The first time The Washington Post wrote about Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was in the context of what made her exceptional: She was an avowed adherent of QAnon. And not just of the this guy Q has some interesting thoughts variety; rather, Greene celebrated that “there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out” with Donald Trump in the White House.
This was June 2020, and Greene had simply made it to the runoff in the Republican primary. The article was caveated with ifs about winning the primary and then the general, but it was clear what path she was on. Reporter Colby Itkowitz contacted members of the Republican leadership — including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and the conference’s chair, Liz Cheney (Wyo.) — but they weren’t interested in offering comment.
What seemed to be afoot was that the Republican House caucus was adding another member to its fringe, someone who’d occasionally make headlines for saying something embarrassing or introducing some weird, doomed piece of legislation. That sense was probably reinforced when Greene, as a new member of the chamber, quickly generated headlines for past comments about leading Democrats; the Democratic majority stripped her of any committee assignments, moving her from backbench to no bench.
But that was not the path Greene was destined to follow. Past members of the right-wing fringe who earned spots in Congress responded largely by folding into the white noise of the legislative process. Perhaps in part because Greene so explicitly had no part in that process — or, more likely, because she never had any interest in it in the first place — Greene helped create a new style of fringe Republican legislator. She wasn’t former Texas congressman Ron Paul (R) wanting to eradicate the Federal Reserve and she wasn’t former Iowa congressman Steve King (R) advocating hard-line immigration policies well before Trump. She understood that the platform had more value for communications purposes than legislative ones.
In essence, election to Congress simply gave Greene a louder megaphone to attack the aforementioned cabal (even if she described them differently now). It allowed her to join her power with other fringe House members, such as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), to engage in an effort that’s equal parts trolling and exaggeration. Trump loved Greene from the outset, and her unwavering fealty to him has earned her the ability to hitch herself to him repeatedly. Trump rallies now regularly feature speeches from the first-term congresswoman from rural Georgia.
This is not because she is broadly popular. YouGov recently conducted polling for the Economist that asked people to evaluate a range of Republicans, from members of the media to politicians. Trump was the most popular among Republicans, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. Far fewer Republicans have an opinion of Greene than those more-famous names, but even if we adjust the responses, evaluating favorability just among those with an opinion, Greene was seventh of seven.
Yet, as the Associated Press reported Monday, Greene has been increasingly welcomed back into the mix with the Republican establishment. When McCarthy announced the party’s midterm agenda in Pennsylvania last month, Greene was seated right behind him.
“Greene’s political currency stretches beyond her massive social media following and her ability to rake in sizable sums from donors,” the AP’s Lisa Mascaro reported. “Her proximity to Trump makes her a force that cannot be ignored by what’s left of her mainstream GOP colleagues.”
This is the point: She may not be broadly popular or influential, but she is influential in a place that other Republicans aren’t. She’s popular with a set of Republicans who are antagonistic to people such as Kevin McCarthy.
Greene: Biden’s 5 million illegal aliens are on the verge of replacing you, your jobs, and your kids in school. Coming from all over the world, they’re also replacing your culture pic.twitter.com/eRJwUlq11J
— Acyn (@Acyn) October 9, 2022
It’s not entirely clear that McCarthy is extending an olive branch to the fringe. It’s that he can’t afford to let the fringe agitate at the fringe. In the minority (though perhaps not exclusively then), there’s more power in Greene’s approach to serving in the House — shouting into microphones and maintaining an omnipresence in conservative media — than in simply trying to come up with doomed legislation. Greene has some of that, certainly, but it’s often the case that she uses the policy documents to boost her media position and not the opposite. (She’s offered up innumerable impeachment articles, including several targeting President Biden.)
McCarthy, of course, has his own ambitions. If Republicans regain the majority in November, he’d like to be speaker of the House. Allying with Greene and Gaetz and that cadre of legislators will make such an ascension more likely. But it means that his party again shifts to the right, as it has over and over since at least 2010. In 2011, after the tea party wave brought a new contingent of conservatives to Washington, the New York Times profiled McCarthy’s tricky job in corralling their votes as majority whip. That’s still his job today but with a frequently more-extreme caucus. (And spotty success.)
Cheney, freed from the shackles of protecting the Republican caucus, is no longer refraining from comment on Greene. In August, she said she’d rather work with Democrats than with Greene. Of course, by that point she was freed of political shackles entirely, having lost her bid for reelection to a Trump-endorsed Republican primary opponent.
When she was conference chair, Cheney would often stand behind McCarthy as he spoke to the media. Cheney is no longer behind McCarthy. Greene is; her time in exile is coming to an end.
Consider the shift just since 2020. In two years’ time, who will be standing in the background as the leader of the GOP makes an announcement about policy and direction? More importantly, who will the leader be who is making the announcement?