Talking Points

The GOP's problem caucus

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) is enmeshed in yet another scandal, a series of controversies that run the gamut from insider trading to lingerie wearing. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) mused about Satan's alleged control of the Roman Catholic Church.

Call them the GOP's problem caucus. A handful of congressional Republicans persistently draw outsized media coverage and cause headaches for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who will be asked to answer for Greene's theological disquisitions and Cawthorn's legal or sartorial choices. 

It won't be a problem in the midterm elections. Republicans are likely to win in spite of them, and they themselves are heavily favored to win reelection. But they will become a bigger problem if there is a Republican majority next year, and they will get even more attention as Democrats elevate them in an effort to make Donald Trump look like Edmund Burke by comparison. 

Leadership has little recourse against these problem children. You can strip them of their committee assignments (or in Greene's case, keep them off committees) and hope their constituents decide they don't have enough juice in Washington to do the job. But it's not clear that these lawmakers have much interest in committee work or legislation. In fact, this just frees them up to make more trouble.

Party leaders can also try to starve them of funding sources. But these members of Congress have high profiles and national fundraising bases from which they can draw. The bigger bucks may not be available to them, but the small donors could sustain them. 

Depending on the size of the Republican majority, in fact, McCarthy may need their votes for speaker more than they need anything from leadership.

This has been a time-honored tradition for troubled Democratic presidents too: lose the midterm elections but then run against the "extreme" Republican Congress. It helped Barack Obama and Bill Clinton get reelected. Could it work for President Biden as well? No matter who wields the gavel, they will make Madison Cawthorn seem like the speaker of the House.

If McCarthy and company don't have a plan for dealing with the MTGs in their conference, they had better develop one — fast.