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House Republican leaders support GOP nominee open to QAnon conspiracy theory

Gun rights activist Lauren Boebert speaks during a watch party in Grand Junction, Colo., after primary polls closed Tuesday. She upset five-term Rep. Scott R. Tipton in a battleground House seat. (Mckenzie Lange/AP)

Republican leaders stood by the upset winner of the GOP primary in a competitive House seat despite the gun rights activist’s openness to the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, overseen by top GOP leaders, embraced Lauren Boebert as their nominee Wednesday following her defeat of five-term Rep. Scott R. Tipton (R-Colo.), whom she characterized during the campaign as insufficiently supportive of President Trump.

“Lauren won her primary fair and square and has our support. This is a Republican seat and will remain a Republican seat as Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats continue to peddle their radical conspiracy theories and pushing their radical cancel culture,” Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement.

Boebert is the ninth individual to win the Republican nomination for a seat in the House or Senate who is either a full supporter of the QAnon movement or has voiced support for some of its tenets, none of which have a foundation in truth. Conspiracy theory experts consider it a webbed network filled with activists who wrongly believe a secret group of elites inside of and outside of government is working against Trump, as well as other false allegations of pedophilia among top Democratic officials.

“Everything I’ve heard of Q — I hope this is real,” Boebert told the QAnon-aligned Web interview show “Steel Truth” last month. “Because it only means America is getting stronger and better and people are returning to conservative values.”

Q is how the conspiracy theorists refer to the leader of their movement, although they do not know who it is or even if Q is one person or many people.

For weeks, as these fringe candidates won nominations, Republicans tried to dodge the issue, believing most of these candidates would not raise much money and lose in heavily liberal districts.

But Boebert’s victory comes in a district Tipton won with just 52 percent of the vote in 2018. Democrats, who renominated former state representative Diane Mitsch Bush, held the seat as recently as 2010 and have signaled new interest in competing against the inexperienced GOP nominee.

“Not even multiple endorsements from President Trump could save Congressman Scott R. Tipton from his extreme, QAnon caucus challenger. Washington Republicans should immediately disavow Lauren Boebert and her extremist, dangerous conspiracy theories,” Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), chairwoman of the House Democrats campaign arm, said in a statement Tuesday night.

Most prominent Republicans stayed silent on the trend of conspiracy theory-supporting nominees running under the GOP’s banner, but the 2012 Republican presidential nominee expressed concern that the party’s voters were swimming in these political waters.

“I’m worried about people falling for unsubstantiated, uncorroborated conspiracy theories that frankly have no basis in fact that we know of,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. “And of course it’s a big party with a lot of people who have different points of views, but I’m convinced that Republican principle will remain steady even though we’ve taken a departure from time to time.”

A few weeks ago, Emmer, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other leaders stayed silent for a week after Marjorie Taylor Greene, a professed believer in QAnon, emerged first in the Georgia primary for the seat of a retiring incumbent.

After a few days, when Politico unearthed her racist and anti-Semitic social media posts, the leaders condemned those remarks. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) went further and publicly endorsed Greene’s GOP opponent in a runoff election next month, the winner of which is all but certain to join Congress because of the very conservative tilt of that district.

GOP leaders silent on QAnon-believing candidate now distancing themselves

Boebert owns Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colo., where employees carry their weapons as they serve customers, who can order a “Guac 9” burger or a “Turkey Ham Uzi Melt.”

She received a boost in recognition in Colorado after defying the pandemic-driven economic shutdown. She refused to close her restaurant to dine-in patrons, forcing county officials to use the courts to shut it down — helping make her a presence on conservative talk radio.

If she wins, Boebert will take a seat that Tipton won in 2010 when Republicans were swept up in a different movement, the anti-spending tea party rebellion, which grew out of the Wall Street bailout of 2008, opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the early big-ticket initiatives of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president.

At this point 10 years ago, GOP leaders such as Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and McCarthy had fully embraced the tea party ethos, riding it to a 63-seat pickup that gave Republicans a majority that they held for eight years.

Now, McCarthy’s leadership team, struggling to reclaim the majority, has tried to deflect QAnon questions by pointing to controversial statements about Israel made by liberal Democrats such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Trump has retweeted Q followers and Q signs have been prevalent at some of his political rallies, although staffers appeared to be working to prevent those signs from being present inside at his June 20 rally in Tulsa.

Some conspiracy theory experts believe that Trump, who repeatedly peddled the debunked theory that Obama wasn’t born in the United States, has given this crowd a platform, leading to their embrace of his platform.

“We have a current president who uses conspiracy rhetoric arguably more than any other president in modern history,” said Joanne Miller, who studies the political psychology of conspiracy theories at the University of Delaware.

Media Matters, a liberal research group, has estimated that almost 60 candidates for Congress have embraced some of the QAnon ethos.

Some level of these candidates’ success is they tend to be the most fierce defenders of Trump in a party whose ranks have been historically shrinking, leaving behind the most die-hard supporters.

In July 2004, as President George W. Bush was poised to win reelection, Republicans represented 37 percent of the electorate, according to voters’ own identifications in Gallup polling, while 34 percent were Democrats and 28 percent were independents.

Last month, just 25 percent of voters identified as Republicans, while 31 percent said they were Democrats and the rest were independents.

Gun rights activist defeats five-term GOP congressman in Colorado primary

With fewer Republicans, Trump has fewer internal antagonists, creating openings for candidates who tout the loudest support for the president.

“I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. And together, we can save our republic,” Jo Rae Perkins said in a video after she won the GOP nomination in May to challenge Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Like most of the QAnon-leaning nominees in House races, Perkins stands little chance of defeating Merkley in a state where Trump is very unpopular.

Boebert’s and Greene’s candidacies have forced Republican leaders to, at least minimally, address the conspiracy theory movement. Greene, if she wins the Georgia runoff, will be heavily favored in November and join the GOP caucus.

By Tuesday night, Trump, who had endorsed Tipton, had seen enough to give Boebert his support.

“Congratulations,” he tweeted, “on a really great win!”

Amber Phillips and David Weigel contributed to this report.

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