Every time a politician gets busted or convicted for being a pedophile, it turns out to be a Republican. But that doesn't slow down the dominant QAnon-wing of the GOP from whining about how the Democratic Party is a bunch of pedophiles. Vice reporter Cameron Joseph asked this morning if Democrats should be doing more to combat the absurd claim-- which is being aggressively pushed by GOP crackpots from Marjorie Traitor Greene (R-GA) and Ron DeSantis (R-FL) to Josh Hawley (R-MO). And young Nazi Madison Cawthorn's hilarious charges that members of his own party have done lines of cocaine in front of him and tried to lure into orgies was almost completely ignored by Democrats. In Congress there is only one party filled with groomers: the Republican Party.
Marjorie Traitor Greene, once widely known as the blowjob queen of Alpharetta, Georgia, tweeted last week that it's the Dems who are the party of pedophiles. Joseph reported that "Half of Republicans-- and almost a third of Americans overall-- said in a recent YouGov poll that it’s definitely or probably true that “top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings.” That’s a slight uptick in belief of that core QAnon conspiracy from when the pollster started asking the question in 2020." And how are Democrats responding?
“I see polling that shows that that outrageous characterization is landing with some folks,” California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell told Vice News. “But you also don't really want to give oxygen to the land of misfit toys, which is where this is coming [from].”
New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a member of House Democratic leadership, said the best thing Democrats can do is ignore the attack and focus on the pocketbook issues that polls show Americans care about the most-- and the big reason Democrats are in a bleak position heading into this fall’s midterm elections.
“I don’t even really pay attention to anything she says because she has nothing rational to say. It seems to me to be a ridiculous allegation,” Jeffries told Vice News when asked about Greene’s remarks.
...But claims made in bad faith can still pay political dividends, making even bonkers attacks risky to ignore. Democrats largely shrugged off GOP claims last election that even their most moderate members were socialists who wanted to defund the police‚ and then they were shocked to lose House seats in 2020. During a furious post-election conference call, many centrists complained their party had done too little to push back against those GOP claims.
...One America News host Chanel Rion went even further over the weekend, calling President Biden the “groomer-in-chief” and describing Judge Jackson as the “queen of child porn apologists.”
Conservatives have lobbed similar attacks against the Disney Corporation for belatedly opposing Florida’s “Don’t say gay” bill-- Fox News’ Laura Ingraham recently accused the company of pushing “propaganda for grooming."
And while most swing voters won’t likely buy into straight-up calling Democrats pedophiles, there are more subtle, effective, and related attacks being pushed by the GOP that they clearly see as politically effective, especially in culturally conservative states.
...Texas Rep. Colin Allred, who won a swing seat in 2018 and held it in 2020, said the “pedophile” attacks were aimed at ginning up the hardcore GOP base, not moving swing voters.
“I think it's mostly for the hardcore QAnon crowd. I don't think that it's taken seriously by most people and it's not the kind of thing that you can really run on,” he said. “I don't think that it has the same resonance as something like [defunding] law enforcement or socialism. I think it's such a fringe attack, just a fringe idea. I think it feels to a group that is already going to be not in the swing voter category anyways. So I don't see this as an effective political strategy.”
But Allred’s own state has become an epicenter of this rhetorical fight since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered Texas agencies in late February to investigate parents of trans kids for “child abuse” if they helped them get gender-affirming care.
Other Democrats say the attacks are ludicrous but argue that Democrats should be ready to call them out, not ignore them.
“It’s an easy thing to combat. It’s so out-there,” said Democratic strategist Brad Howard, who’s worked on races for a number of moderate Democratic candidates. “You respond with values-based statements, saying at the end of the day we want every child to have an equal opportunity to get ahead. You can condemn the transphobic rhetoric from the right and pledge to work with parents.”
Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who has a trans child, said the “absurd” attacks undercut Republicans’ claims that they’re pro-family.
“To tell a child that what they're doing is illegal because they are actually being who they are, is absolutely not just outrageous, it's detrimental to their mental health,” she told Vice News. “And to criminalize parents who are trying to support their children is about the biggest opposite of being pro-family that I can imagine. So if Republicans want to call themselves pro-family, and then attack children and attack parents for being good parents, then they can't call themselves pro-family. It’d be hypocritical."
The best critiques of the GOP these days is coming, not from Democrats but from conservative outfits like the Lincoln Project, the Republican Accountability Project and, most of all, The Bulwark. This morning Robert Tracinski suggested that QAnon is the embodiment of the John Birch Society-- and winning (at least inside the GOP)!
"The John Birch Society," wrote Tracinski, "was started in 1958 by a conservative businessman who thought President Eisenhower was secretly a Soviet agent. It had a certain kind of cracked appeal as an easy explanation for various setbacks in the early years of the Cold War. The Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, the Communist takeover of China, the Soviet development of nuclear weapons-- these weren’t the results of Western mistakes, or large and difficult-to-control social forces, or just the fortunes of war. No, it was all a secret plot, and THEY were lying to you. This worldview was tremendously popular, more popular than today’s conservatives would probably like to admit. In 1962, Barry Goldwater complained, 'Every other person in Phoenix is a member of the John Birch Society. I’m not talking about commie-haunted apple pickers or cactus drunks. I’m talking about the highest cast of men of affairs.' The Birchers had such a big following on the right that Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan hemmed and hawed for years before breaking with them. Even then, it took repeated denunciations, combined with the Birchers’ increasing notoriety as a national laughingstock, to eventually reduce their appeal and relegate them to the crazy fringes." QAnon's very existence started on those fringes-- and have moved rapidly into the further reaches of boosterism for anomie or societal insanity.
Today’s equivalent of the John Birch Society is the QAnon conspiracy theory, an online grift that got out of hand and became a worldview. It posits its own spectacularly implausible conspiracy theory: That there is a global network of pedophiles who secretly run the world and control our politics so that they can abuse children. This conspiracy theory has in turn spawned other conspiracy theories which claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. It is currently being mainstreamed in attacks on Disney as a corporation bent on “grooming” children to prepare them for exploitation by pedophiles.
And where are today’s conservative leaders, the intellectuals and politicians, the Buckleys and Reagans, who have the authority to shut this down?
...Trump famously refused to denounce the QAnon crazies, describing them only as people who are “against pedophilia”-- the most flattering possible description of the group. It’s like saying that the John Birchers were “against communism.” In both cases, the actual salient characteristic of these groups is their wild, paranoid, evidence-free conspiracy theories.
Trump’s sympathy for QAnon helped ease it into the conservative mainstream, and we can see the results in two recent incidents.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the leading candidate to become the “sane Trump”-- a Republican who can harness Trump’s populist appeal, but in a disciplined and calculating way. But after DeSantis’s defenders rushed out to assure everyone that his bill targeting teachers was not a “Don’t Say Gay Law” and was not animated by anti-homosexual bias, his press secretary Christina Pushaw declared that the bill “would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill,” adding, “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer.” A “groomer,” for those who are fortunate enough not to know, is a child predator who manipulates his victims to prepare them to accept abuse.
So much for being the “sane Trump.”
The idea that gay teachers are predators preparing to groom children is an old trope with a history in Florida. You may recall that previous iterations of the culture war attempted to ban homosexuals from teaching jobs. But more significant is the way this claim taps into the QAnon conspiracy theory. The whole base of QAnon is the dangerous delusion that their enemies are all secret pedophiles. This is the line that has been taken up by conservatives and endlessly repeated, including in a conservative campaign to boycott the Walt Disney Company (and also to subject it to land-use and antitrust regulations) as a political reprisal for opposing the Florida law. And why not if, as authoritarian conservative Rod Dreher puts it, Disney has “gone groomer”?
Taking a bill with many serious problems-- a vaguely worded restriction and an enforcement mechanism designed to facilitate legal harassment-- and characterizing any criticism of it as “grooming” and as support for pedophiles and “predators” has created an atmosphere of constant, vicious defamation aimed at any and all opponents. This is being egged on, of course, by the usual unscrupulous carnival barkers.
...From the top down, the Birchers have won. They now own the conservative movement and the Republican party.
Conspiracy theories have consequences. If you have been arguing these issues on social media, you will find that in among the groomer smears lobbed around carelessly there is an undertone of menace, with reminders that “we know what to do with pedophiles.” Before this is all over, someone is going to take this “groomer” and “pedo” talk literally. There will be blood.
We should also remember what conservatives accomplished by purging their crazies the last time around: By basing the movement on substantive ideas and having the courage and self-discipline to purge the kooks who claimed to be on “our side,” we achieved a few little things like pulling the U.S. out of the “national malaise” of the 1970s and winning the Cold War, followed by a period of peace, prosperity, and the spread of free societies across the globe. It wasn’t just good for the movement, it was good for the country and the world.
If we want to experience anything like those triumphs again, we need build new institutions defined by pro-liberty ideas-- and we need to push the conspiracy theorists back to the fringes.