The Corner

Politics & Policy

‘The Dumbest Coup’

President Donald Trump during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2020 (Carlos Barria/Retuers)

Noah Rothman’s excellent piece in Commentary, “The Dumbest of Coups,” deserves to be widely read.

I’ve been writing about conspiracy theories for a while now — QAnon, the Flat-Earth gang, etc. — and one of the things you quickly learn about conspiracy theories is that every conspiracy theory is, in some part, every other conspiracy theory: They all overlap, in part or entirely.

Donald Trump has always been a conspiracy kook — vaccines, 9/11, Obama’s birth certificate, etc. — and he came into the presidency retailing a conspiracy theory: Let’s not forget that he also claimed that the 2016 election was illegitimate, that he’d actually won the popular vote but that electoral fraud had made it appear otherwise. Trump is a conspiracy kook who surrounded himself with other conspiracy kooks and cultivated kooky impulses in his aides, meaning that he is a kook in himself and the cause of kookery in others. The new Dominion-based conspiracy theory is only a variation on a longstanding theme.

And what we are seeing now, in the twilight of Trump’s kookery, is the merger of QAnon, the Republican Party, and the large part of the conservative movement that earns its bread by peddling miracle veggie pills to gullible elderly people on the radio. When I first starting writing about QAnon, some conservatives scoffed that it wasn’t a significant phenomenon, that it had no real influence on the Republican Party or conservative politics. That is obviously untrue. Rather than ask whether conspiracy kookery is relevant to Republican politics at this moment, it would be better to ask if there is anything else to Republican politics at this moment. And maybe there is, but not much.

This raises some uncomfortable questions for conservatives. One of those questions is: How long are we going to keep pretending that this madness isn’t madness? Another is: How long will we continue to pretend that what’s being broadcast by Fox News and talk radio is political commentary rather than the most shameful, irresponsible, and unpatriotic kind of sycophantic for-profit propaganda? A third is: What exactly is the benefit — for our ideas, and for the country — of making common cause with these lunatics and hucksters?

The answer the Trumpists used to give was: winning. But Trump didn’t win. He lost to Joe Biden, who hardly even bothered to campaign against him. He may very well end up costing Republicans control of the Senate. He has a better chance of being indicted on criminal charges and/or returning once more to bankruptcy court than he does of serving a second term as president.

Ronald Reagan spoke of “a time for choosing.” It’s that time again.

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