The QAnon Candidate

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S1: Just a quick heads up before we start today’s episode, there’s some language in today’s show. All right. Here it is. It’s primary night in Rome, Georgia, and for an experienced political reporter, Greg Bloustein, victory parties are an obligatory stop in any race he covers.

S2: I’ve covered Georgia politics for about 20 years now and in some form or fashion at a plenty of, you know, candidate victory parties for winners and losers in the race.

S1: A Republican runoff, the favorite, Marjorie Tayloe Greene, has just won and he’s at her party for.

S2: So just kind of walk right in there and sat. And I knew some people who nodded at them and sat in the back and started very cramped hotel room. I think I was the hotel conference room. I think I was the only one wearing a mask. But I started kind of live tweeting what she was saying.

S1: Bloustein of the Atlanta Journal Constitution quickly realized this wasn’t the boilerplate victory speech, you know, thanking your opponent for a tough race. Now, let’s all unify and win in November kind of thing.

S2: There is no water under the bridge movement here. There is no conciliatory, philosophical. This was like a napalm bomb that went off in Rome, Georgia. It was nothing but just more animosity.

S3: They they are terrified because I’m going to be their worst nightmare.

S2: Well, she had some very, very controversial remarks, including calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying she wants to kick that bitch out of Congress.

S3: I just want to say to Nancy Pelosi, she’s a hypocrite. She’s an anti-American, and we’re going to kick that bitch out of Congress.

S4: This was all unusual, maybe even surreal, but for Bloustein, the night’s surprises didn’t, and they’re basically within minutes of me tweeting that that line from from Marjah to the green, her campaign manager walked up to me and I emailed him and I think I met him in the past. They walked up to me. You just wanted to confirm who I was. And I said, I’m Greg Bluestem with the Atlanta Journal. How’s it going? And he goes, You need to get out of here. He he walked me out of the room, pretty much forced me out of the room. And I just went to the hotel bar because he can’t stop me from going there. And ended up talking with several of her consultants and several of her supporters there who were laughing at him for for kicking me out. But nonetheless, then I showed him the tweet, I said and saying that I got kicked out, you know, and he said, hey, I’m I’m this is what happened. Just so you know, I’m about to press the send button on it and press the right person. You know, that’s just how it goes and does. But I mean, this is this is not your typical candidate, not your typical campaign and certainly not your typical victory speech.

S1: Well, hey, it gives you a lot to look forward to for November, right?

S5: Yeah, you got that right.

S1: Today on the show, a newcomer wins and looks set to become the first open public supporter of the Kuhnen movement with a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and gives Republicans and reporters a challenge.

S6: I’m Ray Suarez subbing for Mary Harris. And you’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: Let’s talk a little bit about Cuba itself, I’m sure listeners get bits and pieces and snatches, maybe they see fragments of it on social media, but this is even as conspiracy theories go, this is a fairly novel set of propositions about the world.

S2: Fair to say. Fair to say that for sure. It involves a claim, an overall claim. I think I could say that there is a deep state conspiracy to either hobble President Trump or get him out of office to undermine his every action. But it also involves lots of code words on social media and involves really in some ways, the sense of an ideology and ideological belief that that you can never trust government no matter who’s in charge. And Marjorie Taylor Greene, she is not said that she doesn’t believe in it anymore. That is discredited. It is. That has no basis, in fact, whatsoever. She she has maintained her belief and that, as far as I know, as far as everything she said and has never backed down from it, and that became one of the things she was most known for was was that she believes in the Kuhnen ideology. Really.

S1: The district where Marjorie Taylor Green won her Republican runoff covers pretty much all of the northwest corner of Georgia by the borders with Alabama and Tennessee. It’s a district where Republican incumbent Tom Graves, who decided not to run for another term, beat his Democratic opponent three to one in twenty eighteen. So firmly Republican that winning the GOP primary means you’re headed to Washington. Greg Bloustein says it’s actually part of the reason Marjorie Taylor Green ran for the vacated seat in the first place.

S2: She at first was running for the Sixth District in metro Atlanta suburbs, a much more moderate district, actually a district where I live, where Lucy McBath, a Democrat, won in 2010 and somewhat of an upset victory over Karen Handel and Marjorie Taylor. Green lives in this district and originally wanted to run against Karen Handel for the Republican nomination. But then Tom Graves decided he wasn’t going to run for another term and suddenly she decided to move out there to northwest Georgia and run from scratch.

S1: Greg talked with Marjorie Taylor Green back in December, just as she was switching from one race to the other. And what she had to say about the move surprised him.

S2: One of the reasons you switching races to to move to the 14th District was because she started getting calls from some of the most conservative members in the House, the House Freedom Caucus. It was Mark Meadows wife, Debbie Meadows, Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs, these congressmen who represent sort of the conservative, the far right conservative flank and in the US Capitol were all urging her to run in the 14th.

S7: And there’s two reasons why I really want is because they wanted someone who had sympathetic views in Congress to join them. That’s obvious. But the second one is I think they also wanted to clear the field for Karen Handel because Karen Handel, who is the Sixth District former congresswoman from the 6th District, who’s running in a rematch against losing Barth, she was probably going to be forced into at least a runoff against Marjorie Tigran that would have gotten national attention and really would have been taxing for the party and just just a internal fight that would have really strained resources. And so I think they I think they wanted to clear the field from her. For Karen Handel, no one’s ever said that. But that seems like a plausible secondary reason for getting Marjorie Taylor Green to switch to the 14th.

S1: Now, it’s one thing to see people holding up cue signs at a Trump rally or standing outside an arena where the president is about to appear wearing a T-shirt. It’s another thing trying to think through what it would be like to have a believer as a member of Congress. Has the Institutional Party had much to say about her one way or the other?

S2: Yeah, you know, they didn’t in the first round in Georgia, you have to have 50 percent plus one. You have to have a majority of the vote in order to win a an election or a primary to get your party’s nomination. So in the first round, she really took advantage of the fact that there was no presumptive heir, there was no presumptive frontrunner in this race. There was about a half dozen politicians all gone and all had their own bases. All had all had deep roots in the community, for the most part, except for her. But she she had a big advantage. A couple she had she had already had a campaign apparatus and she pumped about a million dollars of money into the campaign, which which in metro Atlanta might not go far. But men in the northwest Georgia, where there’s there’s smaller, much smaller media markets and you can just blanket the airwaves with radio ads and you can just stuff mailboxes with flyers. It went a long way. So in the first round, she got about 40 percent of the vote, ended up the front runner. And Dr. John Cowan, a neurosurgeon from Rome, who was framed himself as equally conservative, but just not as, in his words, an. Harassment to the district came in second with about half that 20 percent or so after the run off field was set, you had many Georgia politicians stay on the sidelines. That includes Senator David Perdue. That includes Governor Brian Kemp. That includes Senator Kelly Leffler and Doug Collins, who are rivals in the Republican special election. And that kind of cleared the way for her to be the on the cusp of Congress right now.

S1: So to be really crystal clear about what that means, we have a politician running in a district where if you win the Republican primary, you’re pretty much the presumptive winner in November. Under normal circumstances, you got it. We have a first time candidate who has hinted that the 2017 Las Vegas massacre was orchestrated, who has described black people as slaves to the Democratic Party in Georgia, and the big names in Georgia. Republican politics hedge their bets covered themselves, but none of them said, I want to be 500 miles away from this woman.

S2: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I would say one caveat is that several did endorse Cohen or did condemn her remarks, but didn’t do much more than that, didn’t actively, you know, vocally go out there and fight for Dr. Cohen to win this race. Because, as I mentioned, I think you’re right. I mean, they’re hedging their bets. This is a good frame of it. I mean, they figure that she was going to be the runaway winner and she was by 20 points. And Democrats did what I expected them to do within minutes of Margaret Taylor Green winning the nomination. And that was painting her as the new face of the Republican Party in Georgia, that she’s now, you know, someone who they’re going to aggressively seek to tie other Republican candidates to.

S1: In the recent past, you’ve had in the southwest side of Chicago and the southwest suburbs, a candidate named Arthur Jones who inexplicably won the Republican primary for Congressman Bill Lipinski’s seat. And he was a former head of a regional Nazi party, the former head, and in league with the Klu Klux Klan, such as it was in that part of the country. The Republican Party froze him out, completely distanced themselves from him. There is a senatorial candidate in Oregon running against Senator Jeff Merkley, the Democratic incumbent. And on the night of her primary victory, she tweeted out, where we go one, we go all. I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. But nobody thinks she’s going to win. So perhaps the Republican Party of Oregon doesn’t quite have a PR problem there. Marjorie Taylor Greene seems vocal, unapologetic, unabashed and rich, which is if you’re if you’re trying to do the math on this one, if you’re a Georgia Republican, would seem to be rather inconvenient. No.

S2: Yeah, and that’s exactly why you saw the reaction from Republicans in the 24 hours or so after she won the nomination. Some say quiet, like Governor Camp, like Senator Perdue. Others went to congratulate her immediately. And that includes Senator Kelly Lefler and Congressman Doug Collins from the neighboring 9th District of Georgia, another very deeply conservative district. And I think they felt they had to they said they called her an outsider who would represent Georgia’s interests in the best way. And I think one of the reasons why they felt they had to, as President Trump himself tweeted that she was a future Republican star. So going against her at this point, being being a Republican who said that they wanted they didn’t want her to join the House caucus, that they that they don’t want her to be seated. Whatever that might say means going directly against President Trump, who in many polls at least still remains the most popular figure among Republicans in the Republican Party here in Georgia, at least. So it puts them in a very tough bind. And privately and I’ve talked to many of them privately, they don’t want anything to do with her.

S1: This brings to mind another elected official from Georgia, coincidentally, a woman named Cynthia McKinney, who was a member of Congress in the early years of this young century. She was a Democrat. And she also had what I think in the view of Georgia Democrats would have been considered some fairly inconvenient belief’s difficult to defend, difficult to ally with. And you know, her her time came and went. She lost her seat. Life moved on and not that much happened. Is Marjorie Taylor Greene just a Republican, Cynthia McKinney?

S2: She could be. I mean, there’s definitely parallels because the Republicans did their very best to try to tie Cynthia McKinney to. Every statewide Democrat running, so you certainly saw that in the reverse happened when Cynthia McKinney was in Congress in the 2000s and you saw a lot of institutional effort going from Democrats to try to oust her from that seat. So, yeah, there’s a chance that she’s a brief flicker and she fades away. But look, there’s also a chance that she takes this and tries to run for statewide office or or leverage this for more power in the party and really becomes a main Republican player, not just a fringe player, but but it made a big force in Republican politics in Georgia. And she is a her views and her belief in conspiracies, not conspiracy theories notwithstanding. She is a magnetic speaker. You can see why people are drawn to her. She makes all sorts of accusations that are unfounded and have no basis, in fact, whatsoever. But they appeal to voters because they’re so out there.

S1: As a reporter, whenever I’ve covered fringe candidates, there’s been a couple of different models for how to handle that. Some of are unapologetically out there and will tell you at the drop of a hat about their novel theories about the world. While some are more cagey in an attempt to seem more plausible, to seem more composed and more legit and will not engage when you try to talk to them about some of their more unusual beliefs. If you called Marjorie Taylor press person and said, I’d like to come over, sit and talk with her for a while to get an understanding of what this is all about, what she believes, would they play?

S2: It’s a great question because early on that is exactly what she wanted to do. She wanted to see more mainstream. I mean, we met right when she jumped in for Congress. And in her first her first six years running for and the more moderate suburbs of Atlanta, we met at a local coffee shop and we had a very good discussion about her, her campaign. And frankly, it just seemed sort of mainstream Republican to me. Maybe she was trying to run a little bit to Karen. Handle’s right. She was going to attack Karen Handel for her votes on the budget, but she just seemed like another kind of self-funded outsider Republican candidate who is going to paint anyone like Karen Handel, who’s been in office here and here and there in Georgia for the last two decades. She been paying Karen Handel as another creature of the swamp. Right. So that’s sort of the lens we took with her, frankly. And if you look at our first run her, it was a pretty, you know, neutral story about how she was trying to run to Karen Handel. Right. But there’s nothing there was nothing to eyebrow raising about it. And then and then you saw her kind of transform as a candidate into who she is now.

S1: Now, that presents an interesting challenge, I would suggest, for a reporter covering a race in our business. We try to take one step back from describing beliefs as implausible or preposterous or or putting any value judgment on it in the normal way. We do our jobs week in and week out will give a general description of a philosophy or belief and then just sort of leave it there. But Kuz seems so out there that that almost seems insufficient to the task.

S2: You hit the nail on the head. You know, in journalism school, you’re always taught to to be impartial, neutral, objective, dispassionate observers who can report, you know, without bias on whatever the topic is. But when you get to sort of dangerous ideologies and conspiracy theories that that undermine trust in our basic democratic foundations, that’s when it calls on us to do more as reporters. And one of the things that we’ve been doing and other outlets have certainly been doing, too, is saying straight up baseless conspiracy theory. It’s discredited in all sort of of and that the FBI has considered naming it a domestic terrorism threat. And then there are some advocates in the journalism world who think we should be doing much more. And there’s there’s a there’s an argument to say that to that every story should have several paragraphs, you know, going go into greater detail about just how dangerous this conspiracy theory is and and how how fringe beliefs could go from fringe to the mainstream or at least to a a force in politics in a matter of years. There are many people out there who are concerned that Kuhnen could, including many people within the Republican Party who have gone public, who are worried that not just with Marjorie Taylor Green, but there are more than a dozen other candidates for congressional seats who believe or at least her allies with the Occupy movement. Many are out, you know, long shots, but some are like Marjorie Taylor Green, who are favorites to win the race.

S1: If it’s the case that Marjorie Taylor Green ends up being one of the first of several new members of Congress radicalized by the Kuhnen ideology, it means Republicans in the House will have to face one question over and over again. Should this person be seated come January? Gregg’s colleague in Washington asks Nancy Pelosi herself earlier this week about Greene’s victory.

S8: You said yesterday that Republicans seem to be comfortable with a Clinton supporter in their ranks. But I’m curious what you think about Marjorie Taylor Green being elected to Congress, most likely. And what was your reaction when she called you the B word?

S9: I don’t know. What do you know how little attention I pay when the president of the United States calls me horrible things? I don’t pay attention that it’s a judgment to be made about them as to who they welcome into.

S10: But she also added that it’ll be up to Republicans to decide whether they want to see someone who believes in these values. And it will be up to them. And I think there will be a lot of, you know, study going into at least of these groups will be making sure that Republicans are informed of fellow her fellow Republican House colleagues are informed of all of her views before January.

S1: So, Greg Bloustein, thanks a lot for your time. And and good luck. Glad to join you. Greg Bloustein is a politics reporter at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. And that’s the show What Next is produced by Mary Wilson, Danielle Hewitt and Jason de Leon with help from Daniel Avis. Let me know what you’re thinking of these guest hosted episodes. I’m on Twitter at Ray Suarez News back tomorrow with more. What next?