Toxic Ideas Can Have Fatal Consequences
Plus: The disgraces of Elise Stefanik.
Elise Stefanik had a bad week, full of gaffes, Q-adjacent smears, and reminders that the #3 House Republican traffics in Replacement Theory racism.
And by “bad,” I mean the sorts of things that will probably increase her chances of becoming speaker in a GOP Congress.
But last week was a reminder that Stefanik’s plunge into MAGA World has been vertiginous; there are no brakes, no handholds, no red lines or timeouts for prudence, or decency.
No one, apparently, is standing athwart her ambitions, saying “Elise, WTF?”
So, in her desperation to prove her new loyalties, she is grasping at whatever memes, conspiracy theories, and slurs are necessary to secure her place in a movement whose craziness is fast-flowing and fluid.
On Wednesday, the Harvard-educated Stefanik declared that she was “ultra-MAGA.” And proud of it.
On Friday — as Tim Miller recounts in today’s Bulwark — she tossed out the casual smear about President Biden, Democrats, and “the usual pedo gifters”:
Afterward, her office scrambled to insist that she had absolutely not deployed the QAnon meme that her opponents were pedophiles. This was obvious bunkum.
A spokesperson for the extremist lawmaker said she wasn’t blaming “pedophile” grifters, but intended “pedo” to mean “children,” writer and activist Parker Molloy reported Saturday — which still makes no sense.
“Pedo” or pedophile is a well-known dogwhistle to QAnon conspiracy theorists who are baselessly convinced “pedo” Democrats are running an international child sex-trafficking operation.
But the worst was yet to come.
After this weekend’s horrific events in Buffalo, critics reminded us that the one-time Paul Ryan acolyte had joined other right-wing voices pushing the Great Replacement Theory, putting out social media posts that declared: “Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”
That drew a sharp rebuke last September from the Albany Times Union, which asked: “How low, Ms. Stefanik?”
Stefanik, however, is hardly alone. And that has consequences.
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Mainstreaming the Great Replacement
The usual caveats are in order here: the responsibility for the murders in Buffalo lies with the murderer himself and all of the “blood on their hands” hot takes need to keep that in mind.
But as conservatives once understood, ideas also have consequences; and poisonous demagoguery can have deadly results.
The [Great Replacement Theory] has been cited by several mass shooters since 2018, including Robert Bowers, who has been charged with killing 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in 2018; Patrick Crusius, who allegedly killed 23 people in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart; and John Earnest, who pleaded guilty to murdering one and injuring three others at a Poway, California, synagogue in 2019.
And now, Buffalo, where the killer has issued a 180-page manifesto that echoes the previous terrorists and explicitly embraces the Replacement Theory.
In yesterday’s Morning Shots, my colleague Cathy Young wrote: “In a sane and decent political climate, both media figures and political figures on the right would quickly and emphatically disavow ‘great replacement’ as un-American, race-baiting nonsense. Which means … don’t hold your breath.”
[A] poll taken in December found that nearly half of all Republicans believe that there is a plot to “replace” native-born Americans with immigrants. Fox talking heads and Republican politicians have mainstreamed white supremacist ideology.
If anything, the process of mainstreaming paranoid racism is accelerating. Last week, before the Buffalo shooting, Vice’s Cameron Joseph reported: “Racist ‘Replacement Theory’ Is Bleeding Into GOP Senate Campaigns.”
Max Boot also notes the enthusiasm of ultra-MAGA candidates for the idea:
A number of Republican politicians, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Rep. Scott Perry (Pa.) and Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), have openly espoused the “great replacement” theory too. A few hours after the Buffalo shooting, Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters (R) posted a video saying: “The Democrats want open borders so they can bring in and amnesty **tens of millions** of illegal aliens — that’s their electoral strategy.” J.D. Vance, the GOP Senate nominee in Ohio (who, like Masters, is bankrolled by billionaire Peter Thiel), offers an even sicker twist on this demented theory: He says that Democrats are not only opening the borders to create “a shift in the democratic makeup of this country” but that President Biden is deliberating letting fentanyl into the country “to kill a bunch of MAGA voters in the middle of the heartland.”
No one, however, has done as much to bring the Replacement Theory into the heart of our politics/culture as Tucker Carlson. I wrote about this in April, 2021:
Last week, one of the nation’s most prominent right wing media figures, Tucker Carlson, openly and enthusiastically embraced what is known as “white replacement theory.” Here’s Tucker declaring that “X will not replace us!” (If that sounds familiar… it should.)
Now, I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term "replacement," if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that's what's happening actually. Let's just say it: That's true.
This is raw stuff, and until last week, generally (if imperfectly) confined to the farther reaches of the fever swamps.
ICYMI: The NYT did a deep dive into Tucker’s racist fear-mongering. Last week I talked with the Times’s Nick Confessore about that series. You can listen here.
You also should read this — and place these excerpts side by side.
Here is Tucker in his own words in 2018:
How, precisely, is diversity our strength? Since you’ve made this our new national motto, please be specific as you explain it. Can you think, for example, of other institutions such as, I don’t know, marriage or military units in which the less people have in common, the more cohesive they are?
Do you get along better with your neighbors, your co-workers if you can’t understand each other or share no common values? Please be honest as you answer this question.
This is directly from the Buffalo terrorist’s manifesto:
Why is diversity said to be our greatest strength? Does anyone even ask why? It is spoken like a mantra and repeated ad infinitum “diversity is our greatest strength, diversity is our greatest strength, diversity is our greatest strength...”. Said throughout the media, spoken by politicians, educators and celebrities. But no one ever seems to give a reason why.
What gives a nation strength? And how does diversity increase that strength? What part of diversity causes this increase in strength? No one can give an answer.
Exit take: Do you think Tucker is still laughing? (Spoiler alert: yes, probably, for reasons we have explained before.)
Here Come the Denialists
Elise Stefanik is sounding a bit… defensive this morning:
We can also expect a much wider — and more indignant — pushback from the right against any linkage between the ideas that Tucker et al. are pushing and the way those ideas were put into practice this weekend.
After the deadly shooting of Hispanics in El Paso in 2019, we learned that the killer had declared: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
As I wrote at the time, the right-wing spin machine went into hyper-drive:
Byron York wants to make sure we know that Donald Trump did not inspire what happened in El Paso….
Even though the president has repeatedly described illegal immigration as “an invasion” of our country, York contends that is unfair and misleading to suggest that Trump motivated the attack. And despite the fact that Trump’s campaign has posted more than 2,000 ads on Facebook that include the word “invasion,” York is here to tell us that the manifesto is not Trumpian at all.
Expect similar heroic efforts throughout the conservative media, including the more respectable anti-anti-Trump sites.
Why? Because the GOP is simply too deeply conjoined with replacement theory politics — and defenses must be made.
And of course, they will play the victim card:
1. Pennsylvania’s Madness
A short post can’t capture the real insanity of tomorrow’s primary in PA:
The leading GOP candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano, is so batshit bizarre that GOP leaders launched an eleventh-hour attempt to derail him and avert almost certain defeat in November . . . only to have Trump endorse him.
The GOP is also panicking about the Senate primary, as fringe candidate Kathy Barnette has been surging in the polls. Her rise has even rattled and divided the party’s entertainment wing. On Fox, Sean Hannity is savaging her as an unelectable extremist, while Laura Ingraham continues to give her air cover.
On the Full MAGA end of the right-wing media spectrum, the likes of Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon were giving softball interviews to Barnette, who rose to prominence largely outside of Fox News. Meanwhile, Hugh Hewitt, a syndicated radio host who once was considered more of an establishment figure but now supports Trump, was endorsing David McCormick, a former hedge fund executive who has appeared to fade in the Senate primary as the other two leading contenders have risen.
ICYMI, I chatted with the NYT’s Blake Hounshell about it:
“It’s too delicious,” said Charlie Sykes, the never-Trump host of The Bulwark Podcast, who disdainfully refers to the conservative news media as the “entertainment wing of the Republican Party.”
“The irony is that the entertainment wing will build someone up and then realize, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’ve grown a monster,’” Sykes said. “It’s like watching the Republican Party grow a baby crocodile in the bathtub and be shocked when it grows into a beast and starts devouring people.”
Update: On Sunday, we learned that the Democrats’ leading Senate candidate, John Fetterman, suffered a stroke last week. He is pledging to continue his campaign.
The primary is tomorrow.
2. Elon Musk Is Not the Enemy
In today’s Bulwark, Cathy Young explains why his Twitter reform plan is unlikely to succeed.
Assuming Musk does acquire Twitter after all, it is far from certain that he will make things better. But despite his nods to the “countercultural” right, he really does not seem to have a right-wing agenda; he’s no deep political thinker, but he’s flexible enough to offer some possibilities beyond kneejerk polarization. (Is the proposed unbanning of Trump a sign of where things are going? Not necessarily—and some say the move won’t benefit Trump.) Musk certainly seems willing to talk across political lines, even if his ego is likely to get in the way. Preemptively making him the enemy is not a smart move.
Elise Stefanik is in GOP leadership. Contrast her with the woman she replaced:
The Great Replacement subscribers remind me of the Know Nothings, a third-party that gained strength in the decade before the Civil War. Like the Great Replacement theorists, the Know Nothings worried about demographic change, specifically the idea that the Catholic Church was conspiring to import millions of Irish and German Catholic voters to deprive the Protestants of their God-given civil rights. Sound familiar?
If you're wondering how successful they were electorally, they ran a former President, Millard Fillmore, in the 1856 election. The movement also attracted the most famous assassin in American history - John Wilkes Booth.
Lincoln himself commented on the movement in a letter to a close friend:
"I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy."
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Know Nothings had a brief burst of energy, drowned out by the Civil War, but the legacy of their ideas obviously continues to live on.
Perhaps Republicans - even the formers who write for this site would do well to look at all of their assumptions.
For example, it is a common place notion the Democrats passed and pass benefit programs mostly to purchase the affection of potential voters.
Yet if we look back to the beginnings of Food Stamps, Medicare and Medicaid, they arose out of a genuine concern about the impact of poverty on Americans. And the focus was as much on rural folks and the elderly as it was on minorities.
From idea to idea, Republicans have honed ideas that might have been reasonable at first glance into weapons that have been further sharpened by the worst elements in America.
The results are for all to see.
Dems might be overwrought but they generally support ideas that are crafted to help people. Republicans are simply exciting anger - again and again. (Thus even the drill baby drill chants were much more about anger than about a practical program).