Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) had her committee assignments stripped away on Thursday by House Democrats and even several of her GOP colleagues.
The first-term congresswoman earlier made a floor speech in which she claimed she had ceased to believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory in 2018 and expressed “regret” for some of her earlier statements.
But Greene is hardly going to slink away into backbench obscurity.
She claims to have raised $175,000 in a fundraising appeal this week from 13,000 donors. Her now-infamous Twitter account had more than 345,000 followers by Thursday evening.
The contrition in her floor speech was limited, too. She said nothing about her previous support for the idea of assassinating Speaker (D-Calif.), instead complaining that Democrats were trying to “crucify me in the public square.”
The House vote only happened after Minority Leader (R-Calif.) had declined to take action against Greene.
His reluctance to do so points at a larger truth.
The intertwined forces of polarization and social media have changed politics. Fiery politicians can now sustain themselves, raise money and boost their profiles, so long as they can channel the passions of even a comparatively small number of supporters.
And there is not much the political establishment or the mainstream media can do to stop them.
Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist, noted that if any given politician’s rhetoric is sufficiently magnetic or inflammatory, “it’s now easy to assemble a tribe — a critical mass of people — without the restrictions of geography.”
In an increasingly online and decentralized world, the apparatus of party machines — the very thing that once gave political bosses their leverage — has become much less salient, Wilson added.
“You no longer need the support or functions of a big party headquarters. You are starting to see how individual politicians can be a party unto themselves.”
The trend is by no means confined to Greene. The group of progressive Democratic lawmakers known as “The Squad” has leveraged social media presence to enormous effect, none more so than Rep. (D-N.Y.).
Ocasio-Cortez has never encouraged political violence, promoted conspiracy theories or personally harassed opposing activists, all of which Greene has done.
But the New York lawmaker, a democratic socialist, has surfed the social media wave to powerful effect. She has 12.3 million Twitter followers and her recent Instagram Live broadcast about her experience during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection was at one point being watched by more than 150,000 people.
That has given Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, an influence that is largely independent of her party leadership. With only one full term under her belt, she is almost certainly the best known House Democrat with the exception of Pelosi.
One example: A Google search for “AOC” returns 109 million results. The same search for Pelosi’s official second-in-command, Majority Leader (D-Md.), returns about 1.3 million hits.
But the benefits of political fame go hand-in-hand with dangers.
Ocasio-Cortez said she believed she could die during the Jan. 6 insurrection. In 2019, a security assessment from Capitol Police was necessary to safeguard her fellow “Squad” member, Rep. (D-Minn.), after then- shared an edited video showing Omar’s image superimposed over scenes from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Whether it’s Trump and Greene, or Ocasio-Cortez and Omar, controversy sells.
“On social media, the algorithm prioritizes posts that provoke reactions. So if people are freaking out about what [Greene] says, we are all going to see her and hear her,” said Jessica Reis, a senior director at Bully Pulpit Interactive, a liberal communications firm.
“But the other thing is that there is also an ‘analogue algorithm,’ which is whatever people are writing about this week…. If we amplify people like [Greene] it only perpetuates the problem.”
Democratic strategist Joe Trippi was at the center of one of the early major ventures into online politicking as campaign manager for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.
Dean, Trippi recalled, was propelled forward by two main causes — fiery opposition to the Iraq War, and support for civil unions for same-sex couples. That was enough for him to come from relative obscurity to challenge better-known candidates.
Trippi emphasized that different politicians can mobilize vastly differently-sized constituencies. He contrasted the presidential campaigns of Sen. (I-Vt.), which enthused millions of people, with the much smaller appeal of a figure like Greene.
Still, he added, “One million people is not even one percent of the population. But if you have a candidate who inflames their energy or incites them, then it can sustain someone for quite a while — including, by the way, making them a Newsmax star or getting people to buy their books.”
Unless that changes — and there is no sign that it will — there will be more Greene-like figures in the public arena.
Liz Mair, a Republican strategist and former online communications director for the Republican National Committee, argued that not all the blame can be pinned on social media.
Larger forces are also at play, she suggested, like a declining sense of community in the traditional sense.
But, she added, there was another factor — the power of celebrity and charisma.
“The political system does benefit celebrities,” Mair said. “If a person who has that charisma enters the arena, even if they are nuts, there are a good number of people who will follow them.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
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