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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Congress, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. senyordave says:

    This doesn’t seem like a both sides possibility. QAnon may seem crazy, but I suspect a significant percentage of Republicans agree with them on their basic premise that there is a deep state that is trying to bring down Trump and the country as a whole. Trump himself is generally on board with QAnon and has retweeted numerous conspiracy theories. I don’t see that there is any major batshit crazy theory that the Democrats as a whole believe in, and I think it is virtually certain that the Democrats would never put up a fringe candidate for a safe Democratic congressional seat.

    3
  2. @senyordave: I never actually said it was a “both sides” situation, but it is very much a phenomenon of US parties.

    I think it is virtually certain that the Democrats would never put up a fringe candidate for a safe Democratic congressional seat.

    And you are missing the key point: the “Republicans” didn’t put Greene up. She put herself up. We have a system that is essentially self-selection when it comes to the primary.

    9
  3. Northerner says:

    One QAnon showing up in a prominent GOP position can just be a freak accident. Two suggests there’s an underlying cause.

    1
  4. senyordave says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: When I said put up I meant that the voters would never vote for a fringe person like Greene. I live in Maryland and we just had a special election for Elijah Cummings seat a few months ago. If I am remembering correctly there were 17 candidates in the Democratic primary. The winner of the Dem primary is certain to be the congressperson, and probably will stay in that seat for as long as they want. I looked at the candidates and there were a couple that were close to fringe, but they all got almost no votes.

    1
  5. Gustopher says:

    I don’t recall the Republican establishment embracing David Duke when he won the nomination for LA Governor.

    There are options.

    Serious Republicans could actively campaign against her. President Trump could tweet that she is a loon and people should vote against her because she is not what Republicans stand for.

    I doubt it will happen, but there are options.

    3
  6. DrDaveT says:

    @senyordave:

    I don’t see that there is any major batshit crazy theory that the Democrats as a whole believe in

    There are some that are perceived as batshit crazy by modern Republicans, though:
    1. Liberal democracy
    2. Secular government
    3. Racial equality
    4. Gender equality

    11
  7. Jax says:

    There’s another, alternative theory, though. The Rona has my back on this.

    We’re about to see a weeding out of the stupid people. It won’t matter if they’re urban or rural, black, white, yellow or in between, American, Russian, Brazilian, from the Great North, the virus does not care. All it wants is a host, to spread her beautiful contagion.

    It is the great equalizer, she will counter our thumbs and raise us our lungs. We’ll argue to and fro, then all will seem to go. We’ll argue about testing, but our representatives are resting…..not even the internet can keep up with her spread, while many are lying while they die in their bed. Is it a heart attack or is it the flu, the Rona don’t care when she’s coming for you. Will the school’s open? Ma’am, I don’t know….and so we’re just gonna go with the flow…..

    1
  8. Jax says:

    Pardon my maudlin spirit…my daughter lost her boyfriend to a car accident earlier this week.

    There are literally no words to describe a parent’s pain, both at what we’re seeing in the world, and the heart-shocking awe when you realize so many lives are being cut short. I will never get to see him come back for her. SHE will never see him come back for her.

    And then there’s his own mother…..dear God, please give me the strength for that. For when she comes to spread his ashes on my land, where him and my daughter spent so much time hunting and hanging out the last few years.

    8
  9. Monala says:

    @Jax: I’m so sorry. Sending comfort to all of you.

    1
  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jax: I came close to losing both my sons. I prayed to a God I don’t believe in to take me instead or at the very least take me too, as the idea of continuing on after their death was so full of unbearable pain as to be too much. I have seen others do it, but I don’t know how.

    So very sorry for your loss.

    2
  11. @Jax: So sorry to hear of your loss. My condolences.

    1
  12. Scott F. says:

    @Jax: I’m very sorry for your loss.

    1
  13. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And you are missing the key point: the “Republicans” didn’t put Greene up. She put herself up. We have a system that is essentially self-selection when it comes to the primary.

    I’d only add that Greene self-selected through her capacity to self-finance – 60% of her campaign chest per your source. So let’s be clear-eyed about the role our corrupted way of financing campaigns contributes to the incoherent construction of our political parties. This corruption affects both parties giving billionaires and dark money aggregators an outsized role in determining policy in a democracy.

    It may seem more benign when those benefiting from this are the typical self-interested rich folks rather than fringe self-interested QAnon supporting rich folks, but it really isn’t.

    1
  14. @Scott F.: Indeed. I have purposefully looked at the finance issue in both posts on this subject. There is little doubt that the candidate with the most money won. And in Greene’s case, she is able to self-finance a huge chunk (she also relocated for the race).

    A major point I keep trying to get across is that there isn’t some entity called The Republican Party that is filtering and curating these races (same for The Democratic Party).

    And once someone is nominated, unless they are David Duke level radioactive, the party is at least going to tacitly accept them.

    1
  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    We’ve managed to disintermediate the electoral process enough to discover what value the intermediaries had to us.

    I see two ways to counter this phenomenon, which comes of fractured primaries and single-seat districts.

    One way is to do what CA did, and make the general between the top two vote getters in the primary, regardless of party. This would allow Dems to weigh in on the above choice, and perhaps vote for the candidate who isn’t bonkers.

    Another way would be to go back to how we selected candidates 100 years ago with the “smoke-filled rooms” and party officials choosing people.

    1
  16. @Jay L Gischer: The CA system fixes nothing. Indeed, it often guarantees the bonkers candidate a chance to be on the general election ballot even with low levels of support.

    CA’s “top two” simply reveals the underlying problems with single seat districts.

    1
  17. @Jay L Gischer:

    Another way would be to go back to how we selected candidates 100 years ago with the “smoke-filled rooms” and party officials choosing people.

    I actually favor this general notion.

    We also need electoral reform that will foster multiple parties.

    1
  18. Scott F. says:

    @Jay L Gischer: @Steven L. Taylor: And we also need campaign finance reform to mitigate some of the corrosive influence of dark money.

    2
  19. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Ok, you know more about this, because it’s your business to know more. I would like to know more. I don’t get it.

  20. @Jay L Gischer: I wrote about it some here back in 2018.

    I thought I wrote something somewhere about why it doesn’t lead to moderation the way reformers promised (reformers who did not consult people who study electoral rules IMHO).

    The operative variable is the party make-up of the district.

  21. @Jay L Gischer: @Steven L. Taylor: I may be thinking of this from just shy of ten years ago.

  22. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I see. I accept that the current (Prop 14) process in CA does seem to remove any grip parties might have over what their party stands for. That’s probably a bad thing, and was your point.

    I’m a bit relieved to see that was a 10 year old post, since I haven’t been reading you that long. Therefore, I have an excuse for not knowing it 😉