QAnon and Congress
The GA14 House race.
A couple of weeks ago, both James Joyner and I wrote posts about a GOP Senate candidate in Oregon who is a supporter of the internet conspiracy theory movement known as QAnon. In my post, I noted that, thankfully, her odds of winning the race were quite slim.
However, in a House race in Georgia, it appears all but certain a QAnon booster will win the seat. GA14, located in the northwest corner of the state, has an open seat due to the retirement of Republican Tom Graves. Graves last won re-election to the seat 76.5% to 23.5% in 2018, meaning that barring the truly extraordinary, the seat will go Republican again in 2020. As such, the winner of the primary will almost certainly be the next US Representative from that district.
The opportunity to fill a vacant seat, especially in a non-competitive district tends to lead to a lot of primary challengers and, indeed, there were nine candidates for the nomination. Georgia requires an absolute majority to win the primary, and so the top-two vote-getters from the June 9th contest, Marjorie Taylor Greene (40.6%) and John Cowen (20.5%) will meet in an August run-off. While a Cowan win is mathematically possible, it is extremely improbable.
In terms of Greene’s unorthodox views, see this piece from Business Insider: A Trump-supporting QAnon conspiracist has a strong chance of winning a congressional seat in Georgia.
Fundamentally, it is undesirable to have a conspiracy theorist in the House and there is little doubt that the QAnon phenomenon is disturbing.
As Media Matters notes (Here are the QAnon supporters running for Congress in 2020), there have been a number of QAnon supporting candidates across the country, many of whom have already lost are are poised to lose. Greene is the only one with a clear shot to office, as best as I can tell.
I would note, as I did in the case in Oregon, that this pending nomination shows, again, the porous nature of our parties and the degree to which the gateway to using party labels is not guarded in any effective manner. I cannot speak to the question as to whether the Republican Party of Georgia would nominate a QAnon-supporter if it had the choice of another candidate, but one can be assured that once Greene wins the nomination, she will get the nominal support of the party at a minimum. Certainly, GOP voters in the district will not eschew her for a Democrat, even if her less than mainstream views are articulated.
It is worth noting that like in the Oregon case, Greene had the most money to spend in the race (almost twice what the second-place finisher had, which was also the only other candidate with any actual money to spend). While I do think it is possible that some residents of GA14 find the QAnon business appealing in some way, the odds are Green won because her name was the one seen the most by voters, not because of 4chan activities.
My basic point remains that we do not have a system that allows for the coherent construction of political parties that can cogently present policy alternatives to the voters. Instead, we have two vessels that can be filled in various ways without national strategic purpose. The gateway to running in a primary is self-selection and nothing more. The only way to filter out fringe candidates is to hope that primary voters are savvy enough to do so in what amounts to massive collective action problem.
And if the fringe candidate is the one with the most money and therefore the most name recognition, then that fringe actor can capture control of the party label, whether the party writ large wants that candidate or not. And then, from there, the partisan breakdown of the district is destiny save in very unusual (if not impossible, depending on the numbers) circumstances.
So, in the Oregon case I discussed earlier, the partisan breakdown of the state means no QAnon Senator, but the partisan breakdown of GA14 almost certainly means a QAnon Representative.
We see in this case the problems both with weak, decentralizes parties without effective control of their own labels and the way in which single seat districts often mean zero actual electoral competition in the general election.
This is no way to run a party or to conduct elections, but very much the American way to do so.