Seuss and Potato Head dolls. Now, it's gas stoves and M&M’s. Shouldn't Republicans at least pretend to be serious?


In nearly every instance, I’d see a story like this NBC News report and immediately assume it falls far outside my wheelhouse. But in this instance, it’s not quite that simple.

After its mascot refresh controversy last year, M&M’s announced Monday that it is taking an “indefinite pause” from using its candy-coated mascots, saying the “last thing M&M’s wanted” was to be “polarizing.” M&M’s said in a tweet that it is instead tapping actor Maya Rudolph as its spokesperson, someone the brand said “America can agree on.”

If you don’t follow the odd preoccupations and fixations of conservative media outlets, you may be wondering why in the world anthropomorphic candies would be considered “polarizing.” In fact, even if you do follow the odd preoccupations and fixations of conservative media outlets, it’d be tough to blame you for asking the same question.

My MSNBC colleague Hayes Brown explained yesterday that on the far-right, the candy’s parent company, Mars Inc., is suspected of having moved M&M’s marketing in a liberal direction, leading Fox News’ Tucker Carlson to do “a tirade after the Green M&M’s high heels were replaced with sneakers.”

Yes, in the contemporary United States, some influential media figures take a surprisingly intense interest in the footwear of candy mascots.

Regardless, M&M’s issued a statement yesterday, apparently retreating in response to conservative whining, and letting the public know that their “beloved spokescandies” will now face an “indefinite pause.”

No one should be too surprised if all of this proves to be a publicity stunt — Super Bowl advertising is just weeks away — that will keep the candies in the news a little longer.

What struck me as especially notable, however, was the fact that all of this was of interest to Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. In fact, yesterday afternoon, the panel’s GOP members, led by far-right Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, published a tweet complaining about M&M’s and a Disney amusement-park ride.

According to the Judiciary Committee’s website, the panel has “jurisdiction over matters relating to the administration of justice in federal courts, administrative bodies, and law enforcement agencies.” Evidently, we can now make some additions to the list: The Judiciary Committee’s purview also extends to whining about marketing ideologies surrounding M&M’s and Splash Mountain. (The latter is a Disney ride accused of having racist undertones. Last summer, Disney announced plans to overhaul the attraction.)

To be sure, I know effectively nothing about candy marketing and amusement parks. But I do know something about political parties and their approaches to governing — and the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee focusing their attention on M&M’s and Splash Mountain is a discouraging sign of a larger problem.

For one thing, it’s problematic when conservatives on Capitol Hill take their cues from conservative media. Traditionally, it was far-right pundits who’d take their lead from congressional Republicans. Now, that dynamic has been largely turned on its head.

For another, shouldn’t Republicans at least give the appearance of seriousness? At the start of the last Congress, the party’s focus was on Dr. Seuss and Potato Head dolls. At the start of the new Congress, the GOP seems to care a bit too much about a non-existent plan to confiscate gas stoves and the marketing plan for M&M’s.

Today’s GOP remains a post-policy party, preoccupied with cultural grievances and cynical ploys, and wholly indifferent toward governing. Worse, it’s only a matter of time before Republicans unveil a new manufactured outrage the party knows to be absurd.