The greatest blind quote of all time may come from a GOP official who—after Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and refused to concede—told The Washington Post: “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?”
The first “downside” came during the Jan 6. Capitol riot. But it didn’t end there. We continue to pay the price for “humoring” the former president. Look no further than the recent case of Soloman Peña, a candidate who lost his New Mexico state house election by a landslide, for evidence.
Instead of planning a rally or staging a coup, Peña allegedly hired four men to shoot up the homes of multiple elected Democrats. Fortunately, no one was hurt. This time. But as one former county commissioner told NBC News, he “could have killed us.”
Peña’s example is merely the latest, and the message is clear. The danger of conspiracy theories isn’t just that people will believe them. It’s what delusional people will do with those crazy ideas they believe. If a citizen sincerely believes that a pizzeria is home to a child sex trafficking ring, he might feel obliged to pick up a gun and investigate. Likewise, if a patriot believes a presidential election has been stolen, he might join a riot at the Capitol.
And if an unhinged psycho believes that his own stolen election is the latest in a string of attempts to radically change America…well, look out.
Talk all you want about serial liars like Rep. George Santos and “what it all means” about the GOP. A far worse aspect of “trickle-down Trumpism” is the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories—especially the one that questions the legitimacy of elections and threatens the peaceful transfer of power.
And make no mistake, Trumpism has trickled down.
According to a 2021 AP-NORC poll conducted about two weeks after Joe Biden was inaugurated, “About two-thirds of Republicans say Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president.”
The trend of losing politicians pretending they’d won continued into 2022, when failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake got in on the act.
But Trump and Lake were in on the joke. The same cannot be said for their true believers.
According to Vox, Peña is “An ardent Trump supporter who attended a pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC, on the day of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection…”
Of course, Trump’s normalization of The Big Lie is only half of the story. The other half is his use of violent rhetoric, calls to “take back our country,” and urging fans to “fight like hell.”
Talk like this was bound to lead to violence. And it’s not going to stop anytime soon. “I think we are really entering a new era where political rhetoric has gotten so heated and people with mental health issues or extreme conspiratorial viewpoints on the world have resorted to political violence,” New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez told the Associated Press.
To be sure, political violence in modern America is not solely limited to the right. Violent 2020 protests over the death of George Floyd come to mind. (The vandalism, arson, and looting should, in my opinion, be condemned no matter the cause.)
“You think the Big Lie is going away on its own, Mitch? Look at what just happened to Kevin McCarthy. The Matt Gaetzes and Lauren Boeberts are in charge.”
And it goes back further than that. In 2013, a man who was upset over opposition to gay rights shot a building manager at the conservative Family Research Council in Washington, DC. It could have been much worse, though. According to CNN, the shooter “had stopped by Chick-fil-A to pick up 15 sandwiches, which he planned to smear in the dying faces of staffers he expected to kill.”
And in 2017, a Bernie Sanders supporter shot Republican Rep. Steve Scalise at a congressional baseball game practice in Alexandria, Virginia.
Of course, Bernie never once told his followers to “fight like hell” because his opponents are stealing democracy. Instead, Sanders forcefully condemned the act—which is what Trump and every other Republican ought to do in the same situation.
But just as Republicans must condemn violence—including the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the violent attack on Paul Pelosi—they must also debunk the conspiracy theories that drive the violence.
Since Trump won’t do the right thing, I’ll address this last part to the only Republican leader who seemingly has no more fucks to give: Mitch McConnell.
You think the Big Lie is going away on its own, Mitch? Look at what just happened to Kevin McCarthy. The Matt Gaetzes and Lauren Boeberts are in charge. Pussyfooting around and saying, “we should just move on,” won’t cut it anymore.
We’re going to keep getting more crazy candidates, we’re going to keep getting more political violence, and (not that this should be the most compelling argument) Republicans are going to keep losing elections.
What’s the downside of “humoring” the election deniers? Ignore the cancer, and it’ll just metastasize.