'She is weighing us down': Georgia GOP cringes at Marjorie Taylor Greene spectacle

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The Georgia GOP is tearing itself apart in a civil war. It lost two Senate seats in an ill-fated January run-off election. And the once-Republican suburbs in metro Atlanta — the most populous part of the state — have bolted toward the Democratic side.

Now, it’s contending with another budding public relations catastrophe: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the newly elected congresswoman whose extremist beliefs and promotion of bizarre conspiracy theories have rocketed her to national notoriety.

The calls for censure and her removal from Congress don’t appear to have damaged her standing in her conservative north Georgia district — and may have even strengthened the so-called QAnon Congresswoman there for now. She tweeted Friday that she raised $1.6 million off all the controversy and on Saturday told her 300,000 followers she just had a chat with a supportive Donald Trump — the former president who has referred to her as a “future Republican star.”

This is what a nightmare scenario looks like.

With the party reeling in the wake of its 2020 unraveling — when it lost too many centrist voters — state Republicans now worry Greene will emerge as the face of the GOP, tainting the entire ticket with a stamp of conspiracy theory and extremism in the run-up to the 2022 midterms.

“If you have any common sense, you know she’s an anchor on the party. She is weighing us down,” said Gabriel Sterling, a Republican election administrator who became a leading voice criticizing the baseless election conspiracy theories espoused by Trump and his supporters like Greene.

“Some people are saying maybe [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi will throw her out,” of Congress, Sterling said, referring to the House speaker. “The Democrats would never throw her out. They want her to be the definition of what a Republican is. They’re gonna give her every opportunity to speak and be heard and look crazy — like what came out Wednesday, the Jewish space laser to start fires. I mean, I don’t know how far down the rabbit hole you go.”

Judging from old social media posts and videos that surfaced last week, that hole is fairly deep. Greene has promoted the conspiracy theory that space lasers caused California wildfires, that school shootings were hoaxes and suggested that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should be executed for treason.

Greene is expected to play a pivotal role as a campaign issue in 2022 when Sterling’s boss, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, runs for reelection along with two other top Republicans, Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

All three are likely to face primary challenges but Raffensperger’s role overseeing elections in the state and his office’s decision to secretly record Trump asking him to somehow “find” votes to overturn the presidential election results have made him a top target of Trump supporters.

Against that backdrop, Greene — who also will be running for reelection in the conservative northwest corner of the state, where Republicans need to campaign — is expected to have an elevated role.

Establishment Republicans worry that if the GOP nominates conservatives from the party’s Trump and Greene wing, they’ll run the risk of suffering the same fate as Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who lost Jan. 5.

Loeffler’s opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, is up for reelection in 2022 and could share the ticket with Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee who is gearing up to run again.

Both Democrats are Black, heightening the issue of race — an issue that has dogged Greene, who has a history of making racist and racially insensitive remarks.

Top Loeffler advisers say Trump probably cost her the election and that Greene wasn’t a factor. But she could be in 2022 after the saturation coverage of Greene’s past comments.

“Greene was just a symptom of what’s going on in the Republican Party in the state and, frankly, the nation, in our election,” a Loeffler adviser said. “But in 2022, she’s going to be a symbol, assuming she’s not now already.”

During Greene’s 2020 race, Kemp privately advised Greene to “tone it down,” according to a source briefed on the conversation. But he’s now in such a weakened position from a longstanding feud with Trump that he’s leaving Greene alone, at least for the time being.

“We’re taking fire and there’s not much we can do right now,” said a Kemp adviser.

Chip Lake, an adviser to 2020 Senate candidate and former Rep. Doug Collins, echoed other Georgia Republicans who hoped that President Joe Biden and the Democrats who control Congress would overreach and make the state swing rightward during the 2022 midterms.

Until then, he said, Kemp and other top Republicans are playing for time.

“It’s the legislative session here in Georgia, so Kemp can say he’s focusing on that and that Marjorie Taylor Greene is a federal problem,” said Lake. “But over time she’s going to become Kemp’s problem and she has the potential to be a problem for all of us.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is under pressure to punish Greene, but Georgia Republican insiders fear he might not sanction her because Greene represents an energetic wing of the party and he’ll feel he can’t afford to risk punishing one of Trump’s favored office-holders.

Some Georgia Republicans fault McCarthy and his allies in the House Freedom Caucus for initially supporting Greene’s congressional bid and then doing little to stop her during the 2020 primary after her incendiary social media posts initially came to light.

At least one member of the state’s GOP congressional delegation, Rep. Jody Hice, withdrew his endorsement during the campaign, saying he found Greene’s statements “appalling and deeply troubling.”

After Hice yanked his support from Greene, a group of Republicans sought to drum up support for an outside political committee to take her on during the primary, but they couldn’t raise money because “McCarthy was zero help,” according to one strategist involved in the discussions.

The group even released a proposed TV ad on YouTube featuring Hice’s decision — the spot called her a “phony” because she moved to the district to run for the seat. Another operative said a different group of Republicans had a plan for yet another committee but “McCarthy waived off the donors. We couldn’t raise money.”

Asked about the accusations, a McCarthy spokesman did not comment on them but said her “comments are deeply disturbing and Leader McCarthy plans to have a conversation with the Congresswoman about them.”

Georgia Republicans expect Greene will face a primary challenge, and some hope she could somehow be drawn into a tougher seat during redistricting. But they acknowledge she’s popular in her district.

Greene’s primary opponent in 2020, Dr. John Cowan, is considering running against her again. He faulted McCarthy, Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan for backing her. He said Democrats are already making Greene, known by her initials “MTG,” the face of the Republican Party — similar to how Republicans sought to brand Democrats as the party of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

“MTG is the AOC of the GOP. But as much as I hate to say it, AOC is nowhere as crazy as this,” Cowan said. “I’m a neurosurgeon. I diagnose crazy every day. It took five minutes talking to her to realize there were bats in the attic. And then we saw she had skeletons in the closet.”

A spokesman for Greene did not return emails seeking comment for this story, nor did state GOP Chair David Shafer.

One of Greene’s close allies is Georgia lawyer Lin Wood, who was at the center of the state GOP conflict and represented her during the primary by threatening legal action against a Cowan supporter who criticized her on social media. Advisers to Cowan’s campaign, which featured the controversy in an ad, said they found it ironic that Greene — who has worn a “censorship” mask to protest large tech companies that flag posts and suspend accounts — blocked the man featured in the ad and other critics on her Facebook page.

Greene had an early leg up in her crowded 2020 primary because she was running for another seat in the state, but switched to the 14th Congressional District when Rep. Tom Graves unexpectedly retired. No one else had a campaign staff or the top backing Greene already had, thanks to McCarthy and his allies, said Luke Martin, GOP chair in Floyd County, one of the 12 counties in the district.

Martin said Greene worked hard by holding multiple events and is continuing to give town halls in the district. And, he said, she’s not talking about QAnon or other wild conspiracy theories, nor did she on the stump.

“The folks I’ve talked to here are saying ‘I like Marjorie but, wow I wish she didn’t say that stuff,’” Martin said. “The Marjorie we know in the district is not this laser-beam-from-space Twitter person.”

In Gordon County, GOP Chair Kathleen Thorman said there’s a feeling that Greene has been inaccurately portrayed in the mainstream news media. Greene’s constituents , Thorman said, appreciated some of her early actions in Congress, such as her petition to impeach Biden, because people want to know more about his son’s business dealings when he was vice president.

“People are mad because they feel Congress and the media are trying to silence their voice. They voted for her and they feel it’s their voice being silenced,” Thorman said. “In two years, when she runs again, we’ll see what happens.”

Tony Abernathy, the Murray County GOP chair, echoed a similar sentiment in a text message: “The real story is we love Marjorie Taylor Greene and are tired of national media coming into Georgia trying to tell us how to think in her district.”

Brian Robinson, an adviser to former Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, fretted that the criticisms of Greene will lead to just the sort of rallying effect she’s seeing in the district and in her fundraising, elevating her profile and ensuring that Republicans statewide are “constantly being put in this circular firing squad about why we’re losing elections.”

Greene, he said, has an “it” factor and a mastery of social media that ensures attention from the news media, outrage from her critics and adulation and campaign contributions from her base.

“Here’s the problem with Marjorie Taylor Greene: you can’t look away. She has great camera presence. She has great TV presence. She’s a natural, a true talent,” Robinson said. “The question is whether she’s a moron who’s a natural talent or is she just a cynical manipulator? I just happen to believe she’s a true moron who happens to be great on camera. But we’ll see.”

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