From practically the moment of her appointment as an interim U.S. senator from Georgia, after Johnny Isakson’s health-related resignation, Kelly Loeffler has been under fire for suspected moderation. Governor Brian Kemp reportedly chose her as a self-funder who might appeal to the suburban women the Georgia GOP has been losing in droves. In doing so, he defied the wishes of President Donald Trump, who made it clear he wanted the Senate seat to go to his House Judiciary Committee impeachment pit bull, Doug Collins. But Collins immediately jumped into the field for the special election (a nonpartisan jungle primary in November, with a January runoff if no one wins a majority) to finish out Isakson’s term, garnered a host of conservative endorsements, and took an early lead over Loeffler and others in the polls.
Loeffler’s strategy for hanging onto her seat hasn’t been subtle: She is taking every measure she can to keep Collins from outflanking her on the right, hard as that is given the congressman’s pedigree and backing. She’s cleverly used one of her vulnerabilities, her involvement in the activist-prone WNBA as a team co-owner, to triangulate against her own players and the league itself, attacking them for supporting Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, and Planned Parenthood. She has aggressively brownnosed the president (also sensible, if embarrassing, since he might have otherwise endorsed Collins against her); in the infamous COVID-19 superspreader events surrounding Trump’s introduction of Amy Coney Barrett at the White House, Loeffler seemed to be on camera constantly, though she has not tested positive so far. And then, as she began to pull past Collins in the polls on the strength of her heavy spending (she is reportedly the wealthiest member of the Senate), she started a series of “humorous” ads that showed how desperate she is to depict herself as a conservative extremist:
But now comes the pièce de résistance: Loeffler has secured an endorsement from the person who defines conservative extremism, not just in Georgia but nationally: 14th District U.S. House nominee Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler accepted the endorsement Thursday of congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene, a controversial fellow Republican who has spread baseless QAnon conspiracy theories and posted racist and xenophobic videos on social media.
The interesting thing about Greene is that she doesn’t just hint at right-wing conspiracy theories or blow dog whistles; she has wallowed in wild rhetoric in long Facebook posts over the years:
Greene has a history of peddling the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory that falsely claims President Donald Trump is secretly fighting a “deep state” that protects sex traffickers and pedophiles — a bizarre belief the FBI has labeled a potential domestic terrorism threat.
And she’s insinuated that the 2017 Las Vegas massacre was orchestrated, warned of an “Islamic invasion” after two Muslims won congressional races, described Black people as “slaves” to Democrats and defended a lie that George Soros, the billionaire Jewish philanthropist, collaborated with the Nazis.
Greene’s reputation doesn’t simply flow from old social-media utterances. The ads she’s run in her current campaign revolve around implicit and explicit threats of violence:
During her successful primary runoff campaign against another wacky conservative, Jon Cowan, Greene made it clear that the willingness to take up shooting irons against Democrats was a litmus test:
But don’t take my word for it, conservative commentator and fiery culture warrior Erick Erickson (a Georgian himself) described Greene as “batshit crazy.”
Loeffler sounded a mite defensive in accepting Greene’s endorsement:
“No one in Georgia cares about this QAnon business. It’s something that fake news is going to continue to bring up and ignore antifa and the violence promoted across this country,” said Loeffler, adding: “That’s not going to distract us. It never has distracted her.”
Before she trounced Cowan and became the official GOP nominee in the 14th District (and then congresswoman-elect after her Democratic opponent withdrew and moved to Indiana after losing his house in a divorce dispute), Republicans from Georgia and all over were expressing reservations about Greene. But then Trump famously hailed her as a “future Republican star” on Twitter, and now she’s aspiring to marginal respectability, even issuing a “broad but vague disavowal of QAnon, saying that she had decided to ‘choose another path,’” as The New Yorker’s Charles Bethea put it. But her strong association with QAnon is a natural focus, as it’s impossible to miss her general disposition toward every crackpot right-wing notion she comes across.
Maybe the Greene endorsement will finally bring Kelly Loeffler to her destination on the far right of Republican politics. It doesn’t hurt that Greene is running in a district adjacent to the one Collins now represents; she may help deny him a favorite-son Appalachian base against the tony Atlantan with the deepest pockets around. But I shudder to think what Loeffler might do if she decides she’s still perceived as too moderate. Maybe she’ll borrow her new friend Marjorie’s ubiquitous AR-15 and start shooting things on camera herself. Or perhaps she will emulate her Senate colleagues on the Judiciary Committee by treating the Loeffler-Greene duo as a sign of the rise of anti-feminist women, just like Amy Coney Barrett.
Either way, if she beats Collins, Loeffler’s movement past the gates of delirium will be noted by her likely January runoff opponent, Democrat Raphael Warnock. We’ll see if she is equally dextrous in readopting her original identity.