It’s easy to read this statement as a pair with the one he put out a few days ago. In the earlier one, he criticized both sides for the nastiness of their partisan rhetoric. In today’s, he criticizes both for going too soft on the fringier reaches of their respective ideologies.
But I think there’s a difference. The first statement, although nominally an indictment of both sides, felt like a criticism of Trump because it specifically exempted Joe Biden from the charge Romney was making. It read like an indirect endorsement of Trump’s opponent, especially following the kidnapping plot against Gretchen Whitmer which Whitmer herself blamed on the president.
Today’s statement mentions Trump too, keying off of his comments at last night’s townhall, but I don’t think he’s the prime target. I sense that Romney’s looking ahead here, past the Trump presidency, and recognizing that his party has a problem.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) October 16, 2020
Anyway, his tweet doesn’t include the word “QAnon” but that’s what he’s worried about. Here’s what Trump said to Savannah Guthrie:
Here’s video of Trump refusing to denounce QAnon at the NBC town hall pic.twitter.com/BmSHGYSlxO
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 16, 2020
That was bad but it’s not news to Romney or anyone else that Trump can’t help but speak warmly of people who speak warmly of him. If the GOP’s QAnon problem were just a Trump problem, then, well, that problem would appear likely to be solved 18 days from now.
What I suspect is bugging Romney is the repulsive spectacle of “respectable” Republican Kelly Loeffler cuddling up to supposedly former QAnoner Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia. Loeffler is a country-club business-class Republican just like Romney; she donated big, big money to his 2012 campaign and wasn’t nearly as generous to Trump four years later. She was appointed to her Senate seat by Brian Kemp precisely because it was thought she’d appeal to the educated voters in the suburbs, particularly professional women, who’ve been voting Democratic lately. But when Trump sycophant Doug Collins jumped into Georgia’s Senate race this year, Loeffler was terrified that he’d consolidate the populist vote and beat her. So she went all in on the dumbest, most low-rent populist messaging she could muster, to the point where one of her campaign ads seemed to parody her own strategy.
The culmination of that strategy was earning Greene’s endorsement yesterday. For Romney, it’s probably one thing for a conspiratorial loose cannon like Trump to go mushy on cranks. But to see Loeffler do it because she thinks she’ll benefit from it politically is a tremendously ominous sign for the GOP, possibly even more ominous than nominating Trump four years ago. With Trump, after all, the outrageous stuff at least came packaged with some defensible populist policy proposals. With Q, it’s just crankery for the sake of crankery.
The party’s drift towards viewing QAnon cultists as some semi-legit part of the coalition, replete with competing for their endorsement, is what he’s truly worried about, not Trump. And you know what? He should be.
Republicans are starting to with deal with potential QAnon adherents joining their party in Congress, and some have started reaching out to these believers. At least one sitting GOP member of Congress has appeared on programs that promote QAnon content, and even more candidates have gone to these networks to appeal for money. Major Republicans and ambassadors of the Trump orbit have appeared at events with QAnon adherents, and most notably, none has withdrawn endorsements of candidates specifically because of their affinity with QAnon — though they did make a point of withdrawing their endorsement of Marjorie Taylor Greene for her anti-semitic and racist statements.
In effect, QAnon has become a voter bloc within the MAGA-fied version of the Republican Party. As the official networks housing Q theories get taken down — platforms shutting down groups, Twitter cracking down on hashtags — the QAnon movement has found a home inside the MAGA movement.
Whether this is a marriage of love or of convenience depends on how you look at it. “This seems to sum up the Republican strategy: Don’t criticize the QAnon movement because the movement is useful to Trump’s reelection prospects,” said one critic to Politico, taking the “convenience” view. But the same story notes that more than one poll recently has shown ~40 percent of Republicans say that the basic tenets of the Q conspiracy theory are true or that QAnon is at least “somewhat” good for America.
Business Insider has noticed that subjects that are central to the Q mythology have increasingly crept into Republican attack ads and social media content from right-wing “influencers” over time:
In recent months Republican politicians have attempted to reach voters like Coohill by seizing on bizarre and wildly misleading accusations of child endangerment, falsely painting several Democratic politicians as pedophiles or accusing them of lobbying on behalf of sex criminals…
Insider’s analysis found that QAnon motifs were not major talking points for Republicans when “Q” first emerged on 4chan in late 2017, but have picked up steady traction over the past two years. Forty-five percent of the accounts that Insider analyzed had published tweets trading in subject matter associated with QAnon; these included the accounts of dozens of elected officials.
Those who tweeted about QAnon and child sex-trafficking most frequently were conservative influencers and congressional candidates with a documented interest in the conspiracy theory, topped by One America News Network reporter Jack Posobiec — the most prolific tweeter overall — Marjorie Taylor Greene, Charlie Kirk, Erin Cruz, and Donald Trump Jr.
Right now McConnell and his caucus are busily laying the groundwork for a pivot back to small-government conservatism if/when Biden is elected, believing that they’ll have extra credibility in resuming that posture next year if they can kill a Trump/Pelosi stimulus deal now. But Kelly Loeffler and Doug Collins weren’t courting Marjorie Taylor Greene because she’s a renowned critic of federal spending. They were courting here because she has sway with the sort of right-wing populist voters whose interest in culture war has turned so malignant that they’ve had to concoct a fantasy about Satanic Democrats killing children and drinking their blood to scratch their itch. They’re the political equivalent of men who’ve watched so much porn that they’re now inured to all but the most insanely extreme stuff. Complaints about “cancel culture” and Section 230 just won’t get them off anymore. It’s Hillary Clinton’s baby-eating cabal or bust. That’s the vote Loeffler’s after and that’s what Romney’s fretting about, quite rightly.
And it’s all going to get worse before it gets better.