In 2016, a brash and boisterous businessman tried to upend the American political world or at least do so within Wisconsin’s First Congressional District. Paul Nehlen sought to oust Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in the GOP primary with the support of far-right conservatives like Sarah Palin. It didn’t happen: Ryan received 84 percent of the primary vote.
Despite that unmistakable message from Wisconsin Republicans, Nehlen is running again against Ryan next year. Except, this time around his campaign isn’t the campaign of a cooky and faux conservative loudmouth hoping for political lightning to strike but with a grievance-driven appeal to. Instead, he is running on a full throated embrace of racism, anti-Semitism and grievance.
Republicans need to draw a line. They must again reject Paul Nehlen, and force him from the party.
Nehlen’s Twitter feed has been filled with memes and hashtags popular among the alt-right. Earlier this month, Nehlen accused lawyer Ari Cohn of pretending to be white and also employed the use of “echoes,” a set of three parentheses or brackets placed around a word or name in order to denote Judaism, against him. He has repeatedly posted the phrase—widely used by white supremacists, including David Duke—“It’s okay to be white.”
As part of his very public embrace of the alt-right, Nehlen’s signature campaign proposal now is a ridiculous call for a law to ban social media companies from “censoring” alt-right users through suspensions and account deletions.These suspensions and service bans are due to racist and threatening tweets made by these alt-right users. To Nehlen, this is somehow is a violation of free speech:
“The bedrock of American society is freedom of speech. Social media companies have usurped this freedom, and we intend to give it back to the American people.”
None of this is rooted in conservatism. Nehlen is actively advocating for more government intrusion into and regulation of private business. One cannot help but wonder where he stands on the Masterpiece Cakeshop free speech case…
Nehlen rose to prominence in 2016 with the help of Steve Bannon and Breitbart. While CNN and others reported Wednesday that Bannon has now cut ties with Nehlen, he has been a candidate Breitbart has until today fostered, promoted and championed. This is in addition to accused child sexual predator Roy Moore and other candidates wholly unpalatable to the electorate. All of them have demonstrated why Bannon should not have a seat at the grown-up’s table.
However, Bannon’s necessary break with Nehlen should be recognized.
There is zero evidence that Republicans in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District are flocking to Nehlen. In all likelihood, he will lose by 68 points or so again. Nevertheless, he persists on social media.
Nehlen is a prolific tweeter, often responding to President Trump’s tweets with an enthusiasm previously reserved for the @whitegenocideTM account. These responses are designed to bolster his following and relevancy by making him one of the top replies to Trump and his 45 million followers. So far, Trump has ignored him.
If Trump is God in the Nehlen cinematic universe, he must be a decidedly Calvinist version of the almighty. Nehlen doggedly and consistently sends his prayers, praise, and retweets — 240 character Hosannas — into the ether, only to encounter the mute indifference of an inscrutable omnipotence. Whereas the President has deigned to retweet Bill Mitchell, Jacob Wohl, and the second most important person in Britain First, he seems blissfully unaware of Paul Nehlen’s existence.
It must be a frustrating and lonely existence for Nehlen, as Trump won’t deign to give his worshipper the due he seems to believe he is entitled to.
And now, Nehlen’s desperation has shifted from quiet to all out anti-Semitism. He took to Twitter after Christmas to attack Jewish conservative Erielle Davidson. Her sin? She noted that Nehlen tweeting anti-Semitic memes was wrong. Nehlen’s response? He told her to “police your own people first” with pictures of tweets from other Jewish conservatives.
Nehlen’s descent into outright hatred has even caused conservatives like Kurt Schlichter and John Cardillo to turn on him. Schlichter called Nehlen “exhibit A” of “weirdo idiot candidates” that conservatives should have nothing to do with. Nehlen responded in his now trademark unhinged style, “Ah yes @KurtSchlichter joins the ranks of shekels-for-hire™ BlueChecks…”
While GOP primary voters in Wisconsin will ultimately render final judgment on Nehlen (and likely do so by handing him yet another embarrassing loss), Republicans and conservatives of all stripes should join together to say there is no place for his tirades and un-American statements in our party.