Why Marjorie Taylor Greene is becoming “the most powerful woman” in Trump's GOP

In his new book "Weapons of Mass Delusion," Robert Draper dives into how the Republican party lost its mind

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 18, 2022 9:00AM (EDT)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) holds a sign that reads Impeach Biden at a rally featuring former US President Donald Trump on September 25, 2021 in Perry, Georgia. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) holds a sign that reads Impeach Biden at a rally featuring former US President Donald Trump on September 25, 2021 in Perry, Georgia. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Donald Trump would not be powerful if he wasn't enabled by the larger Republican Party. But a combination of cowardice, greed and unchecked ambition has led the GOP establishment to capitulate to a maniac who lies as easily as he breathes as well as to a rising authoritarian movement that justifies itself through bigotry and conspiracy theories. In his new book, "Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind," journalist Robert Draper carefully details how Trump and his fever swamp-dwelling lieutenants successfully remade the Republican Party over in their own image. In this deeply reported book, the New York Times Magazine contributor traces how the quisling leadership of the GOP, plus a voting base drunk on decades of right wing propaganda, brought us to where we are today — at the brink of democratic collapse. 

Salon spoke with Draper about his new book and how Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia is the true face of the 21st-century Republican Party. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

President Joe Biden gave a speech in Philadelphia a few weeks back where he warned Americans of the MAGA threat. He also said that many, if not most, Republicans aren't MAGA. He ascribed the GOP fealty to Trump to fear. Your whole book is about Republican fealty to Trump. What is your take? Is Biden right?

Well, I land on President Biden being a voracious optimist. He prefers to see the upside to a political situation. It's probably accurate that it isn't a vast majority of Republicans who are MAGA through and through. But it's a distinction, finally, without a difference, when so many people are too afraid to speak up, and essentially go along.

It's certainly true, for example, that the majority of people who are Republicans and are now running in the general election for statewide office are election deniers, which is a fundamental tenant of Trumpism. Perhaps it's right and proper for Biden to emphasize that there are plenty of sane Republicans. It's nonetheless the case that they're not the ones who run the party. Trump is without question the leader of the Republican Party. His lieutenants like Marjorie Taylor Greene hold an outsized amount of influence in the party.

Speaking of Marjorie Taylor Greene: In your book, you write about the Trumpist class of Republicans in Congress — the Madison Cawthorns and Paul Gosars — but you especially focus on Marjorie Taylor Greene. Why did you decide to make her such a central figure in your narrative? 

When I got the contract to do the book in December of 2020, I figured she merited some mention as the first QAnon adherent to be elected to Congress. But I didn't think there'd be more to it than that. Frankly, I thought that she'd be kicked to the curb by the Republican establishment. I was wrong. A year and a half later, she is one of the top fundraisers among Republican House members. Over time, she began to gain influence within the Republican conference itself.

"She came out of nowhere with no political experience and can espouse the most extreme beliefs imaginable."

There's this notion that if you just pay no attention to Marjorie Taylor Greene, if you refuse to give her the attention that she so yearns for, then she'll just kind of wither away. That hasn't happened. She, really more than anybody else,  provides a kind of case study for the Republican Party in the Trump era. She came out of nowhere with no political experience and can espouse the most extreme beliefs imaginable. And far from being condemned by her party, she will, in fact rise to be maybe the most powerful woman in the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Liz Cheney can be effectively kicked out of the party. Marjorie Taylor Greene is a remarkable case study that warrants the amount of attention that I focused on here. 

A lot of people in the Beltway press are still not wanting to see this clearly: Trumpism isn't about Trump. It is a legit political movement. What do you think is driving this? Why now? 

On a strategic, party-wide level, Trump provided an easier way for Republicans to do what they had attempted to do after Mitt Romney got beaten by Barack Obama in 2012: In essence, appeal to people who are turned off by the party. After that election, the Republican National Committee came up with Growth and Opportunity Project that was intended to expand the tent. But that's a really difficult proposition for any political organization, to get people who dislike you to like you. Trump showed a different way. You don't need to find people who aren't naturally inclined to vote for you, and convince them to come to your side. All you have to do is find the people who are naturally in your camp, and excite them as much as possible. Perhaps on the side, suppress the votes of others.

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I want to be clear on this point, though. Trump may have said he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose a vote. That may well be true. But the base would desert him if he said "I'm pro-choice" or "We need to enact gun control measures." There was a right wing that was already preparing to seize power in the Republican Party. Trump just gave them the voice that they needed. There was clearly a fervor growing out of the Tea Party movement and during Barack Obama's presidency. Trump picked up on that and ultimately convinced the party was the more expeditious way to go.

I don't think a lot of liberals and non-Trumpy political observers get why his fans love him so much. That guy? He's whiny. He's narcissistic. His voice is grating. He's weird looking. But you argue that stuff works to his advantage. You write, "the MAGA faithful adored their emperor without clothes." Can you explain what you mean by that?

What they love most about Trump is that they share the same enemies. It wasn't a natural fit for this Manhattan real estate developer to find love in places like Mississippi and South Carolina and Alabama. And yet he did, because he was calling out the politically correct, he was saying that they need to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, and calling out American adversaries that this right wing base had already identified.

"What they love most about Trump is that they share the same enemies."

Once they realized he was speaking their language, then they began to excuse away every mortal frailty of his. When he would complain all the time, and when he would say obnoxious things on Twitter, they would just see that as evidence that this is a guy who isn't a typical politician. They say he will tell it like it is, and he isn't afraid of the consequences. He's willing to go up against the "woke mob." Everything that we would ordinarily view as a vice they found to be to be virtuous. This culminated in October of 2016, with the infamous "grab them by the pussy" video. It became proof this man was a virile macho man.

We're seeing the same story play out again, right now with Herschel Walker in Georgia, who was outed for paying for an abortion. The same people that forgave Trump are happy to forgive what they claim is murder.

I suppose the rationale is that the stakes are so great, that he'll provide a crucial Senate vote against "murder" of any babies — other than his own, allegedly. It's certainly a double standard. One could just chalk it up to run-of-the-mill political cynicism, but for the shrillness of the rhetoric. The so-called "pro-life" movement really does say anyone who participates in abortion should be cast out and condemned as a murderer.

Obviously, Trump's Big Lie is, for him, a self-serving narrative, just like everything else in his life. But what makes it so appealing to Republican voters? Poll after poll shows that the majority of them endorse it, on some level. What role do you think that race and racism plays in the acceptance of the big lie?

It had been accepted wisdom in conservative circles, for decades and decades, that Democrats cheat. When they talk about Democrats, yes, occasionally, they're talking about Mayor Daley of Chicago. But what they really mean by "Democratic machine" is urban areas where Black voters are concentrated. This has been said over and over. Karl Rove would talk about how urban Democratic areas were areas in which cheating frequently occurred, though he never offered any evidence to prove this. Part of it, too, is "We Republicans can't possibly lose as patriotic God-fearing Americans."

None of this should have been surprising. There had been an on-ramp to that claim for years and years. In 2016, Trump was already accusing Ted Cruz and others of stealing victories from him in the primaries. But the greater notion, as you're alluding to, is that Democrats cheat to win. It's very often people of color who are accused of running this game. It's pretty basic to Republican dialogue.

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Trump got his start in politics by peddling the birther conspiracy theory, which is this racist theory that Barack Obama wasn't a legitimate U.S. citizen. The Big Lie is just more of the same, peddling the notion that black voters are not legitimate voters.

Right? They claim they're not legitimate voters. They say they're not using IDs, or that they shouldn't be allowed to vote, because they're ex-felons. Or that when they do vote, it's only because someone pays them. It's a pernicious notion that is betrayed by history. In fact, there were in the past gatekeepers to elections. They were almost exclusively white men favoring candidates of white European descent and trying to dilute Black voting power. 

I was struck by the opening of your book where you spoke about your father being a loyal Republican who loathed Trump. How do we square these two desires? It's understandable to want a conservative political party that's not promoting authoritarian racist nonsense. But the GOP has been heading down this path for a long, long time. 

"A lot of Republicans reject authoritarianism, and yet, they are meekly standing by while an authoritarian sentiment gradually takes over their party."

On his literal deathbed in late 2019, my dad said he hoped that Joe Biden would become the nominee because he believed Biden could beat Trump and believed that Trump had to be beaten. But my dad also went to his grave believing, as a lot of Republicans I know do, that the party is still theirs. That they're not leaving the party, or if the so-called "crazies" want to go form a third party, they're welcome to, but the more mainstream Republicans intend to stick around.

The problem with this thinking is that it's not altogether clear to me how they think all this ends. How it is that they retake the party? A pretty significant majority of Republicans believe the election was stolen. They believe Republicanism is whatever Donald Trump says it is. A lot of Republicans reject authoritarianism, and yet, they are meekly standing by while an authoritarian sentiment gradually takes over their party.

Their belief — and I've heard this time and again — is, "Look, you know, I'm not going to call out Donald Trump, I'm not going to call out these people. 'Cause you know what will happen? If I do, I will lose, and I will be replaced by someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene." They plan to hide under the desk while all of this shrill stuff is going on. Eventually, they think they will help restore sanity to the Republican Party.

It does not explain how they ultimately defeat Trumpism instead. It's a passive voice construction, in which Trumpism somehow dies of its own extremism. There's no plan.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Donald Trump Interview Marjorie Taylor Greene Robert Draper Weapons Of Mass Delusion