Amid ‘groomergate,’ being principled takes courage

By Olivia Troye, Chief Strategy Officer

There’s a long-standing trend on social media to admonish posters who thank lawmakers for taking politically risky votes. “That’s their job,” the argument goes. “It’s what we pay them to do.” In normal times, I’m inclined to agree, but the times we’re living in are far from normal. So while we shouldn’t have to shower our leaders with slobbery appreciation every time they do something right, there are occasions when recognizing a politician’s courage is more than appropriate.

Last week was a perfect example. When Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney announced that they would vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, it took a degree of political courage—not because of the electoral ramifications, though those certainly apply, but because of the nature of today’s GOP. A perceived controversial vote in this dystopian excuse for a political party doesn’t earn someone begrudging respect or even rational criticism for their independence. Instead it leads to ostracization, scurrilous accusations, and threats.

Call it “groomergate.” If you caught any of the confirmation hearings for Jackson, you couldn’t miss the grotesque dog-whistling by the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Mike Lee, and other Republican senators. Their goal was to exploit QAnon conspiracy theories about pedophilia in order to label Judge Jackson as lenient toward sexual predators who target children. And, sadly, this disgusting disinformation campaign has taken root. According to an Economist/YouGov poll, 49% of Republicans say it is “definitely” or “probably” true that top Democrats are or were involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings. And if you harbor any lingering doubts as to what some Republicans believe, take a look at the comments in response to Sen. Romney’s tweet supporting Jackson.

It’s not just the rank and file. Vile slurs against Collins, Murkowski, and Romney were launched like grenades by their fellow Republican lawmakers as well. Perhaps the most vicious came from, not surprisingly, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who called the trio “pro-pedophile.” And Greene is just one cacophonous voice in a whole GOP chorus, whose entirely baseless chants about pedophilia have gone unchecked by Republican leadership. Kevin McCarthy, the flaccid House Minority Leader, has utterly failed at reining in his conference in its race to the bottom. 

The question then becomes, where does it end? These aren’t standard political theatrics. The GOP is quite literally playing with fire in a polarized environment in which conspiracy theorists have already shown that, for them, violence is not beyond the pale. If we can’t have good faith disagreements in politics without resorting to accusing opponents of being “groomers,” then guess what, folks? We can’t have a democratic republic.

I fear what it will take to finally put a stop to this dangerous, conspiracy-enabling behavior. Since the GOP has demonstrated time and again that it will not police its own, my greatest hope remains the American voter and the opportunity we have in November to end this inexorable slide into incivility and barbarism. Until then, there will be no accountability for scoundrels like Marjorie Taylor Greene—only condemnation for leaders who are willing to put partisanship aside and make decisions based on careful consideration of the facts. In other words, those who courageously do their job. Some thanks.

Olivia Troye served as homeland security and counterterrorism advisor to former Vice President Mike Pence. She is the Chief Strategy Officer for the Renew America Movement.

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