The GOP’s MTG Reality
Setting the tone.
This piece from WaPo has been sitting in an open tab for a couple of weeks, but it is still worth noting: The GOP’s big risk in legitimizing Marjorie Taylor Greene. It dovetails quite well with a post I recently wrote, Primaries and Party Evolution, which discussed how Marjorie Taylor Greene went from newbie to fringe member of the House to in the middle of it all (as per the photo above). It also connects, more broadly, with another open tab I have from late January, also in the WaPo: GOP gives the Freedom Caucus the keys to the car.
Since I am making a number of reading recommendations, let me also suggest a piece from the January/February edition of The Atlantic: Why is Marjorie Taylor Greene Like This? The most disturbing part of the profile is that her origins are pretty darn mundane. (But, I digress).
In general, we are seeing the convergence of the following factors:
- The growth of the reactionary, populist right as a major wing of the Republican Party, as represented by people like MTG.
- The desperation of Kevin McCarthy to be Speaker.
- The lack of any other leadership alternative.
- A narrow seat margin in the chamber.
All of this sums to McCarthy being willing to do whatever he needed to win the position with the bulk of the GOP falling in line. They had no internal alternative and there was not going to be any crossing of party lines to find some kind of bipartisan coalition-the incentives against such behavior are enormous (in simple terms, the risk of massive primary-level backlash for participants of both parties in such a deal).
In basic terms, all of these factors mean people like MTG (and Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and the like) become vital votes in anything McCarthy wants to do (and hence the over-representation of the Freedom Caucus in key committee as noted in a link above).
The WaPo piece suggests that the GOP is running a risk in legitimizing MTG because she isn’t especially popular:
But just what does it mean for the GOP to promote Greene (R-Ga.) as a face of the party? And what do voters think of the newly legitimized, conspiracy theory-touting congresswoman?
Surveys make clear that Americans writ large don’t have much regard for Greene, at least right now. What’s perhaps less obvious is that even Republicans don’t seem to have too much affection for her.
The piece goes on to show, pretty definitively, that MTG is not especially popular–for those interested in the specific number, I suggest surfing over. The article concludes with:
And there’s little question she’ll test the wisdom of GOP leadership’s newfound affection for her — particularly at a time when her brand of extreme politics appeared to cost the party so much in the 2022 election.
I think this kind of observation ignores, as much US reporting does, that there is no way for general voter sentiment to be captured by our system. We have no national votes and so the question is not whether the embrace of MTG & Co. creates some generalized unhappiness across the country, it is whether it will affect specific district/state level races. Since in those cases the issue will be a lot more about the combination of existing partisan ID and the candidate running in that election, the risk to the GOP, electorally speaking (which is the only way that ultimately matters) is likely small. At some point, we, collectively as a country, need to come to grips with how poorly our electoral system creates any kind of true national feedback loop.
Still, the risks to the country of the mainstreaming of people like MTG are real. Indeed, she currently has outsized influence in the House, so it is not a theoretical issue. Beyond that, rather than MTG’s unpopularity infecting the GOP, thus making it more unpopular, it is just as likely (indeed, I think it is more likely) that the partisan identities of GOP voters will help launder MTG and make her more broadly acceptable. After all, look at how much Speaker McCarthy loves her! And he is a major leader in the party! So, the risk of mainstreaming the fringe is that the fringe becomes normalized.
Now, the piece does note that MTG’s behavior (along with Boebert’s) did have localized electoral consequences. We know, for example, the Boebert almost lost. Emphases mine.
Compared to 2020 presidential results in the same districts, in all the 2022 congressional races featuring a Democrat vs. a Republican under a normal format (read: not ranked-choice voting, for example), Greene’s performance was the third-worst among Republicans. While Trump carried her district by more than 37 points, she won by less than 32 points. Her district also ranked in the top 10 when it came to its move toward Democrats. And this is despite her coming from a red district in the South, a situation in which the vast majority of Republicans strongly overperformed 2020.
Of course, winning by 32 instead of 37 is well, not that big of a deal. I suppose there is some solace in learning that some voters just can’t stomach her (although that solace is tainted by the fact that they still could stomach Trump).
Anyway, here’s the map (note the blue arrows):
At any rate, to summarize: contra the WaPo thesis, the risk of people like MTG is not that they will bring down the GOP electorally. The risk of people MTG is that the GOP will make their craziness part of acceptable mainstream politics, which is ultimately a detriment to us all.