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The GOP’s big risk in legitimizing Marjorie Taylor Greene

Through circumstance (the GOP’s narrow House majority) and some relatively deft political maneuvering (lining up early behind Kevin McCarthy for speaker while hard-right allies did not), Marjorie Taylor Greene has worked her way into the Republican mainstream. Or at least, she’s forced it to take her more seriously.

It’s the culmination of a concerted effort, as The Post’s Ashley Parker and Michael Scherer wrote recently. Two years after Democrats and some Republicans booted her off her committees, the GOP has now placed her on several key ones, including Oversight, Homeland Security and the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis. The New York Times reports McCarthy has sworn his loyalty to Greene. And now Donald Trump ally Stephen K. Bannon is even floating her as a potential vice-presidential pick for the former president in 2024.

That last one is worthy of some healthy skepticism. 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.

An Economist/YouGov poll from early this month showed 26 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Greene, compared to 41 percent who had a negative one. Greene also elicits a far more intense response on the left than the right: While 18 percent of Republicans had a “very favorable” opinion of her, nearly half of Democrats (47 percent) had a “very unfavorable” one.

That poll has tested more than a dozen congressional figures and 2024 presidential hopefuls in recent weeks. Greene’s numbers were better than only one of them: embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.).

The numbers echo a late 2021 poll showing only 1 in 10 Americans trusted Greene at least a “fair amount,” compared to more than 4 in 10 who said they trusted her “not very much” or “not at all.” Even Republicans narrowly distrusted her, by a three-percentage-point margin.

And a summer 2021 poll showed 36 percent had an unfavorable opinion of her, compared to 17 percent favorable.

Filling out the picture is polling from Greene’s earliest days in Congress in 2021, when FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich assembled data on some of the most divisive GOP members at the time. Greene’s net image rating was worse than Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), along with Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.). Among the eight members Rakich isolated, Greene had numbers better only than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (It’s common for party leaders to be broadly unpopular.)

The Boebert comparison is notable for another reason: Boebert gained the wrong kind of notoriety in the 2022 election by finding herself in a nail-biter of a reelection race, despite coming from a conservative-leaning district — a rebuke, it would seem, of her brand of conspiratorial “angertainment.”

Less well-publicized is how a similar approach seems to have turned off voters in Greene’s district, too.

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.

You can look at the below map of 2020 presidential results vs. 2022 midterm results from The Post’s graphics team to get a sense of how unusual that shift was. Her district is the one with that blue arrow in the northwest corner of Georgia, and it’s surrounded by red arrows.

Of course, Greene still won, because her district is not at all competitive. Which means she’ll probably be in Congress for as long as she wants to be. And right now she’s a crucial vote in a conference in which McCarthy needs almost every vote and ally he can get, which has led him to welcome her into the fold.

But increasingly, whatever she might do — be it touting false and baseless claims about vaccines at a coronavirus subcommittee hearing, or perhaps offering some hot takes about 9/11, space lasers and/or mass shootings at a Homeland Security Committee hearing — it will be easier to tie to the broader GOP, and harder to dismiss as outlier behavior.

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.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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