There’s something about Marjorie. That would be Marjorie Taylor Greene, a freshman Republican congresswoman from Georgia who has filled a void as big as Donald Trump’s hair in the media since the Orange Man left the White House to hit the links full-time.
Greene is by all accounts bonkers, or at least appears to have driven herself mad in a way that is all too common in the Trump era. She also seems to be a real nasty piece of work, at least in terms of how she comports herself with ideological — if that is even the right word — foes. The last four years have created a phenomenon by which people work themselves into a lather about Trump and ‘doom scroll’ to confirm their wildest hopes and worst fears. Add in a year of social isolation and voila! — you have a deranged political culture.
Many people are attached to the idea that Trump was a uniquely malevolent occupant of an office held by national icons who interned Americans of Japanese ancestry or re-segregated the federal workforce, a status he will retain at least until the next Republican president is sworn in. They consumed all manner of media that confirmed this view and, fortunately for them, could get their fix from outlets that at least employ real journalists, even if they sometimes elevate people who scream and shout for a living instead.
The congresswoman was devoted to a different form of fan fiction, in which Trump was a swashbuckling hero without peer battling a child-molesting elite. QAnon and its variants are an extreme manifestation of the somewhat more widely held view, or at least desperate longing to believe, that everything Trump does is four-dimensional chess. It is the political equivalent of watching a slapstick comedian repeatedly fall on his posterior and reassure the audience, ‘I meant to do that!’
Many QAnon-adjacent types are essentially self-taught about politics, which makes them easy marks for other conspiracy theories and Greene has trafficked in some dumb and ugly ones. They also do not have the same luxury as their #Resistance friends of deriving emotional satisfaction from CNN panel discussions, so the musings of random internet users with names like ‘Rhinoceros55’ have to suffice.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called Greene and her ilk a ‘cancer’ on the Republican party, though House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy handled her more carefully ahead of a vote to strip her of her committee assignments (which might have been avoided had the California Republican been more forceful in his own approach).
But there have always been crazy people in Congress, especially in the 435-member House. Rep. John Schmitz of California managed to serve a term and a half before increasingly bizarre statements got him kicked out of even the John Birch Society, to whom we may owe an apology in the QAnon timeline. And not to be whataboutist, but longtime congresswoman Maxine Waters has dabbled in her share of conspiracy theories, and she is far more influential than either Schmitz ever was or Greene could ever hope to be.
What has changed is that social media can give crazy members of Congress a higher profile than ever before, and therefore a greater potential to inflict harm on the body politic. The January 6 Capitol riot was a stark reminder that all this can leave the realm of cosplaying and become dangerous.
Still, Greene does not constitute a national emergency deserving of the full House’s attention by her lonesome. She is consequential only as a representative of something larger, and I do not mean her Georgia congressional district.
The Republican party is, in the minds of a nontrivial number of its voters, divided between politicians with no higher ambition than to lose graciously to the left and those who Fight, even if their fighting mostly takes the form of punching themselves in the face. (‘I meant to do that!’) Defeatism is confused for decency, indecency and recklessness for principle.
Making matters worse is that many grassroots Republicans suspect that, talk of unity aside, the liberal wing of the Democratic party sees little difference between Marjorie Taylor Greene and virtually anyone a millimeter to the right of Lincoln Chafee. And concerning the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump, they are probably not that far off.
We logically should expect more from a member of Congress than we do a MyPillow CEO. But the experience of watching Mitt Romney and John McCain alternate between being statesmanlike heroes when taking shots to their right and then revert to being history’s greatest monsters when doing anything remotely conservative has radicalized even the type of Republican who once would have been content to hand the party’s presidential nomination to Bob Dole like a gold watch at a retirement party, to say nothing of the neophyte right-wing doom scrollers.
If this conservative leadership vacuum is not soon filled, the Republican party will end up with leaders who make Donald Trump look like Edmund Burke. You thought the Orange Man was bad, but things can always get worse.
W. James Antle III is politics editor of the Washington Examiner.