Well, maybe. Certainly, Marjorie Taylor Greene’s primary victory in Georgia and Trump’s flirting with the Q-bots at yesterday’s briefing is potential ammo for Democrats. But there’s a political asymmetry involved with QAnon that complicates things. Most conspiracy theories that gain mass appeal are comprehensible even to the majority of the public that rejects them. If Trump were playing footsie with 9/11 Truthers, for instance, everyone would soon have an opinion about that because everyone knows (or could quickly surmise) what 9/11 Truthers believe. “Trump thinks Bush knocked down the Twin Towers? Gross. Unfit for office.” That would be good attack-ad material.
But QAnon is so outlandish and esoteric that most of the public would be left scratching their heads, I think, if Dems ran an ad about it. Most Americans still have no idea what it is, as it’s a subset of a particular type of (mostly) right-wing populist Internet culture. You can’t even explain the basics of what followers believe without sounding nuts yourself. And explaining it only gives it more oxygen and helps it to spread. How do you make an effective ad within those limitations? I think most voters who watched one would come away baffled, not outraged at Trump.
The asymmetry, then, is that winking at Q-bots like he did yesterday might earn you some votes on balance whereas condemning them might earn you nothing. There are almost certainly more QAnoners whose votes will be influenced by a politician’s enthusiasm for their movement than there are QAnon critics whose votes will be influenced by a politician’s disdain for it. Which, of course, is why Republican criticism of the cult is so rare. You have nothing to gain electorally and potentially something to lose by speaking up, especially if you’re running in a very red state or district.
Here’s the point in graph form:
Being Q-friendly will earn you a lot of respect among (most of) that three percent and cost you nothing among 76 percent. The question mark is the other 20 percent, some of whom may disdain QAnon and some of whom may be en route to getting deeper into it. Also note that the data for that graph was compiled in late February, just before America entered the age of COVID. The social isolation caused by pandemic lockdowns appears to have turbo-charged the Q movement. There may be more than three percent now who count themselves as believers.
And even if there aren’t, a percentage point or two of a population of 330 million is a big number.
Sasse is a case in point of the politics here. He deserves credit for saying this, but even the president himself has noticed how he’s become more outspoken since winning his primary in Nebraska. Sasse doesn’t need to worry about a Q backlash until 2026, at which point the movement will be long gone. I think.
.@BenSasse on Trump’s remarks on Q-Anon yesterday:
“Q-Anon is nuts — and real leaders call conspiracy theories conspiracy theories. If Democrats take the Senate, blow up the filibuster, and pack the Supreme Court – garbage like this will be a big part of why they won.”
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) August 20, 2020
Liz Cheney also spoke up about QAnon this morning. She’s been more willing than any other House Republican to politely criticize Trump over the past three years, but it must be noted that she too is fresh off a primary win.
NEW: Rep @Liz_Cheney becomes the highest-ranking House Republican to denounce QAnon.
“QAnon is dangerous lunacy that should have no place in American politics," she said in a statement, after I asked for comment.
Yesterday, Trump said he "appreciates" the support of QAnon ppl.
— Melanie Zanona (@MZanona) August 20, 2020
This guy? He’ll never have to worry about a primary again:
Why in the world would the President not kick Q’anon supporters’ butts? Nut jobs, rascists, haters have no place in either Party. https://t.co/uWIMg7clJz
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) August 19, 2020
What about Republicans who do have to worry about voters more than Sasse and Cheney do? How are they feeling about Q these days? Well…
Late last month, as the Texas Republican Party was shifting into campaign mode, it unveiled a new slogan, lifting a rallying cry straight from a once-unthinkable source: the internet-driven conspiracy theory known as QAnon.
The new catchphrase, “We Are the Storm,” is an unsubtle cue to a group that the F.B.I. has labeled a potential domestic terrorist threat. It is instantly recognizable among QAnon adherents, signaling what they claim is a coming conflagration between President Trump and what they allege, falsely, is a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophile Democrats who seek to dominate America and the world.
The slogan can be found all over social media posts by QAnon followers, and now, too, in emails from the Texas Republican Party and on the T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts that it sells. It has even worked its way into the party’s text message system — a recent email from the party urged readers to “Text STORM2020” for updates.
Karl Rove was asked last night on Fox what Trump should do about QAnon and gave the responsible answer, but whether he’s thought it through as a strategic matter is unclear:
“Big mistake,” Rove said of the president’s response. “This is a group of nuts and kooks and he ought to disavow them. They might like him, but they like him because they think he is fighting an incredible war against forces of [pedophilic] evil, and it’s just ridiculous — disavow them, get done with it.”
That’s the correct answer morally. Electorally? I don’t know. Like I say, there’s an asymmetry to be reckoned with here.
There’s no defending Trump egging on QAnoners yesterday but it’d be unfair to suggest that he could have put a stop to the Q movement just by saying a few harsh words. That’s not how conspiracy theories work, and it’s certainly not how cults work. Any condemnation would be dismissed as something Trump had to say, whether because “the storm” isn’t scheduled to start yet or because he needs to say the safe, politic thing to get reelected before he starts telling “the truth” about Q. He disavowed David Duke’s support at least once during the 2016 campaign and white nationalists waved it off, insisting that he was putting on an act for the media in order to preserve his electoral viability, nothing more. No one’s going to reason a cult member out of a faith that’s come to define their worldview. Not even the cult leader.
Here’s former Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy speculating at around 6:00 that Trump simply mustn’t know what QAnon believes and that he’ll disavow them once he does. That seems unlikely given the number of people who show up to his rallies in Q garb. He must have asked someone over the past three years, “What the hell is that all about?” But even if Gowdy’s right, Trump’s never going to condemn someone who passes the supreme moral test of really liking Donald Trump, especially since doing so would require him to vouch for the Democratic leaders whom he despises. (“No, really, Pelosi’s not a Satanic pedophilic cannibal, just a loser.”) That was the point of yesterday’s post. It’s not how his mind works.
Former GOP congressman Trey Gowdy says he questions how familiar Pres. Trump is with the beliefs of the conspiracy group QAnon. Gowdy believes if the President is informed of the false theories the group promotes, “he will renounce them.” pic.twitter.com/c4xJfznonj
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) August 20, 2020