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From outside agitator to inside player: The remaking of Marjorie Taylor Greene

In late September, when House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California privately unveiled his policy agenda to Republican lawmakers, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) approached the microphone to offer her praise.

Holding up the small card that outlined the key tenets of McCarthy’s proposal, known as the “Commitment to America,” Greene — long a far-right rabble rouser and critic of Republican leadership — praised it as a solid framework, according to someone in the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid details of a private gathering.

Greene touted how the document allowed Republicans to show not just what they were against but what they were for. She also said that while everyone might not agree with everything, the proposal represented a great start, added this person, who described Greene’s support as “super surprising.”

The next day, when McCarthy traveled to the Pittsburgh suburbs to publicly unveil the Commitment to America, Greene joined him, sitting just behind his right shoulder and beaming and applauding throughout.

The tableau illustrated the slow remaking of Marjorie Taylor Greene — from an incendiary irritant of her own party’s leadership to a slightly-less-incendiary Republican team player, including opposing many of her usual hard-right allies this month by backing McCarthy as House speaker.

Greene’s evolution was part of a deliberate effort that began during her turbulent first term in Congress, in which she alienated both Democrats and Republicans by parroting conspiracy theories and making a series of offensive comments.

In February 2021, Democrats and 11 Republicans stripped Greene from two committees for past social media posts, including falsely claiming that some mass shootings were “false flag” attacks meant to curb Second Amendment rights; that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were a government conspiracy; and that a Jewish cabal had used space lasers to ignite a deadly California wildfire. She also came under scrutiny for a slew of anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and racist views she expressed before joining Congress.

The following February, in 2022, Greene prompted renewed criticism when she appeared at a conference in Orlando organized by Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist and antisemite.

Even now, as she has sidled up to Republican leadership, Greene has continued making offensive and outlandish comments.

But amid the cycle of self-inflicted errors, public rebukes and halting apologies, Greene also embarked upon what one person called a “methodical” reinvention starting early last year, according to some people familiar with her thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal details.

Greene calculated that McCarthy was likely to be the next House speaker — and that her best opportunity at political relevancy was aligning herself with him, one of these people said. She also made the strategic decision to position herself as conduit between the populist base and her party’s leaders, reasoning that she could lobby for more of her conservative priorities if she had strong relationships between both camps, said a second person, who recently spoke with Greene.

McCarthy, aiming for the speakership, was also looking to make new friends among the far right of his party, even though he had only recently condemned Greene’s comparison of the Holocaust and covid mandates and had his spokesman call other comments she had made on social media “deeply disturbing.” He decided to risk attracting backlash by working closely with her.

Thus began a series of private meetings and discussions between the two Republicans, which one person familiar described as “hours and hours and hours of time” together. For roughly the past six to eight months — in the run-up to McCarthy’s speakership bid — he and Greene met once a week, the second person added.

Through a spokesperson, Greene did not make herself available for an interview. McCarthy’s office also declined to comment.

“She realizes she’s got to go toward the McCarthy side to be successful — if she hangs out with the bomb-throwers all the time, she’s not going to be able to get much done,” said Kasey Carpenter, a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives. “I think she played her hand well.”

Greene’s vigorous backing of McCarthy’s quest to be speaker — which was only successful after 14 failed votes — pitted her against many of her usual allies, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).

In doing so, the sophomore legislator found herself straddling two wings of the Republican Party — the House Freedom Caucus members and other burn-it-all-down agitators versus more-moderate lawmakers and Republican leaders.

At one point during the days-long speakership fight, Greene could be seen trying to hand her cellphone with former president Donald Trump on the line — listed in her contacts as “DT” — to Matthew M. Rosendale (R-Mont.), who appeared to wave her off. At another point, she was sitting next to Gaetz when he stood to cast his speaker vote for Trump; Greene turned to him and, with a half-smirk, seemed to mouth: “Really??”

Her support for McCarthy has prompted blowback, especially among the hard-line fringe she counts as part of her base. They argue that the outsider who came to Washington declaring that “the system has to be torn down” and boasted that the “D.C. swamp hates me” now has succumbed to its enticements.

Amid the speakership battle, a caller to the Infowars conspiracy show said her vote for McCarthy made her a “fraud.” Noel Fritsch, a conservative activist and publisher of National File, a far-right news website, dismissed her in similar terms: “She has to answer the question of whether the last two years have been a total fraud because she is now supporting a guy who doesn’t support impeaching Joe Biden,” Fritsch said, referring to her choice of McCarthy as speaker.

But within the broader party, the balancing act largely seems to have worked, a least for now. The Infowars host defended her, saying he didn’t think “one vote makes Marjorie Taylor Greene a fraud,” and adding that while he disagreed with her on this issue, he still thinks “she’s one of the good ones in there.”

“She’s a fighter and being a fighter in this business is a good trait and not a bad trait, but you have to know when to fight and who to fight, and you can’t just go around throwing punches with everyone you disagree with, and I think she’s learned that realization,” said Chip Lake, a Georgia-based Republican consultant. “She’s no less of a fighter today than she was when she got in there. She’s just picking her fights a little more strategically, and that’s a good thing.”

From the beginning, ignominy marked Greene’s entry into Congress. Less than two weeks after the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, Greene texted Trump’s chief of staff suggesting broad support among her colleagues for the outgoing president to deploy martial law — misspelling it as “Marshall law” — to remain in power.

Just over a week later, CNN reported that in 2018 and 2019, before running for Congress, Greene had repeatedly expressed her support for executing top Democrats, including then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. The following month, she was kicked off two committees, and declared herself “freed” because she viewed them as “a waste of my time.”

The incendiary behavior and comments continued, from chasing a Democratic colleague down a hallway while falsely accusing her of supporting “terrorists” to deeming Pelosi “mentally ill” and comparing her coronavirus vaccine and mask mandates in the House to Nazi requirements that Jewish people “wear a gold star” and be “put in trains and taken to gas chambers.”

And that November, in a podcast interview with Gaetz as she neared the end of her first year in Congress, Greene said McCarthy did not have the votes to become speaker — “There is a door open for a challenger,” she added — and dismissed Republican leadership.

“I don’t respect them at all,” she declared.

But as Greene entered her second year in Congress — marred almost immediately by her decision to attend the conference organized by Fuentes — her relationship with McCarthy and the Republican leadership team began to change.

Greene was feeling especially under siege, even from members of her own party, when McCarthy reached out and offered to help her navigate the onslaught of criticism, someone familiar with the situation said. They began meeting regularly and — though the early stages of the courtship was halting and tentative on both sides — she has since told allies that her view of him evolved, from a faux Republican to someone who was genuinely trying to welcome her and her brand of conservatism into his circle.

House Republicans also credit Greene’s decision in the fall of 2021 to hire Ed Buckham, a former aide to former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, with her focus on the inside game in Congress. And they note that from the start of her time in Congress, she has charted a different path from some of her fellow disrupters by regularly paying her National Republican Congressional Committee dues — typically a path to rising through committees to leadership.

By the time Republicans narrowly won the House in November and McCarthy began running for speaker, Greene — who several Republicans have described as fiercely loyal — began privately telling allies that she had a “strategic disagreement” with the group opposing McCarthy. She said she believed there was no plausible alternative to him and trusted him to incorporate conservative priorities into his governing agenda.

Greene defenders say they believe her public apologies and claims that she simply got caught up in online conspiracy theories like QAnon before becoming more savvy. Several described her as a conservative “Facebook mom,” whose social media posts from before she ran for Congress don’t reflect her true beliefs.

“She’s figured out the lines and that people aren’t going to work with you on things if you’re showing up to white nationalist conventions,” said one Republican who has worked with Greene, speaking anonymously to not alienate her or her base.

After Trump recently hosted a dinner with Fuentes and Kanye West — who has espoused antisemitic views and now goes by the name Ye — Greene condemned Fuentes, writing in a tweet, “Of course I denounce Nick Fuentes and his racists antisemitic ideology.”

“It’s never easy to remake yourself or rebrand yourself, and historically when a member of Congress comes in, their brand is set within their first term,” Lake said. “I give Marjorie credit that she looks like she’s willing to do an assessment of the role she’s played and the role she wants to play.”

But Greene’s progression from outside firebrand to inside player is hardly a total makeover.

Last week, she sent a tweet seeming to imply, with no evidence, that coronavirus vaccines were responsible for stroke and heart attack deaths around the world, calling for “an immediate investigation.”

Referring to the GOP’s disappointing midterm results, Greene told Stephen K. Bannon, a former top adviser in the Trump White House, on his hard-right “War Room” podcast in November that she was willing to “lean into” a “civil war in the GOP.”

And then, in December, Greene made what her office later dismissed as a “sarcastic joke” about claims that she and Bannonhad been responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“I want to tell you something: If Stephen K. Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won,” Greene said, pausing for laughter and applause. “Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.”

Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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