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Opinion | Marjorie Taylor Greene Has a Decision to Make


Marjorie Taylor Greene seems even thirstier for attention than usual. The Georgia congresswoman recently caused a rumpus in a House Oversight Committee meeting by mocking the eyelashes of a Democratic colleague, Jasmine Crockett. (The episode went viral. Of course.) Days later Ms. Greene dialed up the lunacy, claiming knowledge of a deep state plot to assassinate Donald Trump.

“The Biden DOJ and FBI were planning to assassinate Pres Trump and gave the green light. Does everyone get it yet???!!!!” she posted on X. “What are Republicans going to do about it?”

Um, nothing. Because it is not true. Ms. Greene was just running wild with new details about the government’s 2022 efforts to recover the piles of documents Mr. Trump hoarded at Mar-a-Lago and spinning out a bonkers conspiracy theory. So, you know, the usual M.T.G. antics.

Except for this: In the wake of Ms. Greene’s failed crusade to depose House Speaker Mike Johnson, her craziest-clown-at-the-carnival act seems to have descended into a sad clown party of one. Not long ago, people were buzzing about the MAGA radical as a kind of shadow speaker, the woman who had her party’s leadership running scared. For weeks this spring, her threats against Mr. Johnson had reporters swarming all over her like flies on … honey. But now? Even MAGA-friendly conservatives sound tired of her.

Three years into her congressional tenure, Ms. Greene has reached a defining moment of sorts. Does she want to remain a fringy, bomb-lobbing troll in the backbenches, or will she try to become something more? Thinking about this, I put in a call to Newt Gingrich, another Georgia conservative who once made a major transformation along these lines. The former House speaker had some pointed thoughts about Ms. Greene’s path forward.

She is like that fractious cousin who comes to Thanksgiving dinner, said Mr. Gingrich. “They’re cute up through the salad. Then they start to become obnoxious, and by dessert, you want to send them outside.”

At first blush, Ms. Greene seems impervious to derision, isolation and failure. After all, she hails from an ultra-MAGA district and has become a national celebrity based on being one of Congress’s crudest chaos monkeys. Yet there have been signs that she aspires to something more than the family member all the others roll their eyes at. The question is whether she has the focus, or ability, to get there.

Plenty of politicians storm into Washington as crusading outsiders vowing to upend the system in this way or that — the Tea Partyers, the Squad, Mr. Gingrich’s Republican revolutionaries. For many of these anti-establishment players, a key piece of the job is acting as a bur in the butt of their own party and especially its leaders. Think of the early friction between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Mark Meadows’s leading role in driving Speaker John Boehner from Congress.

As they settle in, many come to realize that legislating is a collective endeavor. To get stuff done, to amass real influence, you need to learn to work productively, if not always happily, with your teammates — and even, on occasion, with members of the other team. Savvy lawmakers figure out how to do this without abandoning their values or damaging their brand. (See: A.O.C.) Some wind up evolving into uber-insiders. (Raise your hand if you remember Mr. Boehner’s early incarnation as a reformer.)

Then there are those who race in the opposite direction, doubling down on outrage politics and disruption for disruption’s sake. This is the preferred path of many a MAGA devotee, and Ms. Greene often seems committed to outrunning them all.

As the architect of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, Mr. Gingrich famously made the journey from yippy, ankle-biting backbencher to powerful speaker. He is also widely blamed for transforming Congress into the hyperpartisan cesspool of dysfunction it is today, before he was eventually felled by political overreach and personal scandal (but that is a different saga). He knows how the game is played, and he had a few thoughts on what his fellow Georgian could do to become a serious player.

“She needs to focus on solutions, not problems,” he offered. “She needs to decide she’s part of a larger group than her own ego, and she needs to develop enough patience to play a team sport.” Or, more succinctly: “Slow down, calm down, find positive things and learn how to be part of a team.”

For a minute or two last summer, it did look as though Ms. Greene was flirting with a different course. She was working with then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy — enough to put her on the outs with the hard-right Freedom Caucus — schmoozing lobbyists and donors and even making deals on legislation. “Well, that’s what we do here. We negotiate,” she told reporters after voting for the annual defense bill that she spoke out against just the day before. “This is just moving the bill, which has so many good things in it, to the next phase, where I can actually have a bigger voice.” The Washington Post declared her “an ultimate D.C. insider.” It was as though she had been replaced by a pod person who gave a fig about legislating.

But then, like Mr. McCarthy’s leadership, Ms. Greene’s pragmatic, productive phase quickly dissolved. These days, she is back to being wholly bizarre and disruptive.

“She doesn’t seem to have the patience to have staying power,” Mr. Gingrich told me. “She goes down a road, but then she starts to backslide,” reverting to “the easy path” that guarantees her attention and campaign cash. If you do this over and over again, he warned, “people decide it’s a pattern.” That’s when they truly get tired of your nonsense and you wind up increasingly marginalized. If it’s real power she’s after, she is unlikely ever to reach it this way.

Ms. Greene doesn’t necessarily need to change a thing just to keep her seat, of course. She seems to be doing pretty well if her goal is “to become a symbol of the extreme wing of her party” and “if she wants to be isolated and ineffective and ultimately not a role model that anyone would point to,” observed Mr. Gingrich. “She can survive a long time doing that.”

Maybe. But God help the rest of us.



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