Last Tuesday, a 42-year-old first-time candidate named J.R. Majewski beat two more established competitors to become the Republican Party’s nominee for the House of Representatives in Ohio’s 9th District, which covers a chunk of the state’s northwest corner. He will face Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in Congress, in November. The Cook Political Report rates the race as a toss-up.
Majewski looks like the personification of a Mountain Dew–branded energy drink, and the key to his victory was either turning his lawn into an enormous, blue Donald Trump sign or appearing in a rap video called “Let’s Go Brandon Save America” with two members of the burgeoning right-wing hip-hop community. He thinks there is “compelling” evidence that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman, John Podesta, is a pedophile—there is not compelling evidence of this—but may also have called Donald Trump an “idiot” and said he planned to support his own Democratic opponent as recently as this January. Let’s find out more!
Painting his lawn blue?
The first time Majewski made political news was July 2020, when he turned a triangular, 19,000-square-foot section of his lawn into an enormous expanse of blue with a Trump 2020 sign at its center. According to Majewski, he used 120 gallons of biodegradable paint in the process, and had initially intended to create a POW/MIA flag before deciding it would require too much black . (The previous summer, he had been written up in the local news for painting a 13-star American flag on the lawn as part of a veterans fundraiser. Majewski’s campaign biography says he served in the Air Force.) He followed it up with a rather well-executed picture of Trump in September 2021, having filed in April of that year to run for Congress.
Which issues and policies inspire and activate him as an aspiring statesman?
Majewski is a Social Media Republican. His Twitter account is occupied by memes about vaccination being tyranny, liberals being confused about gender identity, and the 2020 election having been stolen. (He attended the Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6 but says he did not enter the Capitol.)
As the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters has documented, Majewski has also been a frequent participant in livestreams related to the QAnon movement, which in case you’ve somehow banished it from your memory, holds that top Democrats are part of a global pedophile ring operated by the world’s economic and political elite. He told the Toledo Blade that despite these associations he has never read a “Q drop,” i.e. a dispatch from the purported mole who leaks details of the conspiracy. But Media Matters has catalogued evidence that this is false, and CNN catalogued more of it on Sunday.
Per the New York Times, Majewski made the reference to Podesta, who was purported to be involved in a pizzeria-based child abuse ring in one of QAnon’s predecessor theories, on a podcast in September. Said Majewski: “I think there’s, again, a lot of information out there that’s compelling that, you know, is plausible that this guy, you know, is a pedophile.” (Again, there absolutely is not.)
Is this the kind of thing that helps you win an election?
Majewski, at the least, stood out as the most MAGA candidate in his race against state senator Theresa Gavarone (who’d rented a house in the district to run) and state representative Craig Riedel (a tucked-in-shirt kind of guy who had a number of local party endorsements). He hired the Arsenal Media Group, which has made ads for buzzy MAGA House candidates like Madison Cawthorn (who won his race) and Kim Klacik (who lost hers by a lot), to produce a slick three-minute video in which he walks in slow motion through an abandoned factory while carrying a rifle and saying things like “patriots, the cowardice ends with us.”
Then there was the hip-hop track and music video, for which his campaign filings list an $8,000 payment to Manifest Billions, LLC, a company affiliated with J360, a pro-Trump rapper who appears on the song along with pro-Trump rapper Savannah Craven. (Previous coverage of Craven has paraphrased her as saying that her work is a response to the “liberal feminist women” she met in New York University’s musical theater program.) It was posted online, in turn, by pro-Trump rapper Forgiato Blow and has been viewed more than a million times.
A lot of pro-Trump rappers in the game these days.
There are at least five other rap tracks in circulation that have the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” in their titles. Other songs by J360 and Forgiato Blow have titles like “Matt Gaetz,” “CPAC” (the name of the country’s biggest far-right political conference), and “You Can Call Me Kyle,” which is a takeoff on “You Can Call Me Al” about Kenosha, Wisconsin shooter Kyle Rittenhouse.
What is J.R. Majewski’s most memorable line in “Let’s Go Brandon Save America”?
It is “Joe [Biden] is focused on ice cream while he’s crapping his pants.”
What does that mean?
I don’t know.
In any case, this all “worked” to the extent that he won his race.
The national MAGA network took notice. Trump complimented Majewski at a late-April rally held elsewhere in Ohio, and as the Blade has written, Majewski benefitted from a great deal of money spent on his race by outside groups.
The Northwest Ohio Freedom Fund, a dark-money group with ties to other right-wing entities, spent more than $326,000 during the cycle on attacks against Gavarone. A group called the Drain the Swamp PAC spent $170,000 attacking his opponents and $230,000 supporting him directly . In total, $1.4 million of outside money was spent on this year’s Republican primary in OH-9. While complete data for this cycle is not yet available because many primaries are still ongoing, Andrew Mayersohn of OpenSecrets told me that only two primaries in the 2020 cycle involved that much outside spending.
The Drain the Swamp PAC, incidentally, is largely funded by a secretive Aspen-based heir to a Pennsylvania coal/steel/gas fortune named Tatnall Hillman. According to the expository section of a judge’s 2008 ruling in a Delaware lawsuit, Hillman decided years ago to live off his family’s wealth and pursue “avocations” rather than working. A longtime conservative donor, Hillman’s money in recent cycles has increasingly gone to support candidates with fringe views, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, and/or to challengers running against Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump over Jan. 6.
It should also be noted that the new Ohio Ninth District includes a number of rural counties and a long stretch of the shore of Lake Erie. Your correspondent has passed through and stayed in this area a number of times on his way to and from the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio (“America’s Roller Coast”), and experienced the blue-collar lake recreation scene more generally during an upbringing in central Michigan.
Majewski emits powerful blue-collar-marina-guy vibes, and, in fact, lives across the street from the lake in a town that holds an annual New Year’s Eve Walleye Drop (like the ball drop in Times Square, but with a fish). So while his online notoriety may have helped, he also embodies the culture of one of the area’s relevant demographics.
What’s this about insulting Trump, though?
Majewski, for all his America First true-believer bona fides, has what you might call an independent and apologetic streak that is not typical in the cult-of-personality MAGA world.
The original coverage of his blue-lawn Trump flag observed that there were “a few signs around the display noting that he can still be friends with people even if they are not a Trump supporter themselves.” (“We do not have to be vicious to one another, that’s what’s dividing us right now,” he said.) On the QAnon podcast referred to in the Times, he said, despite being willing to believe the pedophilia accusation against Podesta, that he does not think in general that “the Democrats are out killing babies and drinking blood” in “underground tunnels in Alaska.”
A few weeks ago, meanwhile, an Ohio Democratic operative named Sam Melendez posted screenshots on Twitter that appear to show a direct message conversation with Majewski in January 2022. In the screenshots, Majewski calls the MAGA movement “too establishment,” says he’s not a registered Republican, and complains that America is “too polarized.”
He also appears to suggest that he doesn’t expect to win his primary. At the time of the purported conversation, the field in OH-9 included attorney and former Miss Ohio Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, who later changed course and ran in OH-13 instead. “Trump will endorse Madison because he’s an idiot,” Majewski (allegedly) wrote, and, in fact, Trump did endorse Gesiotto Gilbert in the 13th. Majewski then (allegedly) said that in the end he would likely support Kaptur in the general election because “at least she lives here.” This could have been a reference to either Gavarone or Gilbert, who lives on the east side of the state and registered to run in the Ninth using what appears to be a mailbox located at a Staples in Sandusky.
Majewski, in the present day, called Melendez’s post “fake news.” But his purported comments track with other things he’s said in public. When he announced his candidacy, he told the Blade that “I’m not going to attack Marcy Kaptur” and that “I’m not going to call her evil and all these other things because I don’t truly believe Marcy is evil. “(He added that his grandmother and great-grandmother “adored” Kaptur.) Majewski has also said on Facebook that he’s not a registered Republican and, as noted above, made other comments deploring politics-related interpersonal hostility.
Melendez, reached via DM, says the screenshots are legitimate and that Majewski initiated the contact between them when Melendez made a disparaging comment on Twitter about Gavarone. (Melendez’s Twitter timeline does include a number of comments about Gavarone during the relevant time period.)
Regardless, is Kaptur toast?
Kaptur’s newly redrawn district is less Democratic than her old one, but she has long had a base of support in Toledo, which it still includes. She has also faced colorful grass-roots challenges before : In 2012, she defeated Joe Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, while in 2010 she defeated a Tea Party candidate named Rich Iott whose Wikipedia page includes a section called “SS reenactment controversy.”
By the way: This guy who’s neck-deep in the QAnon scene, thinks the 2020 election was stolen, believes the FBI staged violence on Jan. 6, and has posted conspiracy theory material regarding the COVID vaccine—what’s his day job?
J.R. Majewski works in nuclear security.