This week, the antics of Marjorie Greene, a candidate for the Republican primary in Georgia’s 14th district, became too much for GOP House leadership.
She had finished the first round of the primary ahead by nearly 20 points, falling short of the majority needed to win outright but positioning herself well for the runoff on August 11, the winner of which would be a heavy favorite in the deep red district.
She’d already set the groundwork for congressional uneasiness with her outspoken support of QAnon, a bizarre conspiracy theory that encompasses the baseless belief that President Donald Trump’s Satan-worshipping, pedophilic enemies — including many high-profile Democrats and pop culture figures — will be brought to justice during a great final judgment.
This week, after old videos of her casually airing Islamophobic and racist sentiments surfaced, Republican leadership called it quits. Steve Scalise (R-LA), House minority whip, went so far as to endorse her primary opponent. The NRCC, after saying it doesn’t interfere in primaries, added that Chairman Tom Emmer (R-MN) was “personally disgusted” by the comments.
That leaves Greene with a 54-day gamble, nearly two months to see if the establishment kickback and her Trumpian refusal to apologize will cost her the presumptive seat.
To Jeffrey Lewis Lazarus, a political science professor at Georgia State University, it all hangs on whether the GOP leadership puts their money where their mouth is.
“If the leaders’ statements are just perfunctory they won’t amount to much and she’ll probably win the nomination,” he told TPM. “But if the GOP puts some weight behind them — by endorsing her opponent by name, actively campaigning for him, and investing some money in him — that can make a real difference in the runoff.”
Dan Judy, Vice President of North Star Opinion Research, a consultancy for Republican candidates, said that the national attention is a gift to her competitor, neurosurgeon John Cowan.
“I don’t think endorsements from House leadership will be determinative, but will definitely help Cowan by giving him what he needs most — attention and, presumably, a fundraising boost,” he told TPM. “The timing is also fortuitous for him (as is Georgia’s absurdly lengthy runoff) — he has plenty of time to fully incorporate the latest events into the campaign.”
Cowan, while not a QAnon supporter, is by no means a centrist candidate. His slogan is “Pro Trump, pro life, pro gun,” and he got into a recent tiff with Greene over who was more vocal in their hatred of antifa. Antifa, short for anti-Facist, is a loose idea of militant protesting that has become an unrealized boogeyman for many on the right.
“Let’s cut through the bull: I announced my support of the President’s action to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization weeks ago and warned Antifa thugs about coming to our communities on Day 1 of the riots in Georgia,” Cowan wrote in a statement on his website.
FEC records show that the two had fairly similar amounts of cash on hand at the end of May — she with $139,185.26 and he with $125,174.34 — though Greene raised nearly twice as much money as Cowan over the course of the campaign. Some of that money came from Greene herself: a businesswoman, she bolstered her campaign with $700,000 of her own money. Cowan lended $105,600 to his.
Another thing that may be haunting Republican leaders while they debate how strongly to throw their support to Cowan is the specter of a recently departed colleague.
Steve King, a Republican congressman from Iowa with a rich history of racist statements, lost his primary at the beginning of June. The veteran lawmaker of nine straight terms only relatively recently became a party pariah, when comments he made about the acceptableness of white supremacists caused national outrage. Party leaders ultimately stripped him of his committee assignments, allowing his competitors to paint him as ineffective.
His national profile grew so rapidly as to put his seat, a usually safe Republican hold, at risk. In 2018, he nearly lost to Democrat J.D. Scholten, who is running again in 2020. It’s surely not a situation top Republicans want to find themselves in again.
“The question is, will they treat Greene the way they treated King from 2003-2018 (i.e., quietly tolerate her)?” Lazarus asked. “Or will they treat her the way they treated King in 2019 and actively shun her?”
“A lot might depend on how much national press her videos get — the more attention she gets, the bigger an embarrassment she is,” he added.
Judy compared the exit of King and entrance of Greene to cleaning up his toddler’s playroom to find it trashed minutes later: “What?? I just cleaned up this mess!”
Still, House leadership’s power is eclipsed by a much larger name and influence who could alter the trajectory of the race with one tweet. And he’s already congratulated one of the candidates.
A big winner. Congratulations! https://t.co/ZsL3YA33H8
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2020
“If he were to tweet in favor of either candidate, that would probably seal the deal,” Judy said. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if House leadership was feeling the White House out about this.”