Back in the waning days of the Trump administration, it was not uncommon to hear journalists wonder aloud about what would happen to the news cycle once the Oval Office was no longer occupied by a conspiracy-addled sociopath who put more thought and energy into insult-tweeting than governing.
Just a few short weeks later, we have our answer: The vacuum would be at least partially filled by the likes of Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, Jim Jordan — and most of all by Marjorie Taylor Greene.
In case you've been dozing through these past few weeks, all are Republican members of the House of Representatives, some of them recently re-elected, others newly arrived in Washington. What they have in common is that they are all stylistic proteges of the recently departed Republican president.
While pundits (myself included) have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past four years gravely pondering what Republican politics would look like post-Trump, these members of the House GOP have given us what now looks to be the most plausible answer. Rather than a smarter, more responsible vehicle for enacting a set of distinctively Trumpian policies on trade, immigration, and foreign policy, let alone a reversion to the pre-Trump status quo (Romney-Ryan 2.0), we're going to get a politics of bilious, lizard-brained idiocy along with intentionally cultivated and playacted outrage.
I get why members of the media can't get themselves to look away from the train wreck — just as I sympathize, in different ways, with giddy Democrats and worried members of the Republican Party who keep talking and writing about the antics of the House GOP's crazy-caucus. But all of them need to realize that in doing so they are inadvertently contributing to the rise and spread of the very thing they hope to contain and defeat. (As will, inevitably, this very column, which will hopefully be my last on the subject for a while.)
This is clearest in the case of the figure who has received the most media coverage and political attention by far since she was sworn in, and that is the newly elected representative from Georgia's 14th congressional district, Marjorie Taylor Greene.
I'll be blunt: Greene is a lunatic. She has endorsed the delusional QAnon conspiracy. She tweets hateful lies, diatribes, and denunciations on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. She traffics in absurd racist and anti-Semitic rumors. She delights in endorsing violence against her political opponents. The list goes on and on.
Is it news that a recently elected member of one of America's two major parties talks and acts like an insane person? It certainly is. Is it laudable that some in the Republican Party (like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) would like to see her reined in by having her stripped of the powerful committee assignments she was just given? Absolutely. Is it understandable that Democrats would love for Greene to become the poster child of the post-Trump Republican Party on the assumption that this will deepen its electoral struggles in suburban areas of the country? Without a doubt.
Too bad all of it is likely to be a gift for Greene.
You'd think the Democrats would have learned their lesson from the experience of the past half-decade. Remember the center-left pundits who were more concerned with the blandly conventional Marco Rubio in the 2016 GOP primaries than the cartoonish Trump? And the anonymous sources in Hillary Clinton's campaign who were thrilled by the prospect of facing Trump in the general election?
There's no reason to think the incessant focus on Greene will elevate her all the way to the White House. But lavishing attention on her definitely will vastly raise her profile and increase the size of her audience beyond her Georgia district. Ensuring that Greene becomes nationally known could definitely increase GOP woes in the suburbs. But it might also further whet Republican appetites for ever-more outlandish candidates. Given the vagaries of our country's electoral system and Republican efforts to game it to their advantage, that could prove to be more than a little dangerous.
That's why you might think the best course of action would be for party leaders to defy the demotic sentiments of grassroots Republicans and punish Greene for her antics, much as they did with Rep. Steve King, who was stripped of his committee assignments in January 2019 after a series of overtly racist comments. King then lost to a primary challenger in 2020.
It's possible this could work again, but I wouldn't bet on it. King was an old-style, pre-digital politician who got in trouble for making positive statements about white supremacy in interviews with journalists writing for high-profile media outlets. That made his comments standard-issue political gaffes, albeit about an unusually incendiary topic.
Greene, by contrast, practices an entirely different style of politics that actively seeks to get in "trouble" with members of the media and political establishment of both parties for saying outlandish things that lend credibility to her image as a fearless, no-holds-barred fighter against the corrupt and feckless powers-that-be. She wants to generate outrage. She wants to be insulting. And above all, she wants to be talked about constantly. Her power comes from her ubiquity and her ability to make politically prominent people hate her. If party leaders strip Greene of her committee assignments — let alone if the Democrats do it — that will only bolster her authority as a populist bomb-thrower.
Which brings us back to the media's obsession with her.
It's certainly newsworthy when a just-elected congresswoman says something bizarre. But is it still newsworthy the 10th time she does it? Or the 100th? Maybe it is in the sense that it will generate strong ratings and give on-air talent something sensational to talk about. Is it really telling people anything new? Anything they need to know? I don't see how.
What it does, far more, is give a powerful megaphone to someone who above all else craves national attention for her obsessions and derangements. In this respect, news organizations that place Greene and others like her at the center of the news cycle are being played. By incentivizing the madness, rendering it a sure path to national fame and notoriety, they play a new and pernicious role in the political ecosystem — as unintended facilitators of fascism, American style.
If the media and the leadership of both political parties really wanted to cut Greene down to size, they would deprive her of what she wants and needs most of all: our attention.