QAnon Lovers, Conspiracies, and Chaos: This Week in the GOP Primaries

Some very scary candidates got a step closer to running key swing states, and a bunch of GOPers ramped up their “great replacement” rhetoric.
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US
Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano gives a victory speech at his election-night party at The Orchards on May 17, 2022 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

This content comes from the latest installment of our weekly Breaking the Vote newsletter out of VICE News’ D.C. bureau, tracking the ongoing efforts to undermine the democratic process in America. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday. (edited) 

Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano has played a key role in pushing Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen. He did everything he could to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania. He was in D.C. on Jan. 6 and appears to have crossed the initial police lines during the attack on the Capitol. 


He has close ties with the QAnon conspiracy movement, and he recently spoke at a QAnon conference and mocked what he called “this myth of the separation of church and state.”

And now, Mastriano is just one election away from running the largest swing state in the country—and controlling its election system during the next presidential election—after winning his primary for GOP governor on Tuesday. What could possibly go wrong?

Mastriano has already said he plans to ban mail voting in the state and wants to “reset” Pennsylvania’s election rolls and force everyone in the state to “have to re-register” to vote, a move that would sow utter chaos (and may violate federal election law). And he’s just one of a score of extreme GOP candidates who will be their party’s nominees for key statewide offices or have a real chance of winning their primaries.

In Michigan, Republicans already nominated election conspiracy theorists Kristina Karamo and Matt DePerno as their candidates for secretary of state and attorney general, respectively. 


Arizona polls show conspiracy hard-liner Kari Lake with a big lead in the GOP gubernatorial primary, and QAnon-loving, Trump-endorsed candidate Mark Finchem has an early lead for secretary of state. 

QAnon-aligned Nevada secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant has a real chance in his primary too. He, Mastriano, Karamo, and others have been working together with major QAnon influencers to assemble a campaign organization to try to control the elections in key states ahead of 2024.

Republican establishment types are worried these candidates will blow otherwise winnable races. But the national environment is so toxic for Democrats that some of these candidates could win—then play key roles in administering their elections during the 2024 cycle, when Trump is likely to be back on the ballot. 

Mastriano got a late endorsement from Trump, who also backed TV Dr. Mehmet Oz in his Senate primary. That one… didn’t go so well. Oz and businessman Dave McCormick are currently awaiting final ballots to be counted in a handful of counties and are likely headed to an automatic recount in a nail-biter of a race.


Trump declared Wednesday that Oz “should declare victory” even though thousands of votes hadn’t been counted, claiming it would make it “much harder for them to cheat.” 

Pennsylvania’s slow ballot-counting is a problem in close races, as it allows people like Trump to undermine voters’ confidence in the results.

Of course, Pennsylvania Republicans could fix this slow-count problem in a heartbeat—but they don’t want to. Before the 2020 election, they blocked efforts to let counties prepare mail ballots to be counted, a step that would greatly speed up the process. They want this chaos. And now, some exhausted election workers are quitting their jobs, leaving the state even less prepared for the next election.

Everything is awesome, folks.

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Not-so-great replacement

Last week, I wrote about how a half-dozen Republican Senate candidates had been pushing a version of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, claiming Democrats are trying to import an “invasion” of immigrants who will “steal” elections by voting for them. 

That’s a variation of the original white supremacist theory that a secret cabal is working to import brown and Black immigrants to outbreed and overwhelm native-born white populations in the U.S. and Europe. The original theory inspired violence from Charlottesville to Pittsburgh to El Paso to Christchurch, and I warned that further mainstreaming it could lead to more violence.


And then a white teenager tragically shot up a grocery store in a Black neighborhood of Buffalo, killing 10 people–after posting that he was inspired by the original, more extreme “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

Republicans and conservative talking heads from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson to Senate candidate J.D. Vance to House Minority Conference Chair Elise Stefanik have ramped up their use of “great replacement” rhetoric in recent months, and they haven’t backed down in the wake of the shooting.

This is connected to the GOP’s big lie about 2020 and other elections, too. Republicans’ version of the theory claims Democrats want to import immigrants so they can vote in lockstep to keep Democrats in power. Of course, non-citizen immigrants can’t vote. Unless, like Republicans have claimed for years, they’re already voting illegally en masse.

Remember that Trump said with zero evidence that between 3 million and 5 million undocumented immigrants voted in 2016, costing him a win in the popular vote. Rudy Giuliani claimed in late November 2020 that there were 5 million “illegal aliens” living in Arizona (that’s almost the whole state population) and insisted it was “beyond credulity that a few hundred thousand didn’t vote.” Multiple GOP candidates are now pushing claims that Democrats want to import enough immigrants to win in 2022.


It shows how some leading members of the Grand Old Party are weaving a grand unified conspiracy theory. 

And speaking of grand unified theories of the far right… 

Abort! Abort!

This week Matt Schlapp, the head of the Conservative Political Action Conference and a close Trump confidant, floated a core concern of white supremacists’ original “great replacement” theory that even fringe GOP politicians haven’t been willing to voice publicly: that immigrants are outbreeding the native-born population and threatening to replace them in society. His solution? Ban abortion.

“I am very hopeful in America that we will give the right to life to our unborn children,” Schlapp told reporters, including VICE News’ David Gilbert, when asked if he agreed with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s comments at CPAC’s conference in Hungary that Europe was “committing suicide” through immigration.

“If you say there is a population problem in a country, but you’re killing millions of your own people through legalized abortion every year, if that were to be reduced, some of that problem is solved,” Schlapp continued.

You must be Rocky Mountain high

A Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate wants to scrap the state’s direct elections system and create a system to boost rural voters’ power that is so biased toward the GOP that, under his plan, they would have won the 2018 governor’s race. In real life, they lost the popular vote by a double-digit margin.

Florida, man

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new pick for secretary of state flew a QAnon flag on his family boat. State Rep. Cord Byrd will now be in charge of running Florida’s elections. His wife, Esther Byrd, whom DeSantis has appointed to the state education board, has promoted QAnon theories, claimed that the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was a peaceful protest, praised the Proud Boys, and warned of the “coming civil wars.”

This is the dude who will likely be running the state election system for 2022 and presumably the 2024 presidential election, if DeSantis wins reelection this fall. And we all know exactly how great Florida has been historically at running elections.


T.W.I.S.™ Notes

This week in subpoenas, the Justice Department is like a child who wanders in in the middle of a movie and wants to know what’s going on.

The DOJ asked the House January 6 Committee to turn over all of its transcript interviews, a sign that the DOJ may be accelerating its investigation into the riot. 

But the committee’s members weren’t keen on handing over all their work—Chairman Bennie Thompson said, “We can’t give them full access to our product”—and other committee members wondered what took so long for them to get interested.

Oh, and the committee says it has evidence that Georgia GOP Rep. Barry Loudermilk led a tour through the Capitol the day before the riot, contradicting earlier claims from Republican lawmakers that no tours occurred that day, and asked him for info about the tour. 

Democrats have long suspected some GOP House members might have helped insurrectionists do recon on the building before the insurrection. 

There’s no evidence Loudermilk did anything wrong here, and he said in a statement that he was leading a family of constituents with young kids, and none of them have been charged for Jan. 6 activities. But it’s rather curious that he didn’t disclose this tour before.



Democrats had a brutal week as the Great Partisan Gerrymander of 2022 enters its final stages. 

A special master released what will likely be New York’s congressional map after courts struck down a Democratic gerrymander, a map that could yield Democrats three fewer seats than their aggressive gerrymander would have produced.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Supreme Court allowed a GOP gerrymander that puts the state’s lone congressional Democrat in jeopardy.

It’s part of an overall pattern: Judges in liberal-leaning states like New York have been much more likely to enforce local rules against gerrymandering and blow up Democratic schemes, while courts in GOP-controlled states like Ohio and Florida have signaled they won’t mess much or at all with Republican gerrymanders.

Because of this pattern, Republicans are essentially gaining at least a half-dozen House seats this fall (though Florida’s aggressive GOP gerrymander may still be partly undone by state courts).

The new national map will still probably be a little better for Democrats than it was over the past decade, as the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman points out. But this isn’t how Democrats hoped things would shake out.


And that’s leading to major intra-party tensions for Democrats. This week, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney, a more moderate (and white) politician and the guy who’s in charge of Democrats’ election strategy, announced that rather than run in a newly drawn competitive district he’s mostly represented already, he’d run in a safer seat against progressive freshman Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who is Black.

Progressives are pissed.

“If he's going to enter in a primary and challenge another Democratic member, then he should step aside from his responsibilities of the DCCC,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told NBC News.


“The breadth of the department’s request does raise questions for me about why the department would rely on the work of Congress, why it has taken so long to get its own investigative efforts underway, beyond those that it has already undertaken. They have far greater resources than we do.” — California Rep. Adam Schiff, wondering why the DOJ didn’t do more of its own investigating.

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