The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump, House Republicans embrace candidate who has made racist statements, drawing attention to party’s tolerance of bigotry

Construction executive Marjorie Taylor Greene, third from left, claps with her supporters at a watch party in Rome, Ga., on Aug. 11, 2020.
Construction executive Marjorie Taylor Greene, third from left, claps with her supporters at a watch party in Rome, Ga., on Aug. 11, 2020. (Mike Stewart/AP)
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President Trump and Republican leaders’ embrace of a House candidate who has made racist statements and espoused the QAnon conspiracy theory is again highlighting the party’s willingness to tolerate extreme and bigoted positions.

Trump on Wednesday tweeted that Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won her Georgia primary Tuesday evening, was a “future Republican Star,” who was “strong on everything and never gives up — a real WINNER!” The office of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who ignored multiple pleas from his members to wade into the primary to stop Greene — has said that he will seat her on congressional committees.

The decision has left many House Republicans privately griping about irresponsible leadership, even as they do little publicly to challenge the party’s position or to state their opposition to Greene’s joining their conference if she is elected in November, as is expected, in a reliably Republican district.

Greene promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory, whose followers believe Trump is battling a cabal of “deep state” saboteurs of his administration who worship Satan and traffic children for sex. She has also made racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments, asserting that Black people are “held slaves to the Democratic Party,” likening the election of the first two Muslim women to Congress to an “Islamic invasion of our government” and calling George Soros, the liberal Jewish donor and Holocaust survivor, a “Nazi himself trying to continue what was not finished.”

How the Trump campaign came to court QAnon, the online conspiracy movement identified by the FBI as a violent threat

Some retiring members spoke out against the party’s accepting Greene into its ranks, but those seeking reelection were reluctant to do so.

“How can we warmly receive someone that’s publicly stated some of the things she stated in her videos?” asked retiring Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.). “You can’t dismiss people because of their religious beliefs and their ethnicity. You can’t. . . . It’s just wrong.”

QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory, is fueled by right-wing outrage online and in the real world. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

The rise of Greene shines a spotlight on the GOP’s internal debate over how to handle fringe groups and candidates who support Trump and whom he often supports in return. Republicans privately acknowledge that there is no future for a party that antagonizes people of color and has members who make statements or take policy positions supported by white supremacists. But they also have done little to stand up to Trump, a president who embraces such rhetoric, and candidates who make those remarks.

Greene’s emergence comes during a summer of protests that have sharpened questions about how to address racial discrimination after the death of another Black man, George Floyd, in police custody. Democrats have embraced the calls for greater racial justice, and on Tuesday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced his selection of Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) to be his running mate. She is the first Black woman and first Asian American to run on a major-party presidential ticket.

McCarthy’s decision to welcome Greene into the Republican conference also comes against the backdrop of party leaders’ last year stripping Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) of his committee assignments after he publicly wondered how white nationalism and white supremacy had become “offensive.” The move followed years of pressure for the party to disown King, who lost a primary this year. Some House Republicans have been left scratching their heads over the quick acceptance of Greene.

“We’re going to look like hypocrites,” said one senior House Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution from party leaders.

Greene, who owns a construction company, was originally a Republican contender in suburban Atlanta, challenging Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath in the 6th Congressional District, but Greene relocated and switched races when Republican Rep. Tom Graves announced his retirement at the end of last year.

She has only doubled down on her controversial comments over the course of her campaign, offering a preview of the sort of oratory she might bring to Washington. On Wednesday, Greene used the Republicans’ online fundraising tool WinRed to solicit donations off using a vulgar and sexist expletive to describe House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“Nancy Pelosi impeached @realDonaldTrump. She put our country through hell with the Russian collusion conspiracy,” Greene wrote. “She’s anti American & we’re going to kick that b---- out of Congress. RT & donate below to help make this happen.”

Those remarks are in line with the type of rhetoric Greene has used on the campaign trail. One ad depicted her racking the slide on a semiautomatic rifle while warning antifa, a loose collection of activists who oppose fascism and have sometimes embraced property damage and violent protest in recent years, to “stay the hell out of northwest Georgia.”

Facebook removed the material from its website, citing policy violations. She also rejected the notion that inequalities exist.

“Guess what? Slavery is over. . . . Black people have equal rights,” she said in another video, first reported by Politico.

In response to the controversy over her comments, Greene defended herself in June and criticized House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), both of whom condemned her remarks.

“Every Republican, every Christian Conservative is going to be called a racist and a bigot by the Fake News Media, as have Steve Scalise and Liz Cheney,” she said in a statement. “I’m sorry my future colleagues are unable to stand up to the pressure and fight back.”

Greene’s campaign did not respond to several requests for comment for this article. In a tweet Tuesday night, the candidate put reporters on notice that she would not be responding to inquiries, echoing Trump in calling the media “truly the enemy of the people.”

The division among Republicans over how to handle Greene’s runoff victory was apparent in Georgia on Wednesday. Some Republicans took to social media to congratulate her. Among them were Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and her primary challenger Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), who are locked in a heated special election matchup.

Others, such as Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) withheld praise, reflecting the distinct political pressures at work in the state. Unlike Loeffler and Collins, who are competing for support in Georgia’s Republican strongholds, Perdue is fending off a challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Greene’s ascension could cause headaches for McCarthy, who faces growing discord within his ranks. More than a half-dozen members implored McCarthy to personally involve himself in the race. His own No. 2, Scalise, donated to and hosted a fundraiser for Greene’s primary opponent, John Cowan, a neurosurgeon, in hopes of stopping Greene.

Yet McCarthy — after initially distancing himself from Greene — decided to stay neutral. According to the candidate, he recently phoned her and signaled his support, though McCarthy’s office did not comment in response to questions about the encounter.

“We look forward to Georgians Andrew Clyde and Marjorie Taylor Greene — and all of our Republican candidates across the country — winning in November so that we can enact policies to renew the American dream, restore our way of life, and rebuild the greatest economy in the world,” McCarthy’s office said in a statement. “It’s clear that the Democrat Party does not share those goals.” (Clyde is a Republican candidate in Georgia’s 9th Congressional District.)

Greene’s embrace of QAnon elevates within the party what many see as a dangerous conspiracy theory identified by the FBI as a potential domestic terrorism threat. But many of the president’s supporters have embraced parts or all of the theory, as has his campaign, to some degree.

Just hours after Trump tweeted praise for Greene, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who served in the U.S. Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, said on Twitter that there is “no place” for such beliefs in Congress and mocked Q, the supposed person working within the bureaucracy to protect Trump from the “deep state.”

“Qanon is a fabrication,” he wrote on Twitter. “This ‘insider’ has predicted so much incorrectly (but people don’t remember PAST predictions) so now has switched to vague generalities. Could be Russian propaganda or a basement dweller. Regardless, no place in Congress for these conspiracies.”

That observation, which mentioned neither Greene nor the president by name, drew a swift and critical response from the Trump campaign.

“When will @RepKinzinger condemn the Steele Dossier fabrications and conspiracy theories pushed by Democrats? That actually WAS Russian propaganda,” a campaign spokesman, Matt Wolking, wrote on Twitter.

But though Greene’s association with QAnon has trained a national spotlight on her district, many Republicans said they are more concerned about her racist comments tainting their ranks at a time when the party and Trump are already unpopular with communities of color.

That’s one of the reasons retiring Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) decided to help Greene’s primary opponent, working alongside members of the Georgia delegation to defeat her. Walker, a former pastor, has spoken to GOP leadership multiple times about doing more to welcome minorities into the party, not repel them.

Now, he said, the voters have spoken — and he’s hoping Greene decides to change her ways.

“She has been duly elected at this point,” Walker said Wednesday. “My take on this now is: I hope that she will grow and learn, but I still can’t deal with the fact that some of the comments are . . .” He trailed off. “They’re problematic to say the least, offensive.”

Greene is among numerous pro-Trump congressional candidates who have seemed to signal support for QAnon. More than a dozen of them will appear on the ballot in November. Unlike Greene, however, most stand little chance of being elected because their districts vote dependably for Democrats.

Some Republicans have justified the move to embrace Greene as the lesser of two evils. Sue Everhart, a former chairman of the Georgia GOP, said she disapproves of some of the candidate’s statements — especially the talk of Satan common to the QAnon worldview. But she said she prefers Greene to a Democrat, arguing that no candidate is perfect and expressing optimism that Greene will change her ways upon arriving in Washington.

“She is a Republican, and I’m glad she got it, but let’s just say I wasn’t close to her,” she said. “I wish her all the luck in the world. . . . I don’t speak ill of other Republicans.”