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Primary voters in Georgia leave Republicans with a QAnon problem

With an adherent of a crackpot conspiracy theory winning a GOP congressional primary in Georgia yesterday, Republican leaders have a decision to make.
Image: Marjorie Taylor Greene
Republican congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks to a GOP women's group in Rome, Ga., on March 3, 2020.John Bailey / Rome News-Tribune via AP file

Ahead of yesterday's Republican congressional primary runoff in Georgia yesterday, the New York Times published a helpful, two-sentence summary of the contest: "A win by Marjorie Taylor Greene would be a headache for G.O.P. leaders since she supports QAnon, a fringe group pushing a pro-Trump conspiracy theory. Her opponent, John Cowan, is no less conservative, but does not believe in a 'deep state' of child-molesting Satanist traitors."

That may have sounded like a joke. It wasn't.

If you're unfamiliar with the crackpot QAnon conspiracy theory, Vox had an explainer a while back, which is as good as any summary. The basic idea is that Donald Trump is secretly at war with nefarious forces of evil, including Democrats, Hollywood celebrities, the "deep state," cannibals, and an underground ring of Satanic pedophiles that only adherents of the conspiracy theory are aware of.

As we recently discussed, this isn't just the usual conspiratorial nonsense bubbling up from the right. It's vastly weirder and more radical. Last year, the FBI went so far as to classify QAnon as a domestic-terror threat in an internal memo.

And now, a Republican who embraces this bizarre nonsense is almost certainly headed to Capitol Hill as an elected federal lawmaker.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, a businesswoman who has expressed support for the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon and been criticized for a series of racist comments, has won the Republican nomination for Georgia's 14th Congressional District. Greene beat neurosurgeon John Cowan in a primary runoff for the open seat on Tuesday in the deep-red district in northwest Georgia, despite several GOP officials denouncing her campaign after videos surfaced in which she expresses racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim views.

It wasn't especially close: the latest results show Greene leading John Cowan, a far-right physician, by nearly 15 points. Greene will still have to win the general election in the fall, but given the district's leanings, no one in either party expects the race to be competitive.

In her victory speech, she targeted Democrats, the news media, the "Republican establishment," and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), adding that she intends to "kick that b---- out of Congress."

It's worth emphasizing that Greene's criticisms of her party's "establishment" are rooted in the fact that many GOP leaders made their discomfort with her radicalism clear. After a series of videos surfaced featuring Greene making offensive and racist comments, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) threw his support behind her primary rival, and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) rescinded an earlier Greene endorsement.

But the chamber's top Republican, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), after denouncing some of Greene's rhetoric, largely stayed out of it. The Washington Post quoted one GOP source saying, "There are a lot of members livid at McCarthy for sitting back and doing nothing to stop this woman from being elected."

The question, of course, is what the party intends to do now. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has been critical of Greene's offensive remarks, but he hasn't yet said whether the party will support her candidacy now that she's won her primary.

To be sure, other QAnon adherents have run in Republican congressional primaries, and some have even prevailed. Party leaders, however, had the luxury of ignoring the madness because GOP leaders realized nearly all those candidates are very likely to lose in November.

But the situation with Greene is qualitatively different. It leaves Republicans, including Donald Trump, with a decision to make.

Update: Just as I was publishing this, the president tweeted his support for Greene's candidacy. Trump called her a "future Republican Star."