Wednesday was, on its face, a very bad day for Paul Gosar.
Not only did the Arizona Republican become only the 24th Member of Congress to be censured by the House but he was also stripped of all his committee assignments.
But, if you think Wednesday was a bad day for Gosar, you don’t understand the distorted reward system of the modern Republican party.
Chances are that before he posted the photoshopped video in which he is shown killing Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the bulk of the Republican base had never heard of Gosar. (Sure, he popped up from time to time to push conspiracy theories about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and the 2020 election, but – by and large – he was a non-entity on the national scene.)
Now look at him. For the base, Gosar is suddenly a hero of free speech and the antidote to Democrats’ pursuit of cancel culture and wokeness.
That sentiment was everywhere in the floor debate over Gosar’s censure on Wednesday.
“House Democrats have broken nearly every rule and standard in order to silence dissidents and pass their radical agenda,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Texas Rep. Chip Roy accused Democrats of “chilling debate” with the censure motion. “What scares me most about this is the attack on the freedom of speech from the Left this year,” said high profile conservative Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Gosar picked up on his newfound conservative hero status.
“If I must join Alexander Hamilton, the first person attempted to be censured by this House, so be it, it is done,” he said. (The first person actually censured by the House was William Stanbery, a member of Congress from Ohio. His offense? Suggesting that the Speaker of the House had his eye on the presidency.)
In all of this, Gosar is following a blueprint laid out by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was stripped of her committee assignments by the Democratic-controlled House in February after a series of incidents regarding the use of intolerant language. In the before time, that would have been a sure sign that Greene wasn’t long for Congress. After all, how can you represent the people who elected you best if you aren’t even allowed to serve on committees in the House?
That line of thinking, however, presumes that the goal of a Member of Congress is to, you know get stuff done. That is NOT in fact the goal of Greene and plenty of Republicans elected in the Trump years to the House. Their goal is to be someone – ideally a major figure on the state television of the right (Fox News), which can lead to lucrative books deals, speaklng engagements and maybe a plum lobbying job when they get out of Congress.
That new mentality is summed up in an email North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn sent to his Republican House colleagues earlier this year.
“I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation,” wrote Cawthorn – meaning that he is spending a lot more time and energy on building a communications operation that will get him known outside of the halls of Congress than he is in putting together a staff that can help him actually do the hard work of legislating.
Seen in this light, serving on committees is a distraction from the real goal that the like of Greene, Cawthorn and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz have for themselves: Building their #brand.
And, judging from the likes of Greene, Republican voters – and donors – have no problem with this approach. Despite being a freshman Member of Congress without committee assignments and a safe Republican seat, Greene has raised more than $6 million so far in 2021 – a once-unheard-of sum for someone of her newness and total lack of power in Washington.
Gosar now adds his name to this legion of House Republicans. Which is why the thinks he won on Wednesday.