To examine Rep. Paul Gosar's (R-Ariz.) political radicalism is to see a member of Congress who appears wholly indifferent to how he's perceived. When the Arizonan Republican described Jan. 6 rioters as "peaceful patriots," he was widely derided, but he didn't care.
Gosar has been condemned for his associations with white nationalists, but he doesn't care about that, either. The far-right congressman has described President Joe Biden as a "fraudulent usurper"; he's rejected Congressional Gold Medals to honor Capitol Police officers who protected the building during the pro-Trump riot; and last week he sent out a fundraising appeal that said, among other things, that "the FBI might have had a hand in planning and carrying out" the Jan. 6 attack and that Ashli Babbitt "was executed in cold blood by an unidentified killer."
This is the sort of nonsense one expects from a politician who just doesn't care. Though as the New York Times noted yesterday, Gosar is hardly alone.
Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida appeared at an event last year where security was handled by the Proud Boys, a far-right militia with more than a dozen members who have been charged in the Capitol riot. Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado has come under scrutiny for her ties to members of the Three Percenters, a radical militia group. And before she was elected to Congress, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia endorsed executing Democratic lawmakers, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
This came on the heels of a CNN report highlighting Anthony Aguero, a conservative YouTube personality who participated in the Jan. 6 riot, who accompanied Republican members of Congress on a trip to the U.S./Mexico border last week.
The report added, "During his livestream of the Tuesday visit, Aguero interviewed and chatted with Reps. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Chris Jacobs of New York, Michael Cloud of Texas, John Rose of Tennessee, Ronny Jackson of Texas, and Mary Miller of Illinois."
One of the underlying points of the New York Times' article yesterday was that far-right radicals are delighted to have close allies in Congress, where Republican Party leaders are reluctant to do much of anything about the extremism. "The statements and actions have not resulted in any punishment from House Republican leaders," the Times noted, "who have largely declined to publicly reprimand those in their conference who espouse fringe beliefs or peddle misinformation."
But I'm also struck by the relative silence among Democrats. Indeed, this offers a striking example of the competing strategies between the major parties.
For Republicans, guilt by association is on Page 1 of the campaign playbook. It's practically the law in GOP circles that attack ads have to feature Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and/or Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) -- regardless of geography or ideology -- because Republicans expect voters to recoil in response to images of lawmakers the GOP deems too "liberal."
The comparable efforts among Democratic strategists and ad makers are qualitatively different. Voters will see ads tying assorted Republicans to unpopular national figures such as Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, but there is no meaningful effort underway to make Paul Gosar and Lauren Boebert national household names on par with, say, AOC -- despite the fact that Gosar and Boebert are clearly nowhere near an American mainstream.
Perhaps GOP leaders would be more willing to take action against some of their more radical members if a greater number of Americans knew who they were?