Two years ago, Kevin McCarthy released a statement “unequivocally” condemning a number of statements made by Marjorie Taylor Greene, the firebrand Republican who had made a name for herself as the “QAnon Congresswoman.” It was about as far as McCarthy was willing to go at the time—he didn’t join with Democrats and 11 of his GOP colleagues in a vote to strip Greene of her committee assignments. Even in 2021, McCarthy was playing the long game, seeking to become speaker when his party retook the House no matter the cost. But Greene’s utterances were a beyond-the-pale matter: hateful, antisemitic, and downright loony; the kind of stuff that must be condemned unequivocally.
Since her rapid rise to prominence during her first campaign for office in 2020, the Georgia congresswoman has made a name for herself as a kind of sentient Facebook page. A frothing conspiracy theorist with no interest in governance and an unending appetite for owning the libs, Greene makes a practice of embracing ideas that range from crazy to batshit. Greene flamboyantly uttered that which many Republicans believe but rarely say in public: Barack Obama is a secret Muslim; the Clintons are murderers—things of that nature.
But Greene sought out the deeper and creepier recesses of the right-wing fever swamps for more outré culture-war curios: that mass shootings in Parkland and Las Vegas were false flags; that Hillary Clinton drank the blood of children; and, most famously (and bizarrely), that California wildfires were caused by lasers “beamed from space” and controlled by the Rothschilds. None of this is particularly hard to condemn unequivocally, even if, like McCarthy, you have no interest in doing much beyond lip service. For Greene it was one more bump in a road.
But that road took her somewhere few might have predicted at the time. Last week, there was Greene, whipping a group of far-right holdouts to vote for McCarthy for speaker. Many of her fellow travelers on the GOP’s lunatic fringe—Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert, most prominently—had embarked on a hostage mission, holding up McCarthy’s coronation in order to sap the speaker’s power and make it their own. Greene was not among them.
Two images stand out in Greene’s effort. In one, Greene is trying to hand her phone to Montana Representative Matt Rosendale. Two letters are on the screen—DT, Donald Trump, who has been pushing for McCarthy—but Rosendale waves it away. No image better captures Trump’s own uncertain position either in the Republican Party or the far-right fringe that he helped empower. In another frozen moment, Greene takes a selfie with a grinning McCarthy shortly after he won the speakership after 15 grueling, humiliating votes.
No image better sums up the state of the Republican House of Representatives. Here in this weird hothouse, Greene is trying to have her cake and eat it too—staying on the ins with fellow far-right luminaries such as Gaetz and Boebert while cozying up to party leadership. While she has vociferously criticized McCarthy and other Republican leaders in the past, she has been notably quiet in recent weeks, even as Gaetz, Boebert, and others went to the mattresses. All of these figures who washed into Washington during the Trump era are bucking for power in a new House majority that will spend its time mostly antagonizing the White House. But Greene’s path is the most interesting one: Pushing toward the appearance of respectability and buddying with McCarthy and other institutionalists is, for her, novel and new. But for the GOP itself, it’s merely the latest sign of rightward drift.
Greene started chasing respectability—or at least the veneer of it—about a year ago. “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true, and I would ask questions about them and talk about them,” Greene said last February when asked about her past support for the QAnon conspiracy, “and that is absolutely what I regret.” In the same interview, she insisted that she had completed her slouch toward normalcy. “I’m a very regular American,” she said, caveats at the ready: “I never said any of these things since I have been elected for Congress.” But her ideological commitments remained fluid, to put it charitably: Later that month, she appeared as a surprise guest at white nationalist Nick Fuentes’s America First Political Action Conference; a day later, she appeared at the more buttoned-up Conservative Political Action Conference—the first sign she was playing both sides.
Speaking to Fox News’s Howard Kurtz over the weekend about her support of McCarthy, Greene made similar remarks, saying she had been “sucked into” online conspiracy theories like QAnon. Greene has never reckoned with—or ever really acknowledged—the substance of her beliefs and has instead blamed the internet for them. But that’s the larger story here: In the contemporary Republican Party, she doesn’t have to. She can continue to rise up the ranks of the Republican Party while engaging in similar rhetoric while offering the most threadbare of apologies.
Kurtz’s profile of Greene is largely a puff piece, but it’s a revealing one. In it, Kurtz acknowledges the path Greene was on—use social media to raise a ton of cash, alienate party leaders, don’t get a ton done—and then asserts, based mainly on vibes, that she has chosen a different way forward. She and McCarthy are now confidants, their trust forged in the fire of having tried and failed to block the infrastructure bill that ultimately was signed into law last fall. Per Kurtz, Greene saw that allying with McCarthy was a way to accomplish a set of never-articulated political goals. That she acted as McCarthy’s go-between with the far-right rebels is proof in and of itself of a transformation. “Surely they have some kind of understanding after she helped deliver votes for him—which, by the way, is the kind of horse-trading that has gone on since Alexander Hamilton was saying you had to be in the room,” Kurtz wrote, providing what is surely the first and hopefully the last comparison between Hamilton and Greene.
The piece is a crowning achievement of laundering, an attempt at making Greene seem, well, normal. But the thing is—it’s not entirely wrong. Greene is normal in this Republican House of Representatives. She certainly isn’t on the fringe anymore. The things she wants are the things other Republicans want: holding the debt ceiling hostage, total culture war forever, starving the federal government of funds. Her commentary, sanded down and stripped of the craziest stuff about Jewish space lasers, isn’t so different from that of the new speaker of the House. Did Greene actually bend toward institutionalism, or did the institution relent? The answer shouldn’t be this elusive: Marjorie Taylor Greene is being embraced as a normal Republican because she is one. She didn’t “go legit”; the GOP simply stopped worrying about legitimacy.