Far-right candidates are surging in House races across the map: Republican leaders increasingly fear that a red wave will wash in a raft of conspiracy theorists and extremists.
Why it matters: The establishment grows ever weaker. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — on the doorstep of the speaker’s office — can expect to be saddled with new members who have zero loyalty or predictability.
What’s happening: Many of the GOP candidates expected to cause leadership headaches are backed by former President Trump, whose grip on McCarthy is as strong as ever.
What we’re hearing: In cycles past, leadership has attempted to get involved in some races to stiff-arm candidates they find problematic.
Yes, but: Once in office, it will be hard for McCarthy to control his far-right freshmen — just as he’s faced difficulty wrangling Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), who see themselves as “untouchable.”
What to watch: The number of seats Republicans ultimately win in November will be crucial to this dynamic.
What they’re saying: “If you look at our history with the Freedom Caucus, they don’t back down and don’t vote for things. So our margins will be really important,” a House GOP leadership aide told Axios.
Carl Paladino at Trump Tower in 2016. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images
A sampling of the controversial candidates flagged to Axios by Republican campaign arms and GOP strategists includes:
1. Carl Paladino (N.Y.-23): Backed by House GOP conference chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Paladino’s history of controversy includes calling Adolf Hitler “the kind of leader we need” in 2021.
2. Sandy Smith (N.C.-1): Smith, who won her May 17 primary, tweeted she was present for the “Save America” rally immediately prior to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
3. Loren Culp (Wash.-4): A former small-town police chief, Trump-endorsed Culp lost the 2020 Washington governor’s race to Democrat Jay Inslee but refused to concede.
4. Joe Kent (Wash.-3): The Trump-backed candidate has come under fire for claiming he worked with Nick Fuentes, who gained notoriety for participating in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, on social media strategy.
Between the lines: Rather than taking a completely hands-off approach, McCarthy has openly embraced certain controversial candidates.
J.R. Majewski (Ohio-9), who has repeatedly promoted QAnon and attended the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, was named this month to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Gun” program.
Mayra Flores (Texas-34), another candidate supported by Trump, was hosted by the House GOP at the Capitol after flipping the seat to replace departing Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela this month.