The cardinal rule of populist media is to never tell your audience what it doesn’t want to hear, even if what you’re telling them is the truth. So what do you do in a situation where you’re forced to choose between two messages that are sure to make some meaningful percentage of your fans unhappy?
If you cater to a crowd that’s wildly pro-Trump but ardently anti-vaccine, what do you do with the fact that Trump is pro-vaccine? If you condemn him, you piss off the Trumpers who are vaccinated. If you praise him, you piss off the ivermectin fans.
Every player in populist media will have to square that circle. For some, like InfoWars, it’s a relatively easy call. Their brand as America’s foremost conspiracy media outlet pre-dates MAGA; if you’re watching Alex Jones every day, it’s because you care more about crank theories on matters like 9/11 and school shootings than you do about building the wall. So when Trump leans into mass vaccination, InfoWars recoils.
Alex Jones: “This is an emergency Christmas Day warning to Pres Trump. You are either completely ignorant .. or you are one of the most evil men who ever lived .. What you told Candace Owens is nothing but a raft of dirty lies.” pic.twitter.com/rNCNdvgNrm
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) December 25, 2021
If you’re a (somewhat) more traditional populist like Candace Owens, the choice is harder. Owens has one foot in mainstream conservative media by dint of her work at the Daily Wire and one foot in the conspiracy camp per her skepticism of the COVID vaccines. Some Daily Wire fans would be irritated to see her come down hard on Trump but anti-vaxxers would consider her a sellout if she suddenly changed her message on vaccination to accommodate him. How does Owens reconcile that?
With this galaxy-brain take insisting that Trump means well but has been poisoned by his information diet. He’s a victim of a sort:
Candace Owens is doing damage control after “so many donors and supporters” are upset over Trump’s vaccine comments. She says he is old, isn’t tech savvy, doesn’t keep up with or read obscure internet conspiracies, and only follows the main stream media so doesn’t have the facts. pic.twitter.com/XAuTFfellE
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) December 24, 2021
The guy who had Sidney Powell whispering in his ear about Venezuelan vote-rigging last fall and who insists to this day that a giant conspiracy is responsible for Biden’s presidency isn’t conspiratorial enough to find the truth in Owens’s telling. If only he spent more time picking through the gigantic garbage dump of misinformation we call the Internet would he see the light about vaccines.
This is where righty populism is in 2021. Donald J. Trump is somehow too refined a consumer of information to be trusted.
Meanwhile, here’s the kind of helpful health advice you won’t find in the MSM but which you will find on Owens’s Instagram account, apparently:
“Yes, colloidal silver!” Owens said in the video. “I take colloidal silver every single day, I love colloidal silver. That is a great one. That is another one that people probably know nothing about.”
While Owens and others have praised preventative use of colloidal silver as a way to stave off illness, colloidal silver has no valid medical purpose and plenty of potential dangers. In extreme cases, according to the Mayo Clinic, colloidal silver can cause seizure or organ problems…
But colloidal silver’s most famous side effect is argyria—a condition that turns users’ skin a bluish-gray color, usually permanently.
That last part sounds like a joke. It isn’t. If you’ve never seen someone who’s taken colloidal silver regularly over a long period, feast your eyes. Maybe in five years blue skin will have replaced the red MAGA hat as proof of true populist authenticity.
Speaking of which, another clip from InfoWars circulating this weekend caught my eye:
After his pro-vaccine comments, InfoWars is now pushing Ron DeSantis over Trump. pic.twitter.com/ckXMciGNwQ
— PatriotTakes 🇺🇸 (@patriottakes) December 26, 2021
Congrats to Ron DeSantis on having established himself as a more vax-skeptical politician than Donald Trump. It took many months of him banning local vaccine mandates, downplaying some of the vaccine’s benefits, and dodging questions about whether he’s been vaccinated, but it might have paid off for him. This poll caught my eye too:
2024 National Republican Primary Poll:
— PollTracker (@PollTrackerUSA) December 26, 2021
Normally Trump leads DeSantis by something like 50 points when they’re polled head to head. The YouGov numbers could be an outlier, but it’s also possible that DeSantis’s shift in emphasis from encouraging vaccination to resisting pressure on the unvaccinated really is earning him new fans among GOP voters. Imagine how tight the 2024 race might get if DeSantis follows Owens’s lead and starts ingesting colloidal silver. We’d have one guy on the debate stage with unnaturally orange skin representing the scientific consensus and one guy with unnaturally blue skin representing The People.
I’ll leave you with this, the political kiss of death for Trump — an attaboy from Anthony Fauci, who’s now polling at 85 percent approval among Democrats and, er, 19 percent among Republicans.
Dr. Anthony Fauci reveals he was “stunned” when former Pres. Trump’s supporters booed him for getting booster shot, telling @jonkarl it showed “how recalcitrant they are about being told what they should do.” https://t.co/4LdPNFetf7 pic.twitter.com/azVQAZiwwV
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) December 26, 2021