Most top Georgia Republicans were silent or supportive of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene after she was stripped of committee assignments for her history of bigoted comments and promotion of violent conspiracy theories.
But some state GOP figures are actively trying to minimize the freshman congresswoman’s influence on Georgia’s Republican Party amid fears that she could weigh down the ticket in 2022 when she’s up for another term — or potentially takes a shot at statewide office.
A small but growing number of high-profile Republicans are speaking out against her behavior, which includes making racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic remarks; endorsing the execution of high-profile Democrats; and her past embracing of the deranged QAnon theory.
Some Republicans want lawmakers to redraw her district later this year to make her reelection more challenging and to shift the party’s attention toward more conventional conservative principles. And her former opponent, Rome neurosurgeon John Cowan, is weighing a 2022 rematch.
“I’ll put it in simple terms: Rep. Greene is an embarrassment to Georgia,” said state Rep. Bert Reeves, a Republican who represents a competitive Cobb County district. “She is the face of radical political extremism, and we don’t need that distraction.”
Credit: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ
Credit: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ
To be clear, the broad majority of the state’s GOP establishment has either sidestepped the debate over Greene or lined up behind her during the precedent-shattering vote to strip her of her committee assignments.
Gov. Brian Kemp and many other prominent Republican leaders have refused to take sides, and during the 2020 campaign, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler aggressively courted her endorsement to stave off a tough GOP challenger.
And some members of Congress who forcefully criticized her hateful remarks rallied behind her last week during the U.S. House vote that demoted her. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who pulled his endorsement of Greene in June, called it “outrageous hypocrisy and injustice” that the Georgian was targeted by Democrats.
But Republican leaders worry that Democrats will successfully frame her as the face of the GOP ahead of statewide votes next year, when newly elected U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock will top the Democratic ticket along with an expected rematch bid by Stacey Abrams for governor.
Already, state Democrats send multiple fundraising emails a day painting Greene as a member of the “extreme right,” just as she urges her supporters to build her coffers with “emergency” donations during her congressional battles.
And recently released polls show the tarnish on Greene’s brand. She has a favorable rating of 15% and an unfavorable rating of 37% among all voters nationally, though she’s more evenly split with fellow Republicans, according to the polls from Morning Consult/Politico, SurveyMonkey/Axios and YouGov/The Economist.
A more recent poll, conducted by Morning Consult after her demotion, had more troubling news for her Republican critics: She experienced an 11-point boost in approval ratings among GOP voters in the span of a week.
“There will always be noise in politics, but if our party wants to continue to be in control, we must focus on the meat and potatoes of what we are going to do moving forward for our state,” said state Rep. Kasey Carpenter, a Dalton Republican who represents a swath of Greene’s district. “That, in my opinion, is our best route through this drama scene.”
Greene, for her part, has said the demotion has “freed” her to more stridently push a far-right agenda, and that she plans to travel the nation to promote her views on limiting immigration, backing former President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and allowing guns on school campuses.
“I’m going to be holding the Republican Party accountable,” she said, “and pushing them to the right.”
‘Money would pour in’
There aren’t many easy options for critics aiming to sideline Greene. The northwest Georgia district is overwhelmingly conservative, and Greene handily won the GOP nomination last year despite moving to the district specifically to run for the seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Tom Graves.
Armed with new census data later this year, state lawmakers will hold a special session to redraw state legislative and congressional lines and could potentially tailor her district to be more competitive.
But overhauling the political boundaries might have little effect on Greene; after all, she was running to represent a more moderate suburban Atlanta district through much of 2019.
Still, some of Greene’s critics say GOP legislators should consider adding Democratic-leaning parts of Cobb to her district or tying her with incumbent U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk. And if not, they hold out hope that a third-party candidate can put a charge into the campaign.
“If she maintains something close to her current district, a challenger could perhaps pull off what has been practically impossible in the past: getting on the ballot as an independent by collecting 20,000 signatures,” said Brian Robinson, a Republican strategist and former deputy to Gov. Nathan Deal.
“He or she would have to make clear they’re conservative Republicans. But the general election electorate is ideologically different than the primary,” said Robinson, who has warned that Greene could haunt the GOP. “Greene would raise millions — but so would the challenger. The money would pour in.”
Democrats have little shot at winning the district as it stands now. Adrienne White, the vice chair of recruitment for the state Democratic Party, said she’s heard from more than a dozen candidates interested in running, and she is encouraging them to develop a plan and temper their expectations.
“It’s not a good reason to run just because Marjorie Greene is in office,” she said. “You have to come in with policy goals, a vision and a reason to run that better serves the people of the district.”
Among the contenders is Marcus Flowers, a U.S. Army veteran and former government contractor who frames himself as a centrist “voice of truth.” He said he understands why residents are hurting and angry with the government, but that the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol inspired him to fight back.
“This district is winnable for the right Democrat with a moderate message who really sees what this community is all about,” said Flowers, who said he’s raised thousands of dollars online since announcing his bid. “I’m running more so for the community than against Greene.”
‘A good statewide candidate’
A handful of Republicans with deep roots in the district have also rumbled about a run, starting with Cowan. He projected himself during the 2020 campaign as “all of the conservative, none of the embarrassment” but was trounced by Greene in the August runoff.
Cowan has elevated his political profile as head of a state chapter of a national group advocating for term limits, but he said he’s waiting to hear encouragement from Republican leaders and local party figures before he decides whether to mount another campaign.
“We have to get back to the concept that the role in Congress is to serve the constituents by protecting the Constitution and forming a more perfect union,” he said. “It’s not to seek national attention or to increase your Twitter followers.”
Greene could also join an unsettled field for statewide election next year, when every constitutional office is up for grabs and Warnock will compete for a full six-year term. Some of her closest allies, though, are encouraging Greene to stay put.
“I think she should stay where she is and make progress,” said Pamela Reardon, a GOP activist close to Greene. “She needs to keep trying to get conservative values through in Congress. She’ll be a good statewide candidate in the future — but not in two years.”
Greene’s critics, meanwhile, have their eye on a closer date: the state GOP convention in June, when there could be a proxy battle for control of the party’s infrastructure.
“Will the party concentrate on get out the vote and traditional Republican principles? Or conspiracy theories and alleged fraud?” asked former state Attorney General Sam Olens, a Republican who sees Greene as an embarrassment to the state GOP. “Redistricting will help the state party in the 2022 legislative elections — if a united party emerges after the convention.”
Reeves, the Cobb legislator, said his party needs to act before Greene is cemented as the GOP version of U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, the liberal New York Democrat vilified by the right.
“She goes beyond what it means to be conservative. Just as many Democrats say that AOC is not representative of their views, she is the equivalent Republican in that sense,” said Reeves, who said he “eagerly” donated to Cowan in 2020.
“I believe the Republicans will take back the U.S. House in 2022, and if we do, I hope the 14th District can identify a person that all of Georgia can rally behind and be proud of,” he said. “I will be active in that process.”