Donald Trump's chief White House strategist Steve Bannon said in 2013 that Sen. Joseph McCarthy was right in his 1950s campaign claiming widespread Communist infiltration into the United States government.The Wisconsin senator's inquisitions of those he suspected of communist ties -- which eventually led to his censure by the United States Senate -- was a key moment in the Red Scare and led to the coining of the term "McCarthyism."
When Donald Trump launched his wiretap conspiracy theory over the weekend, the president took his argument in a curious direction. In his opening salvo, Trump declared, "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"It was an interesting choice of words for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that much of the right actually looks back at McCarthyism with fondness. As CNN noted yesterday, among the admirers is Trump's chief strategist.
While interviewing an author in 2013, Bannon mocked the idea that McCarthy was some kind of "villain." On the contrary, Bannon argued that the Republican senator and his allies were right in their hunt for traitors."The place was infested with either traitors that were on the direct payroll of Soviet military intelligence or fellow-travelers who were kind of compliant in helping these guys get along," Bannon said at the time. "I mean, there's absolutely no question of it. How has pop culture so changed it that white is black and black is white?"
Bannon went on to equate his vision of communist infiltration in the 1950s with Middle Eastern influence in contemporary America.That's obviously quite nutty, but it doesn't come as too big of a surprise -- because as regular readers know, much of the far-right has made a conscious effort to rehabilitate McCarthyism as having real merit.A reporter from the Dallas Morning News told Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2013, for example, that he’d been compared at times to Joe McCarthy. Cruz said that criticism “may be a sign that perhaps we’re doing something right,” which seemed like a curious response given the context.
Asked specifically, “Is McCarthy someone you admire?” Cruz wouldn’t answer.
In 2016, a Cruz national security adviser said McCarthy was “spot on” about communists infiltrating the United States government in the 1950s.There's been a lot of this kind of thinking. In 2008, then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) made a memorable appearance on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” telling Chris Matthews that she wanted an investigation into members of Congress to “find out if they are pro-America or anti-America.” Two years later, one of Bachmann’s closest allies, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), voiced support for the revival of the House Internal Security Committee, the 1960’s-era successor to the McCarthyite House Un-American Activities Committee. Missouri’s Todd Akin compared himself to McCarthy two years ago, and he meant it in a good way.Last year, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) endorsed the idea of a new HUAC for a new era.It's not just the Beltway, either. In 2010 in Texas, conservative activists rewriting the state’s curriculum recommended telling students that McCarthy was a hero, “vindicated” by history.Given all of this, it's hardly shocking that Bannon is part of far-right's pro-McCarthy chorus. Should we assume he gave Trump a lesson following the president's complaint on Saturday?