Can the Right and the Far Right Govern America? | Opinion

Kevin McCarthy badly wants to be House speaker, and his recent political maneuvers indicate how he plans to do it. He intends to unite the Right and the far Right in his version of a "big tent." He has pledged loyalty to Donald Trump and protected QAnon favorite Marjorie Taylor Greene from party sanctions (the full House voted to strip her of committee assignments separately), but also went to bat for Liz Cheney when the far Right sought to remove her from her leadership post.

The congressional district map is favorable for Republicans in 2022, thanks to redistricting that will be carried out by predominantly Republican state legislatures. Republicans made major House gains in 2020 to come to within five seats of control. History suggests that the party that controls the White House loses seats in off-year elections. If that trend continues, McCarthy has an excellent chance of realizing his dream in the next Congress.

The question remains, however, whether McCarthy's Right-far Right coalition is a viable Republican model for governing America.

Mitch McConnell doesn't think so. He leads Republicans in a 50-50 Senate, but faces a 2022 election map that includes contests in the states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona—all of which were won by Joe Biden. His party is also defending open seats in North Carolina and Ohio, states that lean Republican but are competitive. This map explains why McConnell has been critical of Trump's behavior and has also lashed out against Greene's "loony lies," which he called a "cancer" on the GOP.

Since campaigns have become longer and longer, we'll soon see Republicans launch their undeclared presidential campaigns. There may be a few that cling to the Right-far Right alliance (Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz among others). However, most will channel McConnell (see Nikki Haley's recent declaration of independence from Trump) more than McCarthy for several very important political reasons.

House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, speaks during his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

First, America is almost always governed either by a center-left or center-right coalition. Trump was an aberration. The fact that he never tried to win moderate voters explains why Joe Biden is president—it's certainly not because of Smartmatic and Dominion voting machines. Trump's able pollster Tony Fabrizio conclusively demonstrates this through specific findings, noting that Trump lost results-oriented white voters by never seriously confronting the COVID-19 pandemic that still engulfs America. In every successful presidential campaign since WWII, the winning candidate has garnered at least a plurality, and usually a majority, of moderate or independent voters.

Second, QAnon repels most Americans. However proud Northern Georgia voters might be of Marjorie Taylor Greene, she is not popular in Fairfax County, Virginia; Montgomery County, Pennsylvania; Maricopa County, Arizona or Georgia's Cobb and Fulton Counties. Swing voters in populous and fast-growing suburbs want good government and results, not conspiracy theories. Biden already scores favorability ratings in the high 50s, far beyond what Trump ever attained. Whatever you think of his policies, Biden is governing in a more traditional manner, putting forth an agenda and asking for public and congressional support. The country's centrist voters have responded well to this "new normalcy."

That brings us to the third weakness of a Right-far Right Alliance: it has no agenda. Traditional conservative themes of fiscal restraint, free trade and U.S. global leadership have been cast aside in favor of right-wing populism. It's hard to know what that entails other than giving free things to white rural voters (farm subsidies, job protections via tariffs) as opposed to the Left's focus on government benefits for students (loan forgiveness) and low-wage workers ($15 minimum wage). One thing is for sure: McCarthy will not be rolling out a variant of Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America"—which proposed a wide-ranging agenda to reform and slim down the federal government in a decidedly conservative direction. Gingrich once embraced a different version of the big tent, one that focused on themes and issues that would bring new adherents to the GOP. But now, since so much of the far Right's focus is based on resentment, we can expect a spate of primaries focused on who has and has not been sufficiently loyal to our 45th president. McCarthy may well face his greatest challenge trying to referee these intra-party disputes.

Finally, we can never discount the far Right discovering another nagging imperfection in America that demands immediate action no matter what else the country is dealing with. The threat of "big tech" might fit the bill here. Apple and Twitter can fight their own battles, but the willingness of the Right to abandon long-held positions on corporate First Amendment rights in the service of Donald Trump is striking. Impulsiveness remains a major flaw in Right-far Right ideology.

So we may have a situation in which a potential short-term House victory for Republicans represents a false flag for the ultimate goal of winning an electoral majority and implementing a governing agenda. To the extent that the far Right can wield power in a majority Republican House, the ultimate result must be a more difficult electoral path for Republican Senate candidates and ultimately the GOP's next presidential nominee.

Frank Donatelli served as assistant for political affairs to President Ronald Reagan and as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.