Analysis & Comment

Opinion | The Triumph of the Anti-Legislator

Don’t look now, but Mark McCloskey is eyeing a run for the open Senate seat in Missouri.

Yes, that Mark McCloskey, the wealthy St. Louis lawyer who became a MAGA star after he and his wife, Patricia, brandished semiautomatic weapons at protesters marching past their mansion last June. Barefoot and defiant, the McCloskeys cut quite the figure. The video went viral, boosted by a retweet from former President Donald Trump.

The couple wound up charged with unlawful use of a weapon, turning them into MAGA-verse martyrs. (A grand jury indicted them in October; they have pleaded not guilty.) They were hailed as honest, upright citizens being persecuted for protecting their home from marauding leftists. They received a prime-time speaking spot on the opening night of last summer’s Republican National Convention. In a recorded video, they toggled between bemoaning their victimhood and warning about the decline of the republic.

“Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America,” said Ms. McCloskey. “It seems as if the Democrats no longer view the government’s job as protecting honest citizens from criminals but rather protecting criminals from honest citizens,” said Mr. McCloskey.

Now Mr. McCloskey thinks he might be a good fit for the U.S. Senate.

In another time — or another party — such a leap to high office might not make intuitive sense. Mr. McCloskey does not appear to have relevant (read: any) political experience. Neither does he have a particularly compelling personal story. He and Ms. McCloskey, in fact, have a bit of a reputation as being litigious and not so neighborly. They “have spent decades suing their neighbors and family members to protect their property,” The Atlantic noted. “They have asserted ‘squatter’s rights’ on a patch of shared land in their subdivision, sued a dog breeder who sold them a German shepherd, and destroyed beehives that were part of the education curriculum at a synagogue next door to their property, threatening legal action if the congregation didn’t clean up the mess.”

That said, the McCloskeys’ pugilism, sense of victimhood and conviction that America is facing an existential threat from the left are prime qualifications for the breed of in-your-face anti-legislator so in vogue in today’s G.O.P.

For tips on wowing the base, Mr. McCloskey might want to consult with the party’s foremost anti-legislator, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. Her campaign was a potent blend of white grievance, Trumpian victimhood and own-the-libs antagonism. This year, her rich history of racist, anti-Semitic, violent rhetoric and wild conspiracy-mongering got Ms. Greene stripped of her committee seats, rendering her pretty much useless in terms of shaping legislation. Instead, she spends her time mouthing off and playing procedural games to bog down the everyday workings of the House.

It’s not simply that Ms. Greene has no interest in working to craft legislation. Her aim is to ensure that no one else can, either. Even some of her Republican colleagues have begun to tire of her antics.

How have Republican voters responded? In the first quarter of this year, they rewarded Ms. Greene with $3.2 million in campaign cash. This is a jaw-dropping sum for a rank-and-file member, much less a freshman with no institutional clout. But she has fashioned herself a victim of cancel culture who nonetheless keeps fighting the good fight. In the context of Trumpian Republicanism, there is no nobler purpose — and every foible or failure is more proof of her virtue.

Ms. Greene is hardly the G.O.P.’s only anti-legislator. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida blazed onto the national scene in 2017 as a cartoonish mini-Trump and became an instant media celebrity with his over-the-top MAGA-tude. His primary function since arriving in Washington seems to have been praising Mr. Trump on Fox News. Before he got tangled up in an ugly sex-trafficking scandal and federal investigation, Mr. Gaetz was leading the charge against members of his own party who had dared support the second impeachment of Mr. Trump.

Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama spent a solid decade toiling in the House, with little to show for it beyond a bill renaming a local post office. Then came Jan. 6. An enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Trump’s big lie that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, Mr. Brooks was one of only a couple of House members to speak at the Stop the Steal rally that immediately preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The horrors of that day somehow convinced Mr. Brooks that he’s Senate material. In fact, he says the blowback he received from his involvement in the rally upped his name recognition and improved his standing among the base. It certainly improved his standing with Mr. Trump, who recently endorsed Mr. Brooks for the Senate.

And what is there to say about Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, other than “Welcome to the decadent phase of American democracy”?

The Republican Party has been shifting its focus away from governing and toward reactionary demagogy and obstructionism for a while now. During the Obama years, the party’s House conference experienced major churn, as new members rode into town in on the promise of thwarting the president’s every move. The conservative Tea Partyers put mainstream, establishment Republicans on the defensive, and the House Freedom Caucus devoted itself to making sure its own leadership did not even think about bipartisan compromise. By the end of Mr. Obama’s tenure, the House Republican conference was dominated by lawmakers who had no idea what their job entailed beyond bomb throwing.

Over in the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell is famous for caring not a whit about legislating. His party’s longest-serving Senate leader, he instead has devoted his energy to pushing through conservative judges, which he sees as a more enduring legacy. Even legislative initiatives from his own team have been left to wither.

Going back farther, you can trace the roots of modern Republican obstructionism at least to the tenure of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, credited by many as the man who broke Congress. It is true that he did much to promote political dysfunction. But the Republican revolutionaries of 1994 also had a robust policy agenda they were selling — a Contract With America, if you will. Mr. Gingrich had many big ideas, even if they were awful. What do the likes of Mr. Gaetz and Ms. Greene have? Nothing but ’tude.

But that is precisely what many Republican voters crave these days — especially after four years of marinating in Mr. Trump’s rhetorical bile. What is governing compared to owning the libs? Profiles in courage compared to tales of grievance?

Mr. McCloskey may, in fact, wind up being an ideal choice for a Republican senator. And after that, who knows? With enough attitude, maybe even the White House.

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