The Majorie Taylor Greene Problem

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S1: When I hear the name Marjorie Taylor Green, I think of a series of disturbing superlatives. She’s the only known congressperson to believe in the Kuhnen conspiracy theory. She’s the congresswoman who filed articles of impeachment against Joe Biden, his first week in office. And a few days back, she got into an argument in the hallway with another freshman Congresswoman, Cori Bush. Afterwards, Bush physically moved her offices at the Capitol just to avoid Representative Green. But all this it’s not how Greg Bloustein knows Marjorie Taylor Green.

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S2: I mean, you got to remember, you know, when she first started running, she was running for a suburban a moderate suburban congressional district in metro Atlanta and she wanted to meet with me.

S1: Greg works in Atlanta. He’s a political reporter at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the AJC.

S2: And so we met at a little coffee shop not far from where I live. And so I had a pleasant meeting with her and I learned a lot about her background. And then these videos came out.

S1: These videos are the other thing I think about when I hear Marjorie Taylor Greene’s name. There are hours of them.

S3: David, why are you supporting the red flag of national outlets have only started surfacing them over the last couple of weeks. But Greg, he’s known about the videos for months. They show Marjorie Taylor Green’s political life before she was elected to office. In one, she seems to have traveled to the Capitol simply to follow a Parkland’s school shooting survivor around to try to pick a fight with him. Do you not know how to defend your stance? Then there’s a video of her attempting to tell Muslim congresswomen that they can’t be sworn in using a Koran.

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S4: You know, we’re going to explain about how you can’t swear in on the Koran and we’re going to have the Bible and ask them if they would swear in on the Bible that we really need to know. Yeah, we have the oath yet.

S1: It’s ugly stuff, the kind of stuff Greg thought would certainly tank Marjorie Taylor Green’s run for office, but it didn’t.

S2: And luckily for her, the Northwest Georgia district, which is far more conservative, it’s one of the most Trump friendly districts in the eastern seaboard. Well, that that Congressman Tom Graves decided to retire. Within weeks, she decided to pack up, move to northwest Georgia and run for that seat. She was able to basically transplant an entire campaign operation she had already built to run for the sixth district over to northwest Georgia, where, to be honest, it’s a lot cheaper to run. Wow. She lucked out. She did.

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S3: Today on the show, how long will this congresswoman’s luck last? So far, Marjorie Taylor Green has been able to use racism and conspiracy theories to fuel her political rise.

S5: Some of her new colleagues are trying to figure out the best way to stop her. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: Greg says the rise of Marjorie Taylor Greene cannot be disconnected from the rise of President Trump, like Trump, her superpower is railing against the establishment and establishment she’s quickly becoming part of. You could see this contradiction most clearly last month when the House met to debate President Trump’s second impeachment and Representative Greene wore a mask with the word censored across the front, even though she was speaking to millions live. Greg says there’s another way this representative is like Trump. While she has aggressively courted a rural base, Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn’t come from the same world as her constituents.

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S2: This gets missed a lot in the national conversation is that she’s not some, like, backwoods, like redneck. I mean, people will put these like Deliverance Meems up when she speaks. She’s not that type. And this is nothing against people who are, you know, born and raised in that district because a lot of my friends are. But she’s from a very wealthy neighborhood in Metroliner. Her kids went to very expensive private schools. She comes from a very affluent background. She’s not some you know, some of her critics want to paint her as some backwoods bumpkin, and that’s just not who she is.

S1: Yeah. Can we talk about the people in Marjorie Taylor Green’s district and what they think of all this? And I don’t know if we have a good read on it, but, you know, she’s in this very white district. It’s been hit really hard by covid. What else do we need to know about the people there and how they are looking at their new congresswoman?

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S6: Yeah, it’s very white, very conservative, very rural. And a mix of some exurbs is not safe served by giant media market. So and there’s not a very dominant news outlet or newspaper that provides information. So a lot of the voters I talked to during my visits to the district told me that their primary sources of information were social media or very conservative outlets. And the other day, a couple of days ago, Margie Taylor Green held several town hall meetings for constituents. And I listened in on on them. And over and over again, you heard this fantasy narrative playing out because she sponsored some kind of push to impeach Joe Biden. She the only Republican sponsor, the only sponsor period, on this legislation that’s going to go nowhere to impeach Joe Biden just as he took office. And yet at these town hall meetings, her constituents are treating it seriously. They’re asking serious questions about why is the mainstream media not paying attention? What is the what is the hearing going to start? How soon is Joe Biden going to be out of office? Those kinds of questions about legislation that, you know, objectively is going nowhere, you know, that not even Fox News is reporting is viable. But but her constituents are getting the message from alternative news sources that this is somehow this this legit push to remove Joe Biden from office.

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S1: That’s such an important point, that part of the way the disinformation spreads and grows is when there’s no trusted, vetted source out there. And it sounds like that’s another way that Margaret Taylor Green got lucky.

S6: Yeah, it is. Look, I mean, I went to some of these stop the deal rallies in Georgia. It would interview people afterwards who, you know, identify myself as an agency reporter and they all know the AJC and they’d be honest. They say we’re not reading you, you guys at all. But they also would talk about how frustrated they were because they weren’t sure they wanted to vote, but they didn’t know how to vote because they had been told by President Trump the vote by mail was fraudulent. But they had also been told that President Trump and his allies, that there was problems with Georgia’s electronic voting machines. So they were genuinely frustrated and conflicted. You could hear it in their voices, see it in their body language, how upset they were because they wanted to find a way to vote. But they were told so long that that it was there. All these problems.

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S1: Well, and I wonder if your Republican political contacts are looking back at how they played things with Marjorie Taylor Green and expressing regret or thinking of doing things differently moving forward.

S6: I think it’s a mix of regret and just resignation, because they felt like at the time, given given the context of those races, they did what they had to do in order to have a chance at keeping Georgia red. And of course, it didn’t work out for them and now they’re going to have to deal with her. For at least the next two years, but probably deep into the to this decade, as she continues to give them headaches, and there’s no easy answer for those Republicans now who have suddenly awoken to the fact that she is going to be an embarrassment to the party for a while and that Democrats are eagerly and probably successfully going to brand her as the face of the Georgia GOP.

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S1: I feel like some of the national coverage has talked about a war within the GOP, you know, war for the heart of what does it mean to be a Republican. But when I hear you talk, it doesn’t sound like a war. Sounds like very polite, slow moving negotiations, which I’m not sure how effective that is in sort of quieting down the kind of rhetoric that Marjorie Taylor Green is putting out there now.

S2: It’s almost like appeasement. It’s like we’ll have, you know, Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, says I’ll have a conversation with her. That’s not exactly the type of response that we could have expected a few years ago in the pre Trump eras or something like that.

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S1: Well, it’s funny, because if you look back when these videos and comments started getting some national attention back in June before she was a congresswoman, Kevin McCarthy was asked about this stuff back then and he seemed to be stronger then than he is now. You know, he said these comments are appalling. Leader McCarthy has no tolerance for them. This is a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But now Marjorie Taylor Green comments still out there, you know, resurfacing again. And she’s on the education committee and he’s saying, OK, I’m going to give her a talking to. It’s really different.

S2: Exactly. And more than a few people have have noted that the Republican response to Marjorie Taylor Green in Congress has been far more muted than the Republican response to Liz Cheney, who is one of the 10 Republicans who voted for the impeachment of President Trump. You know that Liz Cheney is getting more backlash for for voting for impeachment than Marjorie Taylor Green did for endorsing the death of the House speaker. Right. So and that may tell you what you need to know. Yeah. And look, and that’s that’s true to a lesser degree or to a different degree is happening in Georgia. We’re not hearing the governor or the former senators or any of the party’s top statesmen coming out and warning what would happen, you know, saying that Marge Taylor needs to be ousted or censured or whatever, you know, whatever punishment or saying this does not represent Georgia. And look, it mirrored what happened after Trump lost Georgia in November. It took a very long time for Republican leaders to say to speak out against Trump, calling it a rigged election. There was this gradual process. You had some Republicans, like the secretary of state and Louisiana governor, pushed back immediately, but others took a very long time until they said Georgia’s election was free and fair. And let’s move on.

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S3: It’s the Democrats who are calling for Marjorie Taylor Green to be held to account for the intolerance that she has so proudly broadcast over the last few years, some have called for censure, even expulsion from office. This week, Democratic leadership gave the GOP an ultimatum strip Marjorie Taylor Green of her assignments on the education and budget committees within 72 hours, or they’ll do it themselves.

S1: But Greg says in some ways that reaction plays right into Marjorie Taylor Green’s hands.

S7: Look, she wants to be martyred and you can tell by her Twitter feed that she is just all this does is is fuel her claims that she is being censored, that she is being cast aside. But look. House lawmakers are in a very tough situation with this because Democrats at first said this is a Republican issue that we want. You know, they prefer that Republicans deal with this. But when they put her on, when House leaders, Republican leaders put her on the education committee, even after it became evident the videos came forward, that show that she was mocking victims of mass shootings at Sandy Hook and at Parkland High Schools, home of two of the most notorious mass shootings in schools, it became an untenable situation for Democrats.

S1: So it sounds like you’re saying you don’t think the Democrats have a choice?

S7: I think that it became really difficult for Democrats to stand aside and do nothing if Republicans weren’t going to do anything. So this became the kind of middle option they they gave the Republicans one more chance to do something. And if not, she’ll lose her seats on two of the more influential committees in Congress.

S1: Hmm. How do you think her constituents are going to see all this?

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S7: Most of them, the people who supported her in November, are going to echo what she’s been saying. They’re going to echo the fact that this is another example of Republican Trump supporters being silenced. It’s why she’s wearing a censored mask and she will definitely be sending fundraising emails out about it. She’ll probably raise another boatload of cash off that. She raised about one point six dollars million in a few days in the run up to the last big controversy. So she essentially said after she was called on to resign, after she was called on to to to quit her committee assignments, she raised nearly two million bucks.

S1: So like in the last week or two, yeah.

S7: She didn’t give an exact timeline. But she says in the last few days who.

S1: It’s a lot of money. That’s a yeah. That’s a lot of money. That’s big business.

S7: And I’m on all these campaign mailers that she sends out and that her allies send out. And it seems like every day there’s another one saying Chipin five bucks, chip in ten bucks, chip in twenty five bucks. And she’s she’s she’s got this national audience now. She has more than 300000 followers on Twitter. That’s a powerful megaphone to raise cash and to and to get your message out.

S5: When we come back, how Greg thinks what the media learned covering Trump can help us cover Marjorie Taylor Green.

S1: I wonder how you think about how people like you and me should talk about Marjorie Taylor Green and politicians like her moving forward, because we’ve talked about how you knew for a long time about this inflammatory rhetoric and these videos that folks are so appalled by now. And you’ve reported on them. And it didn’t seem to make a difference in what happened with her. It just. It’s hard because I look at her and I think this is someone who clearly wants my attention, so I wonder how we talk about what she’s up to moving forward.

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S6: I think every outlet struggling with how much attention to give to her. I think going into this, we made the decision editorially of the agency that our resources are already limited. We were covering to new U.S. senators and other new members of the congressional delegation a legislative session and then the 20, 22 races just starting up after these epic Senate runoffs that just ended a few weeks ago. So we made the decision not to give everything she does. You know, Trump like oxygen, you know, every tweet, every controversial attention grabbing things she does not to, like, breathlessly go report. She’s trying to impeach Biden now. Now she’s saying that that X, Y, Z is a fake. All this stuff. Right. And so that’s what we did. We didn’t breathe that much oxygen. But we also realized that even if we don’t, the entire national media was I mean, she was leading The Washington Post, The New York Times live blogs for some moments over the last few weeks. So we had a kind of Reika reassessment of how to cover her with our with our more limited resources and do it in a shrewd way. And sometimes that just means blog posts about the pushback. We’re not writing in her and that she’s trying to impeach Joe Biden as if it’s something that’s real or legit. We’re not giving it a headline, but we are writing about the Democrats who are coalescing to find challengers and to do anything they can to to make her the face of the Georgia Republican Party and those Republicans who are speaking out. And we’re also going to her district and interviewing people, her constituents, and monitoring very closely how the local news outlets in the 14th District are covering her, because several of them have wrote have penned op eds saying, and these are very conservative newspapers, by the way, and they’re saying that they like conservative politics. But she is not representing that district at all. She’s given that district a bad name.

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S1: Hmm. I wonder if you feel like you’ve learned anything from covering the Trump years that you now want to apply to covering Marjorie Taylor Green, because she really is borrowing from the playbook. You know, like you said, it’s not that she’s, you know, from her district or from a rural background, but she’s certainly speaking to those people and, you know, representing them in Congress. You know, she’s just doing so many of the same things. So I wonder if you look back and think, oh, I feel like I did this right. I feel like I want to change how I do that.

S2: Yeah, a couple of things. First, we’re not breathlessly reporting everything she says. Right, because that’s what a lot of media did with Trump, you know, including the AJC, you know, where there is very controversial tweets they did early in his administration. Every time he tweeted there is there was a story on it and it got lots of clicks for us and every other outlet, I’m sure. But we also realized pretty quickly that that wasn’t serving our readers in any good way. Second, we can’t discount that appeal she has. We can’t just ignore the fact that what she’s saying, what she’s the grievances she’s playing into, are doing so for a reason that there is a deep well of support for her. This isn’t just some fluke. I mean, she did take advantage of an unbelievable situation to win. But, you know, she won for a reason and she beat out all those other local Republicans, including a neurosurgeon, John Cohen, who lived in the district for decades, you know, who had made his name and career in that district. She beat him for a reason. And third, we’ve got a call out as often as we can. When there’s lies, when there’s falsehoods, when there’s when there’s racist and anti-Semitic and xenophobic remarks, we don’t use racially tinged and, you know, those kinds of mealy mouthed words we say and pretty much every story that she has a history of racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic remarks. We include links to those in the stories. We call out the fact that she has been promoting lies about widespread voting fraud and that she is being blamed by Republicans for contributing to the election defeats of Senators Leffler and Perdue in January. All those things are kind of staples to to our coverage as we continue to be on. We’re not letting folks forget about that background.

S3: Greg Bloustein, thank you so much for joining me. Thank you for having me. Greg Bloustein is a political reporter at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and that is the show What Next is produced by Davis Land, Mary Wilson, Daniel Hewitt and Ilana Schwartz. We are led by Allison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. You can find me on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s Desk. Thanks for listening. I will catch you back here tomorrow.