The M.T.G.-McCarthy Referendum

Marjorie Taylor-Greene
In supporting McCarthy’s Speakership bid, M.T.G. is testing a longstanding cardinal rule of MAGA politics. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
December 28, 2022

For the sprawling, decentralized, increasingly inchoate MAGA political universe, it’s near impossible to keep one’s mind off of the upcoming House Speaker elections, next Tuesday, wherein Kevin McCarthy’s run for the gavel has been stymied by five intransigent, far-right Republican so-called “saboteurs” nicknamed the Never Kevins, whose firm opposition alone prevents McCarthy from the consummation of a career-long dream: nabbing the 218 votes required to rule the roost. McCarthy’s political knot is even more complex, of course. There’s a second block of Republicans within the Freedom Caucus whose support of McCarthy is conditioned on the restoration of the Motion to Vacate rule, effectively giving them the ability to detonate his collar if he crosses them. Matt Gaetz, their most voluble spokesman, has implied that they would be cool with Steve Scalise who is similar to McCarthy in every fashion besides his DNA. So, it’s personal. 

McCarthy, of course, is nothing if not willing to compromise. He has attempted to secure the rabble-rousing, anti-establishment MAGA vote by gaining the support of far-right allies like Jim Jordan, Jim Banks, and even Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene’s presence, in particular, on Team “Kevin Only”—that is, in fact, their new name—was supposed to signal McCarthy’s amenability to giving MAGA world a seat at the policy-making table. In exchange for this presumed accord, M.T.G., along with dozens of other far-right media celebrities, have been publicly making the case that McCarthy would be a reliable ally on their key issues: border control, anti-woke legislation, repealing Covid vaccine mandates, and so forth. But in doing so, Greene is testing a longstanding cardinal rule of MAGA politics: the agenda must always take a back seat to all attempts to stick it to the establishment. 

Not surprisingly, there’s some growing dissatisfaction with Greene among her MAGA compatriots for siding with McCarthy. Greene, after all, had been the ultimate outsider when she was elected to Congress in 2020: an online influencer who built her credibility discussing QAnon theories in dank corners on the Internet, chasing after a Parkland shooting survivor, and flirting with white nationalism. Her very existence horrified the mainstream media and the Washington establishment, which in turn made her a MAGA darling. But siding with McCarthy threatens to complicate that star status, at least among her peers. “They feel like she sold them out for committee assignments,” one G.O.P. ally said of several anti-Kevin votes. 

“They Hate Each Other”: Boebert vs. Greene

Among the resentments that threatens to blow up more publicly is the feud quietly simmering between Greene and Lauren Boebert—a long-gestating mutual loathing that’s been the talk of the MAGA school cafeteria for months. “They hate each other. It is like giggling vitriol,” a G.O.P. activist with ties to the Freedom Caucus told me. (Representatives for their offices didn’t respond to requests for comment.)

That feud has already been previewed in various arenas of the conservative media sphere. Last week, when asked why she didn’t join Greene in supporting McCarthy during an interview with Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, Boebert took a blistering jab at Greene’s past conspiratorial statements: “I’ve been accused of believing a lot of the things she believes in. I don’t believe in [supporting McCarthy] just like I don’t believe in Jewish space lasers.” (Greene infamously speculated in a 2018 Facebook post that a Rothschild-funded solar energy satellite was responsible for beaming “the sun’s power down to Earth” and causing a spate of California wildfires.) 

Greene, of course, hit back on social media by referring to Boebert’s near-loss in the 2022 midterms (“She just barely came through by 500 votes”) and implied that Boebert was a full-fledged MAGA traitor: “Lauren refuses to endorse President Trump, she refuses to support Kevin McCarthy, and she childishly threw me under the bus for a cheap sound bite.” Later, in a response to the Daily Caller, Boebert doubled down on her criticism of Greene. While once again referencing the space lasers, she noted: “The only person who can answer for Marjorie’s words and actions is Marjorie. Let me be very clear, I support President Trump. Period. President Trump is a friend and the leader of the Republican party.”

While the schoolyard drama is charming, of course, it’s only one manifestation of a growing debate over how MAGA representatives flex their power in the future: Should they try to build bridges with squish allies—moderate Republicans, RINOs, or perhaps even Democrats, to pass legislation—or do they need to continue agitating to extract concessions? Should they simply carry on trying to burn Washington to the ground? Perhaps, like so many ideologically-strident movements before it, MAGA will eat its own before that question gets answered. 

“Kevin Needs Every Vote”

Securing the speakership, however, won’t be the end of McCarthy’s problems. Like many a speaker before him, he will inherit a Republican party in hot water for various ethical misdeeds. But unlike past Republican Speakers who were able to expunge their problem children—Duncan Hunter, Steve King, and Chris Collins come to mind—McCarthy has one Member he can’t shake without losing a vote for future legislation. New York Congressman-elect George Santos is in the middle of defending himself for the innumerable lies on his resume. The number of falsehoods are too many to fully list here, but they include false claims that he lost employees in a famous mass shooting and that he had Ukrainian-born Jewish grandparents that survived the Holocaust. His alleged educational and professional background, too, appears to be entirely fake.

Of course, there’s no law against lying to voters, per se, and at least for the moment, there hasn’t been any discussion among high level Republicans about impeaching or sanctioning him. Santos may be a fabulist, and possibly a con artist, but it’s possible that McCarthy will need him to secure his place in leadership. “He’s a liar,” conceded a G.O.P. activist, “but Kevin needs every vote.” 

The same can’t be said about conservative media, which is not only declining to make excuses for Santos, but is actively tearing him down. Though he attempted a mea culpa interview with the New York Post, the headline referred to him as “Liar Rep.-elect George Santos.” Breitbart’s Joel Pollak referred to Santos’s claims as “fake news from fake Jews.” Meanwhile, Tulsi Gabbard, subbing in for Tucker Carlson on Tuesday, demolished Santos on air during a taped Fox News interview. “Do you have no shame in the people who you’re asking to trust you to go and be their voice for them, their families and their kids in Washington?” she asked as Santos tried to defend himself. 

In a forgotten era when shame actually mattered, Santos may have been convinced to exit Congress—and, indeed, this still might be the case. Earlier this week, the Republican Jewish Coalition condemned Santos and refused to invite him to events in the future, while two of his fellow Republican congressmen-elect called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate Santos. There are still plenty of tools to use in case Santos tries to brazen his way through a full term—for instance, he can be stripped of committee assignments if he is indicted, a rule that the G.O.P. passed in 2018. But barring Santos growing a conscience in the next six days, he’ll waltz into Congress next week wielding the battle-tested claim that he is simply a victim fighting back against establishment shenanigans, as he foreshadowed in a recent interview, telling Semafor’s Kadia Goba, “I don’t dance to the tune of these guys.”