Sure, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is coddling GOP caucus extremists in his caucus in his quest for the speakership. Sure, a small cadre of House Republicans who have gleefully put their colleagues’ lives on the line are running the joint with McCarthy’s blessing. Sure, some members of that same group are raising money hand over fist by zealously chasing the title of “worst human in the world.”

But it’s all just business as usual, says veteran GOP lawmaker Tom Cole, a 10-term Oklahoma Congressman.

“There’s always some gifted communicator who comes in,” said Rep. Cole, who was elected as part of the 1994 Republican takeover of the House. “We’re a long way of knowing how long they’ll stay. A lot of the brightest stars of the 1994 class were gone within eight years.”

If it weren’t required journalistic practice, it would almost be superfluous to name the infamous names at this point. But we’re talking about Republican representatives such as Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and Paul Gosar of Arizona. We can only assume that Cole was singling out one of these ignominious lawmakers as “gifted.”

But it was the follow-up portion of Cole’s quote to the Associated Press that really captured the essence of the predicament House GOP leadership has put the country in.

“The reality is the first six years, the only thing you are going to do is what they let you,” Cole added.

Bingo. Greene, Boebert, Gosar and several others are simply doing precisely what McCarthy and his leadership team are allowing them to get away with. That includes labeling members of their own caucus “traitors,” calling them “trash,” inciting intra-caucus feuds, and spurring death threats against colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

To McCarthy, what’s a few death threats—or perhaps a lost life—so long as he has the votes to become speaker if the GOP takes back the House next year? And yet, despite his willingness to put lives on the line for his own benefit, the extremists may well give him the boot anyway. In the meantime, they have free rein.

Cole clearly intended to dismiss all the dust being kicked up by the newest round of GOP flamethrowers, but instead he squarely put Republican leaders on the line for fostering the environment of permissiveness that the Greenes and Boeberts of the caucus are now exploiting.

The problem for Republicans now is that the whole point for the MTG caucus is to shock, garner attention, and then escalate. Their big rewards come through fundraising and celebrity, and the more incendiary and rancid their comments, the more they reap the rewards—which can be significant.

Greene, for instance, has raised $6.3 million this year, according to the AP, and Boebert has scored $2.7 million in donations on the year. That’s an extraordinary amount of fundraising for any freshman member of the House who otherwise wields almost no institutional power.

“If you say something batshit crazy, if you say something extreme, you are going to raise money,” said GOP Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who became a target of Greene’s last week after she dared to condemn Boebert for hurling Islamophobic epithets at Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Greene then labeled Mace “the trash of the conference,” the type of thing that apparently thrills the GOP’s rabid base into shelling out money. Mace later told the AP that Greene is a “grifter of the first order” who is capitalizing on “vulnerable conservatives.”

Cole, McCarthy, and others may be happily fooling themselves into believing they’re still in charge, but judging by the public discourse in the party, Greene’s statement on Steve Bannon’s radio show last week carries more water.

“Here’s the deal, in the GOP conference they consider conservatives the fringe,” she explained, “We are not the fringe. We are the base of the party.”

Greene’s no conservative—she and her comrades are extremists, through and through. But she’s right that they are no longer the fringe of the party. They are wielding the bulk of the power in the GOP conference precisely because McCarthy is too afraid to stand up to them.

The same thing is true in the Senate, where the supposed establishment has surrendered to Donald Trump to the point where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed violence-prone alleged wife beater Herschel Walker for the Georgia Senate race.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

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