Charles Bethea writes for the New Yorker, but he lives in Georgia, right near Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district. He’s covered her political rise for the past two years. He’s tagged along to her campaign speeches, interviewed the guys in her CrossFit gym. He even has the congresswoman’s cellphone number.
But they are not close.
When he did a splashy profile of her, back when she was first running for Congress, she wouldn’t even grant him an interview. “It was pretty clear she didn’t see any benefit in doing that,” Bethea says. “She knew it wasn’t going to harm her political chances in northwest Georgia, and she could weaponize it as ‘look at the liberal fake news media coming after me’ and that could actually be used to raise money.”
Bethea says it’s “a regionalized version of the Trump phenomenon.” Now, Marjorie Taylor Green is back on the campaign trail, like all members of congress. So Bethea is following her around again. He’s found that the congresswoman does not have a traditional story to tell her constituents. Her casual racism and prankish approach to politics mean she’s been stripped of her committee assignments and even kicked off of Twitter. Instead of getting attention for the bills she’s passed, she’s been in the spotlight for telling Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to “stay out of girls bathrooms.”
And the thing is: None of this seems to matter. “A lot of the Greene supporters didn’t seem to be able to offer a substantive case for why they wanted to vote for her,” he says. She’s become something of a political avatar. But being an avatar of the Republican right has downsides. It puts a target on your back.
On Monday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with Bethea about the race in Greene’s rural Georgia district. There’s more competition than usual, but Marjorie Taylor Greene isn’t running scared. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Mary Harris: It can be hard to gauge the level of support for a candidate like Marjorie Taylor Greene. Polls are few and far between in rural Georgia. The Republican Party seems to be holding Greene at arm’s length. Her home state has become a real battleground between the Democrats and the GOP. And then there’s Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district, which is in the northwest corner of Georgia, just beyond the reach of most of Atlanta’s suburbs.
Charles Bethea: While the rest of the state may be becoming purple-ish or blue-ish, this particular corner of the state is behaving in more anachronistic ways, and she will continue to take advantage of that.
You’ve spent some time in this district. So tell me about it. You say it’s anachronistic. What do you mean?
It’s very rural. It’s very white. It’s poor. Its two biggest cities each have fewer than 40,000 people. Fairly recently, I think 6,000 people signed a petition to preserve a statue of a Klan member.
Not a Confederate soldier. A Klan member?
Yeah, exactly. It has a history of electing fringe candidates. There was the election of a guy who was described to me as a paranoid urologist who represented the district back in the 1980s. Obviously, the district loves Trump, and Democrats have really made somewhat understandably half-hearted efforts at even running candidates.
There’s been six contests there since the district was drawn in 2010. I think they’ve only fielded a candidate in three of those, and when they’ve done that, they’ve had almost laughable candidates step up to the task, one of whom was a doctor with an expired medical license who was also a well-known nudist. And during a DUI stop that took place during the last weeks of the campaign, he told the arresting officer that he hated the county and he prayed for God to curse it.
It’s just so hard to get anyone to step up to the plate to run against Republicans here and those who do are a little nuts.
So let’s talk about the candidates who are running against Marjorie Taylor Greene this time, because she’s made herself into a target by being so loud, and that means that maybe the parties are paying more attention and putting different kinds of people to run against her. I know you started off by talking to John Cowan, who lost to Marjorie Taylor Greene last time around in a runoff.
He’s a guy who you would have really expected almost any other very conservative district in the country to just jump at the opportunity to elect. He was a Johns Hopkins–educated neurosurgeon in his late 40s. A family guy, former college football player, reserve deputy sheriff. And in his campaign against Greene, he did things like blow up watermelons with an AR-15—stuff that you’d think would excite the base.
But the feeling among the Republican electorate was that he was trying to play the part of the Trumpian candidate, whereas Greene actually was the real item itself. He didn’t feel as authentic.
What did he talk about when he was talking about running again and why he didn’t want to do that this time?
A lot of it came down to redistricting and how the district was redrawn. And ultimately, this district was made slightly more moderate by adding a little suburb from Atlanta. FiveThirtyEight said that it went from being, like, a plus-55 Republican district to, like, a plus-45. And meanwhile, he was already getting attacked by Marjorie’s “trolls,” as he called them. And he was like, “You know what? It doesn’t look like I have a real shot. I don’t want to put my family through this.” And I don’t really blame him there. But there is another Republican who looked at that same scenario and said, “I think that actually there is an opening here.”
You’re talking about Jennifer Strahan.
Yeah. She’s a health care small-business entrepreneur.
One of your sources called her “Marjorie with a brain.”
Yes, which was intended to be a compliment.
She describes herself as wanting to be a servant, not a celebrity. That sounds kind of hokey, but when I talked to her, she did come across as somebody who authentically wants to do work as a politician as opposed to just build up a celebrity status the way that Greene has.
And she also believes Joe Biden won the election.
She does, and it’s so obvious that he did, but saying that is almost dangerous for her, which is wild, right? Just to state a fact like, you know, “the Earth is round” actually puts her in a precarious position with a percentage of the Republican electorate there that sees that as some sort of treasonous statement.
Marjorie Taylor Greene also faces some notable Democratic challengers. One of them is Marcus Flowers, a former Defense Department contractor. He’s a Black man who likes to go to his public events wearing a big cowboy hat. He also seems to relish baiting his opponent online. A few months back, he showed up at one of Greene’s rallies accompanied by a camera crew. When he got kicked out, he sent the footage to his followers and asked for a donation.
During the State of the Union, when Marjorie Taylor Greene interrupted the president by chanting, “Build the wall,” Marcus Flowers saw it as an opportunity. He tweeted: “Marjorie Taylor Greene will not be able to heckle President Biden at the next State of the Union, because I will have taken her job.”
That’s catnip, especially for Democrats in California who are sending him money, but a lot of them frankly don’t realize the real dynamics and demographics of where he’s trying to run.
I’m glad you pointed that out because I feel like this is a little bit of a perennial problem for Democrats, especially in the South: running candidates who get people in New York and California excited and send tons of money and then just being blown out, which seems like a waste of resources.
Totally. Amy McGrath is a great example of that in Kentucky.
Jamie Harrison in South Carolina.
I remember reading that McGrath outraised Mitch McConnell by, like, $27 million and still lost by 20 or 30 points. It wasn’t even close. So one wonders if it’s actually going to move the needle at all when it comes to voting.
And there have been no polls, that I’ve seen at least, that have shown that either Flowers or a woman named Holly McCormack, who’s in a similar spot—lots of Twitter followers, raised some money—whether or not there are actually voters who are hearing their message in the district as opposed to people outside of it.
It sounds like a long shot, no matter who you’re talking about.
It’s like the moment in Dumb and Dumber where he’s like, “What’s my chance here?” And she’s like, one in a million? And he’s like, “Oh, so I have a chance.”
Something I noticed about all the candidates in this race is that they seem to be reacting to Marjorie Taylor Greene rather than creating their own weather systems. And it just made me wonder if any of them—Democrat or Republican—has a real shot here. Because I don’t know how you go up against a person who’s a bit of a phenomenon without being a phenomenon yourself.
We saw this with Trump, too. I think that people who opposed Trump were tempted to and often did focus more on his deficiencies than on their own qualifications. Marjorie Taylor Greene, she seems at least to many people to present this kind of smorgasbord of deficiencies. And it’s really tempting to focus on the Jewish space lasers and on the failed attempt to impeach Joe Biden and all these various other things than to talk about more nitty-gritty policy stuff that’s a little snoozy for the average voter, even if it’s actually more consequential.
Even if Marjorie Taylor Greene wins reelection this fall, there are other efforts to drive her out of office that are gathering steam. One group is claiming Greene simply shouldn’t be allowed to serve—and they’re looking to enforce this claim with a lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that she fits the definition of an insurrectionist.
The 14th Amendment says no person who has “engaged in insurrection” can be elected to office. And since the congresswoman has been such an outspoken supporter of Jan. 6 rioters, this lawsuit attempts to use her own words against her. The same group suing Greene is also taking aim at one of her House colleagues, Madison Cawthorn, from North Carolina. But disqualifying someone from office for supporting a coup? That hasn’t been done much since the Civil War.
Who would be considering the case against Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia?
The way it works procedurally is that the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, will potentially put it in front of an administrative law judge who would then make a ruling of some sort and then it could continue from there to be heard.
The likelihood that Greene will actually be disqualified from the ballot using these arguments is relatively low. But I think that she could be compelled, as this plays out, to testify under oath about her role in Jan. 6, which hasn’t happened before, and which would be quite useful to get a broader picture of what actually took place that day.
So are the people filing this suit seeing it that way to?
They’re not going to go ahead and concede that they’re not going to win this lawsuit. But it’s pretty clear that a secondary goal of the suit is this other opportunity to get her to testify under oath.
It’s interesting that Brad Raffensperger is involved in what happens next with this lawsuit against Marjorie Taylor Greene, because he’s the same guy who went head-to-head against Trump, right? He refused to find extra votes for him in Georgia.
And my impression is that Brad Raffensperger has suffered real consequences for what he chose to do in the wake of the 2020 election and has gotten a lot of anger hurled at him by even his own Republican colleagues.
Yeah, and she’s been one of the loudest voices criticizing him and arguably putting him in danger by really inciting a lot of the right-wing fringe to go after him in any way they deem worthwhile—whether it’s through social media or through actual death threats. Raffensperger has gotten death threats, and I’m not drawing a direct line between Greene and those death threats, but she certainly has been fanning those flames.
It’s hard not to think back to the voters in Greene’s district, the way they seem so energized by her, even if, on occasion they find her behavior a bit beyond the pale.
There’s been one poll done on Strahan and Greene—how they would fare matching up head to head.
The two Republican candidates: Marjorie and “Marjorie with a brain,” right?
Yeah. And this poll showed that Greene was favored by 60 percent of Republicans in the district, whereas Strahan won the favor of 30 percent. However—and this is what Strahan’s campaign likes to point to—when those same people polled were told, or reminded, about some of Greene’s worst gaffes or incendiary comments, it really narrowed almost to a statistical tie between the two of them. And so, that seems to indicate that there’s a possibility that this could actually be a tight race between the two. But my gut says probably not. And we’ll probably know pretty quickly that it’s going to be Greene against one of these sacrificial lamb Democrats.
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