Editor’s Note: Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and author of the forthcoming book “The Presidency of Donald J. Trump: A First Historical Assessment.” Follow him on Twitter @julianzelizer. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
It was quite a week for the Republican Party. If anyone was still holding out hope that the GOP would shift away from its Trumpian pull, the last few days should serve as a powerful wake-up call.
During the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, a number of conservative Republican senators who appear to have an eye on 2024 raised the specter of conspiracy theories in an attempt to sidetrack a well-qualified and highly respected nominee.
Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, for example, went after Jackson by trying to paint a misleading picture that she had been particularly lenient toward sex offenders.
While the “soft on crime” line of attack might seem like a predictable extension of a decades-long Republican “law and order” strategy, commentators have pointed out that the senators may have been trying to appeal to those who follow QAnon and believe the conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump is locked in a battle against a group of elites who run a child sex ring.
Others fell back on another Republican bogeyman: critical race theory. Sen. Ted Cruz’s version of “gotcha” was to hold up books that had been assigned or recommended at a private school in Washington where Jackson is a board member, trying to make the case that they covered radical concepts unfit for children.
Throughout the confirmation hearings, Republicans tried to score cheap political points by delving into bizarre lines of argument – all of which revealed how fringe talking points had become mainstream. Top elected officials were espousing claims that in earlier eras would have been considered too far off base to focus on during a televised proceeding.
And then news broke that the January 6 committee had text messages sent by Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff at the end of his presidency.
Since New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer first broke the story about the ethical clash between Virginia Thomas’ high-level participation in right-wing organizations and the cases her husband participates in, more troubling details have emerged.
Thomas, who has ties to right-wing activists who have brought forth issues before the very court on which her husband sits, texted Meadows 29 times between the 2020 election and January 2021, urging him to continue the fight to overturn the election results.
“Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down,” she wrote on November 19, 2020. In other texts, she made references to Trump’s often-repeated lie that the election was stolen and called Biden’s victory “the greatest Heist of our History.”
“Release the Kraken,” a c