Not terribly long ago, Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene was lampooned for confusing the Gestapo with gazpacho soup; for positing the theory that space lasers, controlled by rich Jews, were somehow responsible for California’s apocalyptic wildfires; for posting on social media that Democrats she didn’t like should be executed; and the list goes on.
How very, very long a year is in politics.
The 48-year-old Greene flaunts her ignorance and bigotry like some strange, twisted, MAGA badges of honor. Yet, as a result of Kevin McCarthy’s protracted battle to win enough votes to become House speaker, she has become a key power broker in Republican Party politics.
Greene has perfected the art of the right-wing attentat, of spectacle for the sake of spectacle. At the State of the Union address on February 7, for example, Greene’s vulgarity was on full display, as she repeatedly screamed and cursed while President Biden spoke, actively booing, leaning her head forward into the fray and enthusiastically giving the thumbs down sign — as if she were a frenzied audience member at a Roman gladiatorial show.
It was, of course, a repellent display; but it was also strangely fascinating. When Marjorie Taylor Greene first came on the national scene in 2020, she seemed aberrational even in the degraded political environment that Trump had created. Sure, Republicans huffed and puffed a little after she was removed from her congressional committee assignments at the urging of Speaker Pelosi. But, truth be told, much of the indignation seemed pro forma; few of her colleagues were willing to really stick out their necks for a QAnon-supporting bigot who attracted extremists like moths to a flame.
Now, despite — or maybe because of — her recent pronouncement that had she been in charge of the January 6, 2021, protests the armed insurgents would have succeeded in preventing the certification of the Electoral College vote, she has surged to the front ranks of GOP politics. She has enough credibility with the far right to help mold their collective responses to, say, whether or not to support Kevin McCarthy, and enough political savvy to know that, for now at least, her interests and McCarthy’s align. She essentially has, from McCarthy, a green light to act as outrageously as she likes, knowing there will be no negative consequences for her in this Congress.
During the Obama presidency, when a lone GOP congressman, Joe Wilson, shouted out “you lie” during the State of the Union, the bipartisan backlash at the breach of decorum was so intense that he had to eat humble pie and apologize. Fast forward to Biden’s 2023 State of the Union, and Greene was on full display as a non-stop heckling machine. But, far from this engendering a backlash from her colleagues, if you look at the imagery from that evening, the GOP claque appeared to be taking its cues from Greene. When she heckled, or booed, or gave the thumbs down, the GOP backbenches followed suit. When she screamed out “liar,” another member apparently decided to up the ante by shouting “bullshit” in Biden’s direction.
Greene has, it appears, become the leader of her very own jeering mob. And she has done so in a surprisingly methodical way. Sure, she may not know the difference between the secret police of Nazi Germany and a cold tomato soup, but she definitely knows how to gin up a crowd.
Hers is now the all-too-public voice of MAGA in Congress, a junior congressmember capable of marshaling additional far right support for the GOP leadership but equally capable, should the political calculus shift, of withdrawing that support again and bringing down the speaker.
Given the miniscule majority the GOP has in the House, Greene’s power as a ringleader of the far right is immense. For McCarthy, whose speakership hangs by the most fragile of threads — leaving him vulnerable to blackmail by the unscrupulous likes of Greene, Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, as well as the peculiarly loathsome and shapeshifting George Santos — this means he has no choice but to play nice with the Georgian demagogue. And so, he does.
Time after time since November, we have seen carefully staged imagery of Greene huddling with McCarthy — imagery likely curated with the aim of providing her with a veneer of credibility that, innately, she does not possess. The photos remind me, in some ways, of the ghastly pictures of Steve Bannon and Trump, chin to chin, two “alt-right,” infantile, frat boys supposedly deep in an earnest, perhaps even philosophical, conversation, in the early days of the Trump presidency.
Within GOP circles, Greene is now a kingmaker and queenmaker. Increasingly, however, she’s unhappy with the consigliere role, preferring instead a star billing. In late January, NBC News quoted Bannon saying that she sees herself with a realistic chance of becoming Trump’s VP candidate in 2024.
Surely this couldn’t happen?
Of course, it could. Witness Trump’s surprise victory in 2016; witness Giorgia Meloni’s ascent to power in Italy in 2022. Or witness Greene’s election to Congress. Witness, too, Sarah Palin’s stunningly improbable ride to the VP spot back in 2008.
In the two years that Greene has been in Congress, she has gone from being a risible, contemptible verbal bomb-thrower, a QAnon clown, to being a national figure, courted by backbenchers for her fundraising abilities and by Speaker McCarthy for the far right support she can provide. Nothing speaks more to the degradation of, and the danger to, democracy posed by the modern GOP.
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