Marjorie Taylor Greene keeps rising in Republican ranks despite ‘loony lies’
When Marjorie Taylor Greene was elected to America’s House of Representatives in 2020, she became one of the most visible of a wave of extremists to enter the Republican party whose often bizarre utterings stretched the bounds of what had previously been the norm of US politics.
The Georgian congresswoman, who has suggested Jewish space lasers are responsible for wildfires, speculated whether 9/11 was a hoax and supported the QAnon conspiracy theory, was part of a new wave of Trumpian Republicans and was mocked, ridiculed and reviled in equal measure – including by some in her own party.
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But in 2023, Greene is now firmly on her way to becoming one of the senior figures in the Republican party. She has become a favorite, and key ally, of Kevin McCarthy, the new House speaker, and preparing to take up assignments on some of Congress’s most prominent committees.
It’s been a remarkable rise that few could have seen coming during a checkered first half of 2021, when Greene was making her name known through her penchant for unhinged conspiracy theories and strange remarks, but her ascension to the upper echelons of the GOP was confirmed this week by McCarthy, in an interview with the New York Times.
“If you’re going to be in a fight, you want Marjorie in your foxhole,” McCarthy said.
“When she picks a fight, she’s going to fight until the fight’s over. She reminds me of my friends from high school, that we’re going to stick together all the way through.”
This apparent fondness for a tussle has seen Greene rewarded with positions on the homeland security committee, despite her previously musing that no plane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, and on the oversight committee, where she is expected to be part of a subcommittee investigating the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If the latter seems problematic, given Greene’s loudly stated suspicions and conspiracy theories about the pandemic – in January she was permanently banned from Twitter for repeatedly violating rules about Covid-19 misinformation – then that’s only because lots of things Greene has said and done are problematic.
In 2021 Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, condemned Greene’s “loony lies and conspiracy theories” in relation to Greene having claimed support for executing Democratic politicians and harassing the survivor of a mass school shooting.
Later that year McCarthy himself, who had earlier attempted to avoid conflict, felt compelled to step in after Greene compared Covid masking rules to the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi Germany.
“Marjorie is wrong, and her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust with wearing masks is appalling,” McCarthy said.
“The Holocaust is the greatest atrocity committed in history. The fact that this needs to be stated today is deeply troubling,” he said.
The multiple rebukes, and the egregiousness of Greene’s beliefs – whether disavowed or not – make her rise to prominence, as she takes up her seat on some of Congress’s most powerful committees, all the more remarkable.
Greene’s rapid recent rise began when she backed McCarthy for the House leadership, two months ahead of the ultimately farcical vote that saw him elected after 15 ballots. Greene had got in early, declaring her support in November on Steve Bannon’s podcast.
For McCarthy, who has been an unpopular figure among far-right voters and politicians – it was a selection of the latter that meant the manner of his ascension to speaker was embarrassing at best, it was a boost he needed.
McCarthy and Greene had spent months forging a working relationship they believed could be beneficial for both, with Greene placating the zaniest wing of both Republicans in the House and voters at home, and McCarthy providing relevance to someone who had been stripped of her committee assignments in 2021, leaving her, essentially, having nothing to do in Washington.
The New York Times reported that McCarthy, as he prepared to take up the speakership, had been mindful of the problems his centrist predecessors, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, faced in dealing with their furthest-right colleagues.
Both Ryan and Boehner – who would later describe some of his rightwing colleagues as “assholes” – endured battles with the Freedom Caucus, a conservative and often obstructionist group of GOP congressmen, when trying to pass legislation.
Greene remains one of the most popular figures among Trump supporters and believers, evidenced by her 758,000 followers on Trump’s Truth Social website – McCarthy has 113,000, Steve Scalise, the House majority leader, has 109,000 – and enjoys a close relationship with the former president, even calling Trump from the House floor during the debacle of January’s leadership vote.
Greene is also a successful fundraiser, bringing in $12.5m in the 2021-22 election cycle, the fifth most of any Republican representative, her popularity among the base and alignment with Trump making her the model of the new Republican politician.
On Greene’s part, she has sought to sanitize, somewhat, the ill-informed, conspiracy-minded viewpoints that have characterized her political career. In early 2022 Greene began a deliberate, “methodical” reinvention, a confidante told the Washington Post.
From her position on the sidelines, with a congressional office but no meaningful role in the House, she began to think of the future. Greene, like most observers, believed McCarthy would be the next House speaker, and saw a role for herself as a bridge between the far right and the less kooky Republicans, the Post reported.
As she tried to make herself palatable to a wider audience, Greene set about trying not to speak at any more white nationalist rallies, or discuss the “gazpacho police” who are apparently patrolling the US Capitol. (Her remark was widely understood to mean Gestapo.) She is also yet to repeat her 2018 claim that the Clinton family orchestrated the plane crash that killed John F Kennedy Jr more than two decades ago.
In addition to this new reserve, Greene hired a new aide with a track record in conventional conservative politics, and eventually began meeting with McCarthy once a week, as the pair forged a close bond, each aware of the potential benefits.
McCarthy would go on to win the speakership. But his concessions to the right, personified by his promotion of Greene, have come at a cost. Already McCarthy has pursued Greene-backed, far-right strategies on vaccines and treatment of January 6 perpetrators, something that has left Greene delighted.
“People need to understand that it isn’t just me that deserves credit,” Greene told the New York Times.
“It is the will and the voice of our base that was heard, and Kevin listened to them. I was just a vehicle much of the time.”
If Greene was displaying an amount of faux humility, her conviction that she is channeling the will of the people and willingness to make it heard are a warning as to the level of influence she now wields.
In her new roles Greene said she will be investigating: “How many of our enemies got pallets of cash!?” from Covid-19 unemployment benefits, a question she posed without any context or explanation, and has pledged to impeach the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, for his perceived failures in handling immigration.
From Greene’s political position in February 2021, when she was removed from her committee assignments by Democrats – and some Republicans – in a rebuke over incendiary and racist statements, which included her posting a mocked-up image of her holding a gun next to three Democratic lawmakers, all women of color, on Facebook, it has been a remarkable turnaround.
Less than two years on, Greene has taken up positions on two of the most prominent committees in the House. She has a metaphorical seat at the House speaker’s right hand, and will enjoy the visibility that all this brings.
It’s a testament to how quickly things can change in politics, but also a very visible reminder of what the Republican party increasingly stands for.
Greene may have sought to sanitize her image, but it is clear that her brand of populism, outrage and misinformation is not the embarrassment it once was to the party leadership: this is the modern version of the Republican party.