The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s new reality

The MAGA flamethrower is trying to figure out how to become more powerful, even as Trump looks weaker

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in November. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
11 min

Marjorie Taylor Greene wanted everyone to know she was trying to be helpful.

As Republicans feuded this month over who should lead their razor-thin House majority, the Georgia congresswoman stopped before a crowd of reporters at the U.S. Capitol and urged conservatives to unify behind her choice for speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). If they refused, Greene warned, the House gavel — that all-important prize needed to subpoena Hunter Biden and anyone else she and the GOP want to haul before the committees they will soon control — could fall in the wrong hands. Like, Democratic hands. Or even Liz Cheney’s hands. (Yes, it could happen, she insisted on a right-wing podcast.)

“I will not allow that to happen,” Greene told the reporters, her tone suggesting potential danger.

“Has McCarthy promised you’ll be seated on committees next Congress?” one asked, a reference to the current Congress having stripped Greene of committee assignments because before her election to the House she had — among other things — questioned that a plane had hit the Pentagon on 9/11 and appeared to endorse social media posts about executing top Democrats.

“Of course I’m going to be seated on committees!” the congresswoman said, her tone suddenly brightening. “Isn’t it silly for anyone to think I’m not going to be?”

The midterms have left Greene in unfamiliar territory. House Republicans are back in power for the first time since she arrived in Washington, but just barely. Many Republicans have blamed her wing of the party — the election-denying, unabashed Trumpists — for dragging down what they had expected to be huge gains for the GOP. And yet the narrowness of the new Republican majority means that McCarthy can’t afford to alienate too many members if he wants to win the gavel when Congress convenes Jan. 3.

That has created an opening for Greene, who spent her first term on Washington’s fringe, to attach herself to McCarthy and make her play for more influence, even as prominent Republicans are trying to nudge the party away from her political North Star, former president Donald Trump.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Nov. 18 signaled he would name Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to committees. (Video: The Washington Post)

A spokesman for Greene did not respond to written requests for an interview. When asked at a news conference to assess why so many Trump-endorsed candidates lost the midterms, Greene cited “varying factors,” none of which included the former president.

“No, he didn’t hurt anybody, not at all,” she said. “Remember, I talk to a lot of people. I don’t talk to a lot of, like, political Republicans. Most of my friends, family and everybody I talk to back home are, like, regular people. They love President Trump.”

And what about those Republicans who are buzzing about Ron DeSantis for president?

Greene steered clear of parroting Trump’s barbs against the Florida governor (Trump has dubbed him “Ron DeSanctimonious”). Instead, the congresswoman described DeSantis, who shares Greene’s desire to ban hormone treatments and surgeries for transgender kids, as an “incredible” governor who shouldn’t deprive Florida residents of his services.

For Greene, it was a rare moment where she showed she has come to understand the art of Washington-speak, saying she’s pro-DeSantis but also that she’s sticking with her guy. She’s not out on a limb, exactly; Trump remains popular with the GOP base, even if his shtick has worn thin with independent voters and moderates. Still, the post-midterms fallout has suggested that MAGA die-hards such as Greene may have to figure out — perhaps sooner than they had thought — how to thrive in a post-Trump Republican Party.

Greene rose in GOP politics spouting the conspiracy-minded grievances that defined the Trump era, to the chagrin of some in her party. When she was a candidate, fellow Republicans described her past comments about Black voters, Muslims and Democratic donor George Soros as “disgusting,” “appalling” and “bigoted.” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) once called Greene “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,” referencing a 2017 video in which she reportedly said that Trump’s presidency was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to take down a “global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles.” Her colleagues also chided her after she spoke at a conference organized by Nick Fuentes, the white nationalist whose recent dinner with Trump and Ye — the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who has a history of making antisemitic remarks — exposed the former president to an outpouring of criticism. (On Tuesday, after a journalist tweeted that there was “no public evidence” of her denouncing Fuentes, Greene responded: “Of course I denounce Nick Fuentes and his racists antisemitic ideology. I can’t comprehend why the media is obsessed with him.”)

Before 11 Republicans joined the House Democrats to remove Greene from her committees, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to take a swipe at her, saying conspiracy theories were a “cancer” on the party. “Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality,” McConnell said. Her critics were not necessarily reassured when in a floor speech ahead of her punishment, Greene expressed regret for some of her past social media commentary, saying QAnon content she had seen online led her “to believe things that weren’t true.” QAnon is an extremist ideology that the FBI has deemed a domestic terrorism threat.

Greene is still living in a version of reality where Trump was cheated out of the presidency. “I’ll say it over and over, I believe they elected him in 2020,” she told reporters at the Capitol recently, repeating a claim that has been debunked over and over. (After the midterms Greene also told a conservative network that Kari Lake, a Republican Trump ally who lost the Arizona gubernatorial race, “should be governor of Arizona. I truly believe there’s election fraud there.”)

Her unceasing allegiance to Trump, which she voices to more than 2 million followers on Twitter and other social media platforms, has propelled her rise as the right-wing celebrity and fundraising powerhouse known as “MTG” even after she was sidelined in her official duties as a legislator. And her infamy outside the MAGA bubble has not threatened her electorally like it has some of her allies — namely Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), who lost his seat to a fellow Republican, and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who just barely survived a challenge from a Democrat. In November, Greene easily trounced a Democrat who raised more money than any congressional challenger in the country, though she received fewer votes in her district than two other Republicans on the ballot, Gov. Brian Kemp and Senate candidate Herschel Walker. Her fans aren’t asking her to change, and the walls outside her Capitol Hill office are decorated with letters of support — a shrine to how much Greene believes she is doing right (“We need more people like you in our government,” one person wrote).

And yet the absence of a “red wave” in the midterms, and the potential influence of moderate Republicans in the next Congress, raises a question: If certain key voters are tiring of Trump, does that diminish Greene’s value to the party?

“What kind of question is that?” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) said as he left the House floor recently. “Man, you guys ask the wrong questions. We value every Republican. Everybody has value in our movement.”

“She’s now more valuable than ever,” said John Fredericks, a conservative radio host and MAGA booster. “If you cave to the mob and the left, she will call you out. It keeps those in party leadership who don’t really believe in our movement on their toes.”

Other Republicans were more reticent. As he arrived at the House on a recent afternoon, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), who has tangled with Greene in the past, demurred when asked about the congresswoman’s value to the party. “I don’t know if I want the drama,” Crenshaw said, and kept walking.

Another Republican House member said the GOP would continue to “do great harm to good candidates” if it “follows in her crazy conspiracy theory path.”

“Doubling down on QAnon and Trumpism is a recipe for disaster,” said the member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from party leaders. “We had the weakest president since Jimmy Carter and the highest inflation rate in 40 years, and we couldn’t get an overwhelming majority to deliver on Republican promises. It doesn’t bode well for ’24 or retaining the seats we barely won.”

As McCarthy emerged from a Republican caucus meeting and celebrated his nomination as speaker at a news conference, Greene lingered a few yards away with an aide, waiting for her moment.

It was early evening, and most of the other lawmakers had departed. As soon as McCarthy was done, the congresswoman strode across the marble corridor to the microphone stand and faced the pack of reporters and cameras. Behind her was a backdrop of five American flags.

“Everybody,” she said, “I’m excited that we got through our elections today. I’m very excited for the results.”

Her sunny, measured tone surprised some reporters more accustomed to her rhetorical bomb-throwing. But C-SPAN MTG is more mild-mannered than “War Room” MTG, as she demonstrated that same week during appearances on former Trump chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon’s podcast, where she spoke with familiar contempt about the mainstream media, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Hunter Biden, among others.

“All these people who don’t care about our country?” Greene told Bannon. “They need to get the hell out.”

She also shared what committee assignment she had her eye on when the new Congress meets next year.

“I’m going to be on the Oversight Committee, and we’re going to do investigations into that little laptop,” she told Bannon, referring to Hunter Biden’s infamous computer, adding, “So you guys can buckle up, get ready, and we’re going for a ride because that’s what’s happening in January.”

As she made her rounds, Greene let it be known that she had the ear of important Republicans other than Trump. She said that Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), who won the Republican caucus’s nomination to become House majority leader, had committed to investigating Pelosi’s handling of Jan. 6, 2021, and the Justice Department’s “treatment” of those arrested for the attack on the Capitol.

Not everyone on Team MAGA agreed with Greene’s decision to back McCarthy, whom some Republicans have criticized for not directing his political operation to donate more money to GOP candidates. Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), a close Greene ally, was among 31 Republicans who backed another candidate’s unsuccessful bid for speaker. Although Gaetz called Greene “a tremendous warrior for our movement” who’s “going to be a terrific member of our oversight regime,” he questioned her judgment when it came to McCarthy.

“At first opportunity he will zap her faster than you can say ‘Jewish space laser,’ ” Gaetz said, a snarky reference to Greene having once suggested in a social media post that California forest fires may have been caused by a laser under the control of the Rothschild banking family.

The idea of Greene forming an alliance with McCarthy in exchange for a committee assignment struck other conservatives as decidedly un-MTG.

“Her brand in the party is ‘I’m uncompromising, I don’t do deals,’ and then she turns around and she makes a deal to benefit herself personally,” said Fredericks, the radio host. “You can’t sell one game to your base and then turn around and play a different game that benefits you. It took a large piece of her credibility away.”

As she departed the Capitol on a recent afternoon, the congresswoman was in full C-SPAN MTG mode as a group of reporters moved in.

Did she still want to impeach President Biden?

“I very much agree with Kevin McCarthy,” she replied. “Impeachment should not be political, so I think what we’re going to do is proving everything through investigations with evidence.”

Reflecting on the power struggle in her party, she said the best way to “work out problems and disagreements is through discussion and communication.”

“Republicans,” she said, once again showing her aptitude for Washington-speak, must “unite together and do a good job working for the American people.”

“The American people,” the congresswoman said, “are really sick and tired of drama in Washington.”