Businesswoman Marjorie Greene triumphed over neurosurgeon John Cowan in a Republican runoff for Georgia’s 14th district Tuesday, clearing the path for her to become Congress’ first open supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
The GOP establishment, the media, & the radical left, spent months & millions of dollars attacking me.
Tonight the people of Georgia stood up & said that we will not be intimidated or believe those lies
I’m excited to be the next Congresswoman of GA 14
God bless America ??
— Marjorie Taylor Greene For Congress?? (@mtgreenee) August 12, 2020
Georgia’s 14th district is deeply red, making it unlikely that Greene will be picked off by Kevin Van Ausdal, the Democratic candidate, in November.
Greene is positioned to win the seat despite some pushback from national Republicans in June after videos capturing her racist and Islamophobic musings were unearthed.
“The comments made by Ms. Greene are disgusting and don’t reflect the values of equality and decency that make our country great,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said in a statement at the time. “I will be supporting Dr. Cowan.”
But after the initial flurry of outrage, sparked by a fear that Greene could become a new, embarrassing, Steve King–like figure in Congress, national Republicans largely let the race play out without their intervention.
“Based on what I’ve seen, the initial statements by Republicans (where they said they were ‘appalled’ or whatever) were just to cover their asses,” Jeffrey Lewis Lazarus, a political science professor at Georgia State University, told TPM by email. “No big GOP names or groups have stepped in to significantly help Cowan — I think maybe Steve Scalise held one fundraiser for him, but that’s it.” (Scalise did, in late July).
Cowan did make an individual push after the first round of the primary, and seemed to breathe some life into his campaign after finishing nearly 20 points down. “Cowan definitely raised enough money to be competitive (at least in theory), and I suspect the attention he’s gotten from national GOPers helped him that,” said Dan Judy, Vice President of North Star Opinion Research, a consultancy for Republican candidates.
But no big outside groups poured funding into the campaign, with the Club for Growth in particular taking a look at the race but ultimately deciding neither to invest in it nor to endorse Cowan, according to Politico.
And some of Republicans’ initial disgust — a McCarthy spokesman said he found Greene’s bigoted sentiments “appalling” — seems to have faded. A spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told Politico this week that he’d spoken on the phone with the candidates recently and has a “good and productive relationship with both.”
“Kevin McCarthy has been completely silent on the issue since that first day, and that sends a huge signal to the rest of the conference that he’s willing to tolerate her views,” Lazarus said. ”And that probably says something about where the GOP is right now — they need the far-right/QAnon voters that Greene appeals to in order to stay competitive nationally. McCarthy can’t afford to alienate them.”
QAnon Loyalty Goes Beyond The Conspiracy
The fact that the Republican party has any qualms about alienating QAnon candidates and their supporters is, on its face, startling. The most extreme QAnon acolytes believe that major Democratic and pop culture figures who are working to undermine President Donald Trump are Satanists and pedophiles bound for trial and execution.
But an association with QAnon — often expressed with the initial of the movement’s anonymous leader, Q, or the motto “where we go one we go all” — may have morphed into a shorthand for other loyalties.
“My hypothesis is that it’s a mode of expressing loyalty to Trump more than it is an affirmation of one’s belief in a set of propositions,” Russel Muirhead, chair of Dartmouth College’s government department, told TPM. “I mean, the set of propositions in QAnon is massive — everything from Hillary and George Soros running child sex rings to JFK rising from the dead.”
“I don’t think people holding up a Q sign at a Trump rally have really invested thought about the myriad propositions involved in QAnon,” he added. “I think it’s a way of saying, ‘we think Trump is good.’”
Some of the beliefs of the average QAnon adherent, Mark Fenster, professor at the University of Florida Law School, added, are not all that different than what a run-of-the-mill Republican believes.
“The policy positions that QAnon leads you to — gun rights, antipathy towards the left and socialists, hatred of the Clintons — that’s mainstream Republican party stuff,” he said.
If QAnon loyalty means more than the core bizarre beliefs of the theory, Greene’s public support of it and Republican leadership’s hesitancy to denounce her makes more sense.
“Whether you’re signaling a belief in Q specifically we don’t know, but I think you’re alternatively signaling support and allegiance to the current President,” said Joanne Miller, professor of political science at the University of Delaware. “You’re also signaling that ‘I’m an outsider, a populist, just like you and not one of the establishment.’”
And of course, QAnon’s entry into mainstream Republican politics wouldn’t have been possible without this particular President.
Trump frequently winks at the conspiracy theory from his Twitter, and tweeted his personal congratulations to Greene after she came out ahead in the first round of the primary.
“He’s notorious for liking anyone who likes him,” Fenster said. “So the fact that QAnon portrays him as the savior of the country — he likes that.”
Greene, once she takes her seat, is likely to be a staunch Trump ally. So would Lauren Boebert in Colorado’s 3rd district, a QAnon-curious candidate who is likely to win her election. But their longevity in Congress, as well as the power they’d have once installed there, is still very much in doubt.
“They will be junior congress members — they’re not gonna get committee assignments that put them in powerful positions because Republican leadership is not gonna give it to them,” Miller said. “And in two years, they will be primaried.”