Hartmann: A Vote for Ann Wagner Is a Vote for Marjorie Taylor Greene

Democracy is on the run in suburban St. Louis

On February 4, 2021, Representative Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, was just beside herself with indignation over the prior conduct of a fellow Republican congresswoman, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Transylvania.

“The statements and conspiracy theories promoted by Representative Greene, including QAnon, calling into question school shootings, anti-Semitic and other offensive slurs and threats, have no place in the Republican party,” Wagner stated in a press release related to Greene getting stripped of all committee assignments. (Wagner didn’t support doing so.)

“To be clear, I find the statements and actions in question abhorrent and firmly untethered from reality. They only serve to place people in harm's way and should be shunned by all Americans.

“I spoke with Representative Greene one on one last night and she made it clear to me she no longer believes the dangerous views espoused in her previous statements, and that she will not advance such views as a Member of Congress. She has now publicly expressed regret on the Floor of the U.S. House for her past actions and statements.

"For now, I will take her at her word, but I will be watching."

Wagner has been watching Greene, all right. Here’s what she has seen: The tin-foil-hat, biker-chic lady who had one too many free weights dropped on her head is suddenly the belle of the ball in today’s Republican Party.

Greene was given a great gift at the time of Wagner’s expression of faux outrage nearly 21 months ago. Losing committee assignments freed her to replace boring meetings with captivating daily media performances.

Greene has since launched an almost-daily onslaught of uncut anger and bigotry — teeming with conspiracy theories and vulgar personal attacks. But strangely, in all that time, Wagner has not once deemed it necessary to call out any more of Greene’s “dangerous views.” Maybe she takes Greene “at her word” that Greene doesn’t pose the threat to human civilization that an eye test would suggest.

It seems that Greene has parlayed her outlandishness into one impressive fundraising machine. Greene ranked fourth among 212 Republicans by hauling in an astonishing $7.4 million in political donations in 2021. (The three politicians ahead of her are being fueled by giant PACs that have avoided the strange lady so far.)

Don’t think that didn’t get Wagner’s attention. Wagner chaired the Missouri Republican Party from 1999 to 2005, co-chairing the Republican National Committee for four of those years. Political fundraising was her life.

When Wagner first ran in 2012 for the seat she now holds — to replace the late Representative Todd Akin, fittingly enough — her best theory of the case was a demonstrated ability to raise money for Republican politicians. She had a large stack of IOUs to show for it.

If you’re thinking you can vote for the “old Ann” — as one Republican friend likes to think of her — you are sadly misguided. The “new Ann” will be all in for Greene, serving every bit as much the enabler as she did for wannabe autocrat Donald Trump.

You remember Trump? He was the guy Wagner demanded be removed from the Republican ticket in 2016 — less than a month before the election — because of his moral unfitness as proven by his Access Hollywood scandal (and a few thousand others). He’s also the one she fawned over like a lovestruck middle-schooler from the moment he took office.

Wagner’s conversion from country-club Republican to extraterrestrial hasn’t drawn the attention it deserves locally. That’s in no small part, ironically, because Wagner only interacts with her “constituents” via press release, photo ops and fundraisers.

Wagner does have an opponent who would make a much better congresswoman by the antiquated standard of caring about and meeting actual voters, as opposed to benefactors. Representative Trish Gunby, D-Ballwin, is the longshot opponent who insists she can win the old-fashioned way by going door to door asking people for their votes.

Gunby is a centrist Democrat who says she won her state legislative races in 2019 and 2020 in a divided district with the old-fashioned shoe-leather approach. It’s hard to believe that can work for an underfunded candidate in a congressional district of more than 760,000 people.

But it’s harder to scorn someone for idealism, especially when they’re running against an incumbent devoid of humility or principle. Well, unless you’re a member of the editorial page of the formerly liberal St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which embarrassed itself by declining to endorse Gunby over Wagner (whom it had trashed over her MAGA conversion).

“Democrat Trish Gunby has rightly highlighted Wagner’s inaccessibility but is otherwise running a standard liberal campaign instead of the centrist one needed for that district,” the editorial whined, to the muffled backdrop of past Post editors spinning in their graves. Can’t be having any of this liberal stuff, can we?

At least the Post got the accessibility part right. Gunby’s campaign website features an “Absent Ann’s Town Hall Tracker” showing the number of days (nearly 3,600) that Wagner has gone without holding a town-hall meeting in her district. Of course, for Wagner debating an opponent is really out of the question.

To paraphrase an early, famous SNL skit about the phone company: “Ann Wagner doesn’t care. She doesn’t have to.”

It’s hard to be optimistic about Gunby’s chances for a miracle upset. It would require an amazing turnout of voters angry about the loss of women’s reproductive freedom with the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

In a more idealistic world, Wagner’s career-long zealous opposition to women’s freedom to choose might present a problem for her. But that’s not the one we’re living in.

Gunby can hold her head high and gaze proudly in the mirror for having run an honorable campaign, which is more that anyone can say for Wagner. But there are no trophies for participation.

That’s why Wagner is probably looking forward to building a fine friendship with Greene if, as expected, Republicans regain majority control of the House after next week’s election. Here’s how Greene explained to the New York Times what’s in store for the presumptive House Speaker Kevin McCarthy:

“I think that to be the best speaker of the House and to please the base, he’s going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway,” she predicted in a flat, unemotional voice. “And if he doesn’t, they’re going to be very unhappy about it. I think that’s the best way to read that. And that’s not in any way a threat at all. I just think that’s reality.”

Yes, that’s reality. And so is this: Regardless of your past party affiliation, if you can’t bring yourself to vote against Wagner the enabler, you own Marjorie Taylor Greene and all that will follow.

Ray Hartmann founded the
Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).
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