© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene holds a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington
By Nathan Layne and James Oliphant
CEDARTOWN, Ga (Reuters) – Pastor Brian Crisp prayed from the pulpit for President Joe Biden last Sunday and delivered a passionate sermon on love for neighbor. But apart from the church, the Baptist preacher prepared for battle.
This rural stretch of northwest Georgia is the land of Marjorie Taylor Greene. The new congresswoman won this district in a landslide in November. Voters here are not happy that the democratically controlled House of Representatives stripped Greene of her committee duties on February 4th – which diluted her influence – because she advocated violence against democratic lawmakers on social media prior to her election.
Exhibition A for the Democrats was Greene’s Facebook (NASDAQ 🙂 post from September, which featured a picture of herself wielding an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle lying next to the faces of three Democratic congressional women. The post, which was later removed from Facebook, called on Christians to “take action against these socialists”. Crisp, the pastor, saw the position not as a threat from Greene against the officials – all women of the same skin color – but as a defense of the way of life in his ward.
“It fostered a strong stance about who we are as Americans,” Crisp said over lunch in Cedartown, a town of 10,000 northwest of Atlanta. “We’re not going to let you come here and change this nation.”
A passionate supporter of former President Donald Trump, Greene took center stage as the Republican Party grappled with a profound identity crisis following its November election defeat. Their extremist views resonate with many lawmakers and voters who remain loyal to Trump, despite warnings from more mainstream Republicans that they and candidates like them could harm the party’s electoral wealth in the long term.
Reuters this month interviewed three dozen Republican-minded voters in Georgia’s 14th district, the mostly rural and working-class area Greene sent to Washington. The majority said they supported their view that the Democrats are leading the country on a dangerous road to socialism. Like Greene, they believe Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen. They claim the former president was wrongly indicted for instigating the deadly January 6 riot by a pro-Trump mob in the U.S. Capitol, and they justify his acquittal in the Senate.
Only four of those surveyed said they did not vote for them in November. Most said they would support them again.
FIGHT OVER COMPROMISE
Most of the outlandish conspiracies Greene has promoted in the past, including an unfounded QAnon theory that says elite Democrats are part of a cabal of pedophiles and cannibals who worship Satan. Instead, they praised their anti-abortion, pro-gun, and no-filter approach to politics.
“She has her voice. I like her style,” said Michael Pace, a 26-year-old manager at a gift boutique in Dallas, Georgia.
Like Trump, Greene understands that her supporters value willingness to fight over compromise or political success, said David Jolly, a former Florida Republican congressman who left the party because of Trump. Jolly believes Greene’s newfound political notoriety – the 46-year-old’s national profile has grown dramatically in the last month – could endanger other Republicans competing in next year’s midterm elections.
Democrats wasted no time in making Greene the face of their party, with a view to the 2022 elections for the House and Senate. An advertising campaign already running in competitive districts including California and Texas states, “QAnon has taken over the Republican Party and sent its supporters to Congress.”
A Reuters review of voter records shows tens of thousands of registered Republicans in key battlefield states of Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina left the party this year, much higher than the rate of Democratic raids. In addition, prominent Republicans concerned about Trump’s influence on the party are in talks to form a breakaway center-right party, Reuters reported this week.
A Greene representative did not respond to requests for comment. At a press conference last week in Washington, she stood defiant and said the Democrats had “stolen my district of their vote” by banning them from committees. Greene used her fall as an opportunity to raise funds from supporters.
Michael McAdams, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Democratic efforts to portray Greene and QAnon as proxies for the entire party were a strategic misfire. He accused the Democrats of “increasing marginal conspiracy theories” by criticizing Greene.
“We will continue to pound the House Democrats for their job-killing, socialist agenda,” said McAdams.
Most Republicans in the House have shown little interest in distancing themselves from Greene by now. Rather than reprimanding Greene for her views, a few colleagues in the House gave her a standing ovation on February 3 after she apologized for some of her earlier positions, including an earlier claim that the US government was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks .
Trump loyalists across the country are flexing their muscles. In the past few weeks, they have taken control of the Republican chapters in the battlefield states of Arizona and Michigan. And parties in Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and Wyoming have beaten Republican lawmakers who backed Trump’s removal from office for inciting a January 6th Capitol insurgency.
The trend worries Jay Williams (NYSE :), a Republican in Georgia. He pointed to two recent U.S. Senate competitions, both won by Democrats in surprising resentments with pro-Trump Republicans, as a preview of what lies ahead if the Republican Party continues to hold off moderate voters.
The Trump wing of the party must “learn to play with other people, otherwise they would lose more”.
CHURCHES AND GUNS
A former businesswoman and fitness trainer in the Atlanta area, Greene’s sudden rise into national politics was made possible by her largely rural district, which is one of the most conservative in the country.
The region is littered with Protestant churches. Gun possession is common. Democrats are routinely crushed in local and national elections. Greene won the Republican primary last year after beating a local neurosurgeon, John Cowan, by 14 points in a runoff election. She went on to crush her Democratic challenger in the general election by winning nearly 75% of the vote.
Your district is predominantly white – around 85% – and has a graduation rate of only 18%, well below the national average of around 34%. Manufacturing and retail jobs dominate the local economy.
The district is sparsely populated, with 732,000 people in 12 counties. However, in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases, it ranks third among all districts in Georgia: it was more than 60,000 as of February 10, according to a tracking project at Harvard University.
Still, much of downtown Rome, a city of 37,000 in the heart of the district, functions as if the virus is no longer a threat. Maskless guests enter and exit shops and bars along Broad Street. Many businesses have signs in their windows protesting the enforcement of a local face-covering ordinance.
Even so, not everyone in the district was ready to join Greene, who will stand for re-election next year.
Cowan, the neurosurgeon, said many followers are asking him to run again in 2022. But he’s realistic about the appeal of Greene’s flaming political style.
“If our district wants this, I’ll lose,” said Cowan, a gentle ex-college football player. “I’m not on a kamikaze mission.”
In Georgia’s Dade County, part of Greene’s district, Tom Pounds abruptly resigned as chairman of the county’s Republican Party last week. Already dismayed by his party’s unwavering allegiance to Trump, he said Greene’s hug pushed him over the edge.
“I wouldn’t bite my tongue for two more years,” he said.
“SHE IS THERE FOR ME”
A recent meeting held in Cedartown was more representative of the district. There is a local gas station and convenience store three miles north of Crisps Lime Branch Baptist Church. Every morning before sunrise, local men known as “the committee” gather over bacon, biscuits and semolina to discuss the day’s news.
Jeff Minge, shop owner and regular committee member, said he likes Greene because she doesn’t “walk on eggshells” when she speaks and how Trump is a bulwark against the left.
One recent morning six men seated at a plastic table took turns taking turns dealing with various perceived injustices committed by Democrats. Among their cattle was the condemnation of Trump’s attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters on January 6, a rampage that killed five people. Why hadn’t the Democrats been just as forceful about violence in protests against Black Lives Matter last summer, the committee wondered.
While Greene may have made some unfortunate comments, the men agreed, the men agreed.
“It’s radical, no doubt,” said Mike Lester, a 53-year-old auto repair instructor. “But she is there to support me, radical or not.”