A bombshell investigation from The Associated Press suggests that a controversial MAGA candidate vying for a critical U.S. House seat in Ohio isn’t who he says he is.
While J.R. Majewski has boasted a great deal about seeing combat in Afghanistan, the AP report found no records showing a deployment to Afghanistan. Instead it found that for much of his active-duty service he was based at an air base in Japan, and that in 2002 he served for six months in Qatar — a Gulf state where no fighting took place at the time that Majewski served — to load and unload planes.
Majewski’s campaign refused to “directly address questions” about the alleged deployment from the AP. Moreover, the AP report also said that he has been misleading about other parts of his career, such as claiming to be an “executive” in the nuclear industry.
A day after the report came out, the GOP retracted a nearly $1 million ad buy on behalf of Majewski. Politico described the reversal as “essentially walking away from what could have been an easy pickup for the party.” That’s a big deal. At a time when Republicans are anxious about underperforming in the midterm elections, it’s got to sting for the GOP to feel obligated to drop support for a candidate in a district that once had a very good chance of flipping from blue to red.
Republicans should remember that this kind of shadiness is the cost of doing business with former President Donald Trump and his followers. This is a movement heavily animated by one major lie about 2020, and whose political candidates have been socialized by Trump’s successes to believe that facts are irrelevant in politics. That may be true for some politicians in some races these days, but it is fortunately far from always true. And as long as the GOP refuses to stand up to Trump, artless mendacity will continue to put the party in political predicaments.
Two days after the AP report was released, Majewski both quietly walked back some of his claims about the scope of his military service while calling the AP report a "fake hit piece." He claimed on Friday that his service in Afghanistan, according to documents he said he had obtained, was “classified.” Majewski's narrowed claims about what he did in Afghanistan are a red flag, and there is reason to be skeptical of this explanation. Why did Majewski not say this to the AP before he suffered political consequences for it? As military experts point out, why is he unable to find any kind of testimony or documentation that might prove that he was in Afghanistan? A reporter for Toledo News pointed out that Majewski “refuses to provide specifics or [documents]” to the media that would prove his claims.
Crucially, even if Majewski did fly into Afghanistan, all evidence right now suggests it was not a sustained deployment, nor was it to engage in combat, contrary to his his own rhetoric.
But there are other parts of Majewski’s relationship with truth that should be disqualifying and render him an unreliable narrator. First and foremost, he has a track record of devout faith in the QAnon conspiracy theory, an authoritarian fantasy that holds that Trump’s secret political mission is to track down and punish a satanic child trafficking ring in elite Democratic circles. In a sane republic, anyone with a history of affiliation with this movement should be considered not only automatically unelectable but in need of serious help with understanding how reality and politics work. (Majewski has tried to distance himself from QAnon during the race, but the extent of his public support for it in the past is shocking.)
Majewski's support for the Jan. 6 insurrection, an attempt at sabotage based on lies about election integrity, also makes it clear that he's not interested in truth-telling in politics.
Republicans knew about Majewski’s past QAnon and Jan. 6 affiliations at least as early as May, when reporting brought it into the national spotlight. Yet the GOP still backed his candidacy. And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy still chose to campaign on his behalf this summer. What’s clear is that Majewski’s willingness to traffic in dangerous conspiracy theories wasn’t enough to make the GOP abandon him; instead, it was revelations that his entire political identity as a veteran was unraveling that did him in.
Ultimately it is unclear whether the GOP’s cancellation of pro-Majewski ad buys was because of embarrassment or because it determined he was no longer a winning bet.
Now, should we be even a little bit surprised that somebody who was once part of a movement that believes that Hillary Clinton drinks children’s blood might be fast and loose with describing facts about their own life? We should not. While it is possible for those who are QAnon-friendly to say something true, their extraordinary detachment from reality means we should be extraordinarily suspicious of the claims they make — even more so when it’s about something that cannot be easily verified.
The Majewski debacle underscores how Republicans are playing with fire when they accept Trumpism and its fringe elements. How can you expect politicians who glory in telling huge lies about elections and Democratic misdeeds to tell the truth about who they are, what they’ve done and what they plan to do with their power?
In the short-term, the GOP establishment might convince themselves that this problem is manageable. But the consequences of letting 2020 conspiracy theorists flood the party will create a new generation of Republicans who will lie in ways that are likely to become increasingly flagrant and dangerous. In red states and red districts, this might continue to play. But Majewski’s predicament demonstrates that for now, at least, political candidates in competitive races who tell lies that then blow up in their face will likely continue to pay a political price for artless mendacity.