The Memo: Marjorie Taylor Greene exposes GOP establishment’s lack of power
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was blasted for antisemitic comments by her party’s top congressional leaders earlier this week.
Two days later, she was celebrating her birthday in front of adoring fans at an event in Georgia.
The split-screen contrast says a lot about where the Republican Party finds itself. And Greene’s rise underlines the GOP establishment’s impotence when it comes to restraining her — even if it wants to.
The latest furor began when the first-term congresswoman drew a parallel between the treatment of Jews at the hands of the Nazis and a supermarket’s decision to add a special logo to the name-badge of vaccinated employees.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called her remarks “wrong” and “appalling.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) described them as “outrageous and reprehensible.”
But none of it mattered — at least to the large swath of the GOP’s base that buoys up figures like Greene, who might formerly have been confined to the political fringes.
She arrived in a Humvee, amid loud music and cheers, for her Thursday rally with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Like Greene, Gaetz is an ultra-loyal supporter of former President Trump. He is under investigation for possible sex trafficking.
Greene soon tweeted about the event to her 414,000-plus followers. She included a brief clip of her dramatic entrance and later, quote-tweeting Gaetz, proclaimed it “the BEST birthday party I’ve ever had!”
The previous day, a poll from The Economist/YouGov showed Greene to be significantly more popular among Republican voters than Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) or Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).
The poll showed 42 percent of Republican voters holding a favorable view of Greene and only 21 percent viewing her unfavorably. By comparison, just 24 percent had positive feelings toward Romney and only 18 percent felt the same toward Cheney.
The first-term congresswoman — who has in the past suggested that imaginary space lasers controlled by Jews were responsible for California wildfires — is now roughly twice as popular with Republican voters as the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee.
The same trend can be seen in fundraising. Greene raised $3.2 million in the first three months of this year, a startling sum for a House member first elected in November.
“We have had issues in the past with extreme voices getting a following. But what Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz have been able to do is monetize their notoriety,” complained one former GOP House member who requested anonymity. “There was a time when these kinds of extreme, radical voices were marginalized. It was the rational, thoughtful members who were elevated. I feel like we are not where we were.”
It’s the relative popularity of Greene among the GOP base that worries opponents in both parties.
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) told this column that he is finalizing the wording of a censure motion against Greene, which he will soon introduce in the House.
On one hand, Schneider said, drawing attention to Greene can feel problematic because “she is a distraction and she takes glee in that.”
But, he added: “Even if as one person she is a distraction, the failure of her party to call her out, to condemn her and to isolate her means she has become the face and the voice of the party. And that is dangerous for the country.”
Some Democrats have gone further. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) has sought Greene’s expulsion from Congress.
Others say they feel real fear regarding Greene, who during her campaign posted a photo of herself holding a rifle alongside pictures of three Democratic congresswomen.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) asked for her own office to be moved away from Greene’s earlier this year, citing security concerns.
More recently, House Democrats have reportedly contemplated whether Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) should consider taking out a restraining order against Greene. Earlier this month, Greene pursued the New York Democrat through the halls of Congress, speaking aggressively to her in a manner that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) characterized as “verbal assault.”
Greene says she has been unfairly maligned. She has said she simply wants Ocasio-Cortez to debate her.
Regarding the antisemitism controversy, Greene tweeted: “The media and Democrats and everyone feeding into it is allowing them to hide the truth, which is the disgusting antisemitism within the Democrat Party.”
She then repeated her inflammatory comparison, saying that the use of “shame” against people who refuse COVID-19 vaccinations or mask wearing was “reminiscent of the great tyrants of history who did the same to those who would not comply.”
It is no secret why Greene’s popularity within the GOP exceeds that of figures like Romney and Cheney.
She is a fervent supporter of Trump, and has earned his praise in return, while Romney and Cheney are critics of the former president. The party remains in Trump’s thrall, which boosts Greene and hinders the dissenters.
The party leadership is, for the most part, unwilling to pay the cost of crossing the former president — or his supporters.
McCarthy, who was briefly critical of Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection, has become fully supportive. McConnell on Friday led Republican senators in quashing a proposed commission to investigate the Capitol riot.
The previous evening, former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a speech that the party should not depend on “the populist appeal of one personality, or on second-rate imitations.”
Ryan did not actually say Trump’s name but the former president slapped him down anyway.
“Paul Ryan has been a curse to the Republican Party,” Trump said in a statement. “He has no clue as to what needs to be done for our Country.”
Trump critics fear what all this means for the future of the GOP. They see Greene, in particular, as emblematic of the party’s accelerating slide into conspiracy-mongering and paranoia as the former president continues to stoke the fiction that the 2020 election was stolen.
“The poisons have spread, and in the short term I don’t think there is any obvious way to drain this poison. So you get people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz and you can go through the entire freak show,” said Pete Wehner, who served in the administrations of three Republican presidents but is a strong Trump critic.
Schneider, the Democratic congressman, said he saw the GOP drifting from its moorings into dangerous waters.
He recalled the speech made a quarter-century ago by Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), as he accepted the GOP’s presidential nomination. 1996 was the same year in which David Duke, a former grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan, ran for Senate as a Republican in Louisiana.
Dole, in his acceptance speech, insisted that the Republican Party was “broad and inclusive.” For those who thought otherwise, he said, “the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of, as I stand this ground without compromise.”
Schneider noted that the intervening period has seen the rise of extreme figures in right-wing media, and increasingly, in politics.
At one stage, he noted, “shock-jock radio hosts” and others expressed views “which people laughed off as entertainment.”
“But we are seeing it is not a laughable matter,” he added. “People are embracing those shocking views and acting on them.”
By Friday evening, Greene was in a new Twitter fracas, this time with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a moderate who voted for Trump’s impeachment.
The party, she opined, would be better off “when it gets rid of fake R’s who bask in praise from CNN” and has “leaders who don’t condemn their own and instead attack terrorists supporting [sic] D’s.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.