It would be a mistake to assume that the House Republican leadership reflexively protects its own, refusing to publicly criticize GOP members under any circumstances. On the contrary, Republican Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming have been admonished repeatedly in recent months by their own party's leaders.
What the House Republican leadership is far more reluctant to do is call out their members for engaging in political radicalism. It's a point House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office stressed in a written statement issued late yesterday in the wake of Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn's extremist rhetoric.
"[L]ike he has several times this year, Minority Leader McCarthy is refusing to take action against a member of his conference who is calling for violence. ... McCarthy is refusing to confront one of his members for calling for 'bloodshed' on behalf of the insurrectionists many House Republicans consider to be 'political prisoners.'"
To be sure, the North Carolina congressman's office has denied allegations that he was "calling for violence," which makes it all the more relevant to note precisely what he did say.
As we discussed yesterday, Cawthorn appeared over the weekend at a local Republican Party meeting, and held a shotgun during part of his appearance at the local event. During his public comments, the GOP congressman referred to jailed Jan. 6 rioters as "political hostages," before musing about freeing the suspected criminals and possible efforts to "bust them out."
When someone in the audience asked, "When are you going to call us to Washington again?" Cawthorn replied, "We are actively working on that one."
But then he kept going, falsely telling locals that the country's election systems are "rigged," and arguing that if American elections "continue to be stolen, then it's going to lead to one place, and it's bloodshed."
Cawthorn, of course, was obviously peddling nonsense: Elections systems in the United States are not "rigged"; there is no evidence that any election was "stolen" in 2020; there is no need for "bloodshed."
But the 26-year-old raised the prospect of political violence anyway in service of his party's lies.
In a healthy political system, such public rhetoric would likely lead to a conversation about whether the lawmaker should be expelled. Indeed, one congressional Republican — Illinois' Adam Kinzinger — published a tweet denouncing Cawthorn's rhetoric as "insane."
But House GOP leaders preferred silence. Had the North Carolinian criticized Donald Trump, defended the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, or taken the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol seriously, Kevin McCarthy likely would've been more comfortable expressing his dissatisfaction.
Instead, Cawthorn said there will be "bloodshed" if U.S. elections "continue to be rigged," which sparked a collective shrug from his party's leaders.