Nothing But an M.T.G. Thang

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene
Over the past year, Marjorie Taylor Greene has ingratiated herself to formerly wary House Republicans, but has antagonized some members of the far right by openly aligning herself with Kevin McCarthy, the presumed future Speaker of the House. Photo: Mario Duncanson/AFP
Tina Nguyen
December 14, 2022

For moderate Republicans, perhaps the only thing more alarming than the election of Marjorie Taylor Greene—the formerly QAnon-spouting, 9/11-truthing, Christian Nationalist-identifying congresswoman from Georgia—is the speed with which she has been able to position herself at the center of the party. Over the past year, Greene has not only managed to ingratiate herself to formerly wary House Republicans, winning over colleagues with zealotry and charm, but has antagonized some members of the far right by openly aligning herself with Kevin McCarthy, the presumed future Speaker of the House, as he struggles to win over a handful of ultra-MAGA holdouts. 

In a recent House Republican conference meeting, according to a source inside the room, M.T.G. stood up and gave a speech rallying members to stand behind McCarthy in his run for speaker. “After she spoke, people were pretty amped up,” this person confided. “Even Dan Crenshaw said, Let’s give a round of applause for Marjorie.” This person was surprised, given how often Greene and Crenshaw, who’s openly opposed the most extreme elements of the MAGA agenda, have publicly feuded. “It just struck me, because anyone could have said that,” this person continued. It appeared that Greene had charmed yet another potential ally.

In two short years, M.T.G. has defied the stereotype of what a far-right, Jewish space laser-vouching extremist politician could achieve inside the hallowed halls of Congress. She is, of course, an occasionally hate-spewing obstructionist, deeply conspiratorial, and determined at every opportunity to undermine the “Washington elite” via whatever legislative nuclear options are at hand. Certainly that was how she presented herself before she entered politics, when she was just a local Georgia gym owner and budding online influencer, riding the QAnon wave to Washington. In 2018, she stalked a Parkland shooting victim with a camera on Capitol Hill, claiming that he was a crisis actor; in 2019, she live-streamed herself hurling invective outside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office in the Cannon building. 

But over time, another side of Greene has emerged: a savvy political player who has leveraged her MAGA celebrity to benefit colleagues in the midterms, has disavowed or dismissed her past dalliances with Q, and who has successfully reshaped her image inside the caucus into a friendly, approachable Republican cheerleader who, sure, was just asking questions about Pizzagate and has occasionally trivialized the Holocaust, but is hardly the sort of Punisher-tattooed insurrectionist that tried to lynch Mike Pence. (During my reporting, several people independently brought up her penchant for giving out hugs.) 

Now, with House Republicans preparing to assume the majority next month, Greene may be pulling off the greatest balancing act of all: asserting herself as a power broker inside Congress who can build alliances with the establishment, and maintaining her reputation as a fire-breathing grassroots MAGA idol. It’s an intricate feat that fellow members of the House Freedom Caucus have long struggled to accomplish. “The way I describe it with a lot of the Freedom Caucus members is this,” a House Republican aide told me. “They’re like the emo kids who come into school, and they make fun of the jocks—the jocks are terrible, and we need to stand up to the jocks—until they get invited to the jock table and put a jacket on.” 

Now, MTG is lending MAGA credibility to McCarthy in exchange for a potential seat on the powerful House Oversight Committee—a seat, she’s stated publicly, that McCarthy owes her, and one he’s likely to concede. “She’s figured out how to play the game,” the aide continued. “Smart people who have good instincts, good political instincts, and are members who actually want to have some power and not just be a social media voice, know that’s how you do it.” (Greene’s office did not return a request for comment.)

Fried Greene Tomatoes

Greene, of course, is still categorically an extremist, an outlier in American politics who has evidenced little interest in moderating her tone and posts photos of herself shooting assault rifles from helicopters. Just this weekend, she appeared at a Young Republicans event with Steve Bannon, in New York, where she reportedly boasted that, had she been in charge of organizing the January 6th march on the Capitol, “We would have won. Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.” (Greene later backtracked, claiming her remarks were a “sarcastic joke.” As always, the first rule of inflammatory MAGA statements is that it’s always a joke… until it isn’t.)  

But Greene has several things going for her that have allowed her to thrive in the post-Trump congressional zoo. For one, unlike former congressman Steve King, who lost his committee assignments after aligning himself with white supremacists, Greene has been careful to disavow fringe elements, like Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes, with whom she has previously associated. (The second rule of MAGA is plausible deniability.) Also unlike King, who was stripped of power by his fellow Republicans, Greene’s committee privileges were mostly stripped by Democrats. Only eleven Republicans broke ranks to condemn Greene, several of whom subsequently retired or lost their primary races.

Among wagon-circling party members, that makes all the difference in the world. “The fact that the majority party took the unprecedented step to kick her off committees—that was a big deal. And I think that was kind of a galvanizing effect [for the G.O.P.]” a second House Republican aide told me. “Like, the Democrats wanted to scale [that attack]. The Republicans saw that as an institutional attack that is not remotely appropriate. That’s kind of where things started.” 

Second, unlike Trump, who is getting soft-shoed out of the Republican Party, M.T.G. has proven to be a massive money draw and generous donor. Not only was she the fifth highest-earning House Republican fundraiser in the last election—she took in $12.4 million dollars this past cycle, according to OpenSecrets—but she also appeared at numerous campaign events and sent out hundreds of fundraising emails for her fellow candidates. “All of the members, especially the MAGA aligned members, they want Marjorie out there in their district campaigning with them, raising money for them,” Alex Bruesewitz, a MAGA consultant who’s worked with Greene in the past, told me in the run-up to the midterms.

Third, there is Greene’s surprising congeniality, which has charmed her intra-party skeptics and haters over time. It’s become her secret weapon. “What I would say is, she is a super nice person,” the second G.O.P. aide told me. “She is just like, Southern charm, big smile, hugging people all the time.” In an era where grassroots MAGA supporters are characterized by their capacity for friendly fire—generally by screaming in their colleagues’ faces, lobbing personal attacks, and threatening to nuke their livelihoods—Greene’s friendliness is legitimately disarming. “In a time where proxy voting makes it so you never have to see anybody and she doesn’t have committees and the toxicity around this place has never been higher,” the aide continued, “when you’re nice to your colleagues, it means a lot.”

“She’ll Be a Good Member”

Fourth, and finally, there is the cold, hard political reality of Greene’s political invincibility. Even if her colleagues loathed her, found her useless and wanted her out, Republicans are stuck with her for the long term. Greene is wildly popular within her district, where she destroyed her primary challengers in 2022 by a whopping 52.6 points and beat her well-funded Democratic rival by 31.8 points. In contrast, Lauren Boebert, who’s just as MAGA as Greene, barely won re-election in her district by a mere 546 votes. 

And this is after she was buffeted by scandal after scandal while in office—a contentious divorce with allegations of cheating; an appearance at a white nationalist convention run by Fuentes; and insensitive comments about the Holocaust, among other screwups. After all, the more that the mainstream media and the Democrats attack her, the stronger she becomes within the G.O.P. Indeed, when I went to see Trump speak at CPAC earlier this year, in Orlando, his shout-out to Greene, who had appeared at the aforementioned white nationalist conference the day before, prompted the loudest shrieks I’d heard all weekend.

To be sure, Greene’s ascendance was only made possible by broader contortions within the G.O.P., where once-taboo culture war provocations are now encouraged, giving Greene ample opportunities to be as MAGA as possible, even when she’s cozied up to the party’s elites. “[She] can rail against certain issues without having to name Republican leadership or bash Republican leadership,” the first aide said. “I think that’s the tightrope that she’ll walk, and she’s gonna be fine. Unless she just goes like, I’m for transgender surgery for 13 year old girls or boys, [or] she’s like, J6 was an insurrection and terrorist attack, we need to impeach Donald Trump, she’ll get screwed. But I don’t see her doing any of those things.” 

Indeed, Greene’s strategy may also presents a playbook for how the MAGA movement ensures its own survival, especially after a midterm election that seemed to punish Trumpism: ditching the ideological zealotry, tamping down the instinct to punish the wayward, and, to paraphrase Dale Carnegie, learning how to win friends and influence people. It says a lot, for instance, that Greene continues to support McCarthy, in contrast to the Freedom Caucus allies who have all sworn to be #NeverKevin until their final breath. And while it remains to be seen how she’ll conduct herself once she returns to her committee assignments, at the moment, she has the trust of leadership. “She obviously has a lot of opinions on a lot of things, but she’ll be able to channel that productively with committees,” the second aide told me. “She’ll be a good member.”