“I am watching Trump talk about Qanon and how great it is that they love him,” Tom Nichols tweeted this afternoon as the clip below was airing live, “and all I can think of right now is that [Brit Hume] thinks that the problem is Joe Biden‘s mental condition.”
This isn’t a full endorsement. Trump doesn’t corroborate the batsh*t theory that he’s quietly working with JFK Jr, who’s been dead for more than 20 years, to take down a cabal of Satanic pedophiles who actually run the world. In a sense it’s the opposite, a whitewash of what QAnoners actually believe. To hear him tell it, to the best of his knowledge, they’re just worried about crime and riots in American cities, basic concerns shared by any decent middle-class person. The reporter won’t let him off the hook, though. She insists on describing for him what QAnoners actually believe. That’s her putting him on the spot, daring him to say, “That’s crazy.”
But he can’t. Trump is incapable psychologically of rejecting someone who idolizes him. His narcissistic understanding of morality is this simple: If you love him then you’re good, whatever your faults, and if you hate him then you’re bad, whatever your virtues. QAnoners love him. They think he’s quite literally saving the world, by the reporter’s own description. Some have taken their beliefs to such extremes that the FBI has begun to worry about it. He had a chance here to gently deprogram a lot of people who have ended up in a cult, whether they realize that or not, and his narcissism wouldn’t let him. How could it? He’s the cult leader.
He’s so patently unable to condemn someone who loves him that various denizens of political Twitter this evening are complaining that the reporter shouldn’t have even asked the question, knowing how predictable it was that Trump would answer this way. It was irresponsible of her, not him, to have made this scene possible.
The worst part is that, after whitewashing them, he ended up encouraging QAnoners. “If I can help save the world from problems,” he said when asked about their theory of the cabal, “I’m willing to do it.” I’m amazed he managed to resist winking at them through the camera. QAnoners were ecstatic afterward, needless to say. “What, actually, is the ideological difference between Laura Loomer and Donald Trump?” asked Anne Applebaum this afternoon, mentioning the House GOP’s latest primary winner. “Why does Twitter ban her and not him? If anything, he’s more radical, and certainly more dangerous.” If you’re a crank with a big enough following, you don’t get banned. That’s the answer.
The irony of this clip is that the GOP has been working behind the scenes to try to distance itself from QAnon after it received brutal press over Marjorie Taylor Greene’s primary win in Georgia. Most QAnon believers running this year are headed for defeat in the fall, even if they survive a primary. Greene is not. Her district is red enough that she’s likely to win even with Democrats armed to the teeth with ammo that she’s a kook. A few days ago Greene herself disclaimed any attachment to QAnon, no doubt with encouragement from within the party:
“No, it doesn’t represent me,” Greene said of the “QAnon candidate” label she’s garnered in the national media…
“I was just one of those people, just like millions of other Americans, that just started looking at other information,” Greene said. “And so, yeah, there was a time there for a while that I had read about Q, posted about it, talked about it, which is some of these videos you’ve seen come out. But once I started finding misinformation, I decided that I would choose another path.”
One example of “misinformation” she cited was that the 2018 midterm elections were “safe” for Republicans when in reality Democrats made huge gains and retook the House.
House Republicans are worried. If Greene wins, she’ll be a headache for McCarthy and the leadership for at least two years. Irrespective of whether she wins, she’s a headache for the party this fall. “Greene could have a devastating impact on the Republican party at-large,” a House GOP aide told The Dispatch recently. “It’s one thing to have fringe members who represent very ideological districts. It’s quite another to have a member who is an avowed conspiracy theorist and traffics in hateful rhetoric that offends the vast majority of Americans. Embracing someone like that will unquestionably turn off the voters who determine congressional majorities.”
Maybe. But forced to choose between that logic and saying some warm words about people who think he’s a demigod, the choice for Trump was easy. He couldn’t even “no comment” it for the sake of McCarthy and McConnell. Marjorie Taylor Greene could quit the race today and Democrats would still have material to show swing voters now thanks to Trump himself providing them with this soundbite.
“Remember, you asked for this,” said Kevin Williamson, presciently, on the day Trump clinched the Republican nomination in 2016. The party did ask for it. All of this and more.
There’s a debate raging among Never Trumpers this summer about whether they should oppose Trump but vote Republican downballot or whether they should vote Democratic straight-ticket. I don’t vote anymore so I’m not part of that debate. But here’s the point I think advocates of the first approach miss: Burning it all down by voting against Senate and House Republicans isn’t so much a message to those politicians as it is a message to the Republican base which nominated and elected Trump. The point of ousting Susan Collins, say, isn’t really to punish her for not criticizing Trump strongly enough or for voting to acquit him at his impeachment trial. (Although some of the “burn it all down” Never Trumpers insist that it is.) The point is to show other Republican voters that, if Never Trumpers have any say in the matter, they simply will not enjoy any sort of power over government unless they ease up on the crankery. Susan Collins isn’t a crank herself, but if she needs to be cashiered in order to show cranks that they’re not going to control the Senate until they sober up, then she’ll be cashiered.
Whether Never Trumpers have the electoral muscle to manage that is a very open question. I doubt it. But given that the number of House Republicans who’ve spoken up against QAnon since Greene won her primary can be counted on one hand with a few fingers left over, some sort of brute-force electoral message clearly needs to be sent. It’s not all that different from what Trumpers themselves achieved in 2016, except in reverse. There was lots of chatter among establishment Republicans before the convention that year about a delegate revolt to deny Trump the nomination, but it was never viable for the simple reason that too many Trump fans would have boycotted the general election if it had happened. You can’t win without us, Trumpers said. We’re disgusted by what the party has become and we won’t budge. They got their way. The “burn it all down” Never Trumpers are attempting to send that message in reverse. We’re disgusted too, and you can’t win without us either. Not the presidency, not the Senate, not the House.
I don’t think that’s true — Never Trumpers are a rounding error in the party — but that’s the idea. The fact that Trump insists on wading ever deeper into the crank pool is going to make for a nice test of that theory this fall, though. He’s practically carrying a sign now when he speaks that reads, “THIS IS A PARTY FOR KOOKS.” Either there are enough Never Trumpers and centrist Republicans and swing voters who care about that to make a difference in November or there aren’t. We’ll see.
— Jon Nicosia (@NewsPolitics) August 19, 2020