10 GOP Rebranding Roadblocks

Anti-gay slurs, threats towards journos, inappropriate Tweets—these Republicans pose a threat to the party’s agenda.

01.30.14 10:45 AM ET

John Boehner should feel happy as he leads House Republicans to the caucus’s annual retreat in Cambridge, Maryland. After a fractious year that included the government shutdown and protracted stalemate in Washington, D.C., the Speaker has been able to push major legislation over the objections of the outside conservative groups that have stymied him in the past. House Republicans have approved a deal to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year as well as finally pass a farm bill.

But there are grey clouds on the horizon for the GOP, which is still in the process of trying to rebrand itself after the 2012 election. Even as Boehner makes progress on long treasured legislative priorities, such as immigration reform and Republican prospects to take the Senate in November, there are still a number of Republicans who could throw wrenches into the process or at least be distractions in the coming months. From gaffe prone state legislators to politically astute Capitol Hill power players, here are 10 of them.

Michael Grimm

The day after the State of the Union, the Republican response creating chatter isn’t Cathy McMorris-Rodgers official response, or Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s response in Spanish, let alone Mike Lee’s Tea Party response or Rand Paul’s response for its own sake. It’s when Michael Grimm, a two-term congressman from Staten Island, told a reporter  “I will break you in half. Like a boy.”  This was off-message.

While Grimm has now apologized, the vulnerable incumbent’s blow up has already provided both the national and the local media a new reason to examine the +campaign finance allegations against him as well as  his controversial past in the FBI. Even though Grimm is somewhat obscure, this could still cause plenty of problems for the GOP. After all, when haven’t the travails of New York City congressman caused a national embarrassment?

Steve King

If immigration reform is being considered by Congress, Iowa Republican Steve Kingis always sure to chime in. Last summer, King, a steadfast opponent of amnesty for undocumented immigrants, famously spoke about young people who would be legalized under the DREAM Act:  “For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act."

King has loudly voiced his opposition to all efforts that allow any form of legal status for illegal immigrants. And, with his proclivity for colorful turns of phrase, he’s sure to make more controversial comments on the subject.

Randy Weber

Randy Weber thought he was going to be famous on Tuesday night. The first term Texas congressman, who has been described as “a conservative legend in his own mind” sent out a tweet saying, "On floor of house waitin on "Kommandant-In-Chef" [sic]... the Socialistic dictator who's been feeding US a line or is it "A-Lying?" He’s poised for Internet fame. Then, Michael Grimm had to go threaten a reporter.

The result? Weber lost out on the 15 minutes of fame he was hoping for.

The problem? There are still plenty of other opportunities for Weber to seek attention. After all, just about any off-kilter statement can be taken seriously if it comes from a member of Congress.

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Paul Broun           

Outspoken social conservative Rep Paul Broun (R-GA) is currently in the midst of a Senate run in Georgia against two other incumbent congressmen. Broun is prone to controversial remarks, including that the Big Bang Theory  comes from the pits of hell. In a tough four-way primary, he’s in good shape to grab the Republican nomination and become a statewide face of the GOP as a Senate nominee. If that happens, he’ll become the next Todd Akin.

Steve Stockman

Stockman is a Texas congressman currently embarked on a long shot bid to unseat Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn in March’s Republican primary.  The Texas congressman returned to Washington this week after spending more than two weeks dodging inquiries from reporters about his whereabouts. Now that he’s back, the Congressman has already called for impeaching Obama. While theoretically he might still have some constraints with his upcoming Senate election, after his expected defeat on March 4, he’ll have 10 months in Congress as a lame duck with absolutely nothing to stop the most notorious troll in Congress from being as outrageous as he wants.

Dave Agema           

Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema has now faced calls to resign from RNC Chair Reince Priebus and a host of prominent Michigan Republicans  for making several anti-gay and anti-Muslim remarks. Agema has now apologized,, but only for the anti-Muslim remarks. He did not apologize for his comments on gays, which include suggesting that they were “filthy” and prone to pedophilia and AIDS. With much of the Michigan Republican Party now trying to force the fiery Agema off the RNC, this is a recipe for political drama that will continue to plague the GOP in the crucial swing state for months to come.

Paul LePage           

Narrowly elected in a three-way in 2010, Paul LePage has been dubbed America’s craziest governor.  The Tea Partier from Maine started his governorship by refusing to attend a Martin Luther King Day breakfast, and things went downhill from there. In a debate about environmental regulation, he professed his indifference if “some women may have little beards,” compared the IRS to the Gestapo, told President Obama to “go to hell,” and suggested bombing newspapers and allowing 12-year-olds to drop out of school and work. LePage is up for re-election this year and has shown no signs of restraining his rhetoric or moderating his personality.

Harry Riley

Could millions of Americans emulate the Arab Spring by gathering in Washington and protesting to topple Obama’s administration and end American government as we know it? Not likely. But Harry Riley, a retired army officer from Florida, would like to think so. Riley is organizing “Operation American Spring” where tens of millions of patriots will gather in Washington to force Obama to resign and return to what they call “constitutional government.” 

Once this “second American Revolution” has been successful, “Those with the principles of a West, Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, Lee, DeMint, Paul, Gov Walker, Sessions, Gowdy, Jordan, will comprise a tribunal and assume positions of authority to convene investigations and recommend appropriate charges against politicians and government employees to the new U.S. Attorney General appointed by the next President.”

In other words, don’t hold your breath. While Tim Murphy at the liberal magazine Mother Jones pointed out that 32 people have showed up in total at two similar protests, size doesn’t matter as much as the media coverage that ensues. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell probably shouldn’t worry that a Tea Party Committee of Public Safety will come knocking on their doors in the middle of the night since this rally is not exactly on message for the GOP. And, regardless of its size, it’s too wacky not to get plenty of coverage.

Sally Kern

State legislatures are filled with whackos and nutjobs from both parties. Among them, Sally Kern of Oklahoma occupies a special place. Kern, a five term state representative, recently introduced a bill to prevent schools from punishing students for using food as a pretend gun or bringing any sort of toy gun to school. This is a step up for a woman who previously called homosexuality worse than terrorism and described being gay as “not a human right but a human wrong.” With Oklahoma’s ban on gay marriage under review in federal courts, it’s an opportunity for Kern to make more over-the-top comments in the national spotlight.

Louie Gohmert

Louie Gohmert has accused John McCain of supporting al Qaeda (a group he says maintains training camps in Mexico), warned of terrorist babies, and was the sole congressman to support keeping the word 'lunatic' in federal law. In other words, to quote Buzzfeed's Kate Nocera, "Gohmert is gonna Gohm."