Right-wing media personalities are launching quixotic House bids across the country, in an effort that appears to be less about winning seats and more about growing their public profiles.
Candidates with ties to conservative media running in 2020 include anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer, former Big League Politics writer Peter D’Abrosca, conservative YouTube prankster Joey “Salads” Saladino, the fiancé of Fox News personality Tomi Lahren, and self-styled MAGA relationship expert DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero.
Tesoriero, who’s running a long-shot bid against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), said Donald Trump’s presidential win inspired her and other conservative media types without any electoral experience to try their hand at campaigning.
“There’s a lot of people feeling, ‘Well, I have a chance,’” she said.
Tesoriero, who launched her campaign in late August before actually moving to Pelosi’s district, insisted that she didn’t just pick a high-profile Democrat to run against as a stunt to promote her media career or her Trump-themed relationship advice book, Making Love Great Again.
Tesoriero’s race highlights what many of the right-wing personalities’ efforts have in common: They’re almost certain to lose. Lahren’s fiancé, Brandon Fricke, for example, is running as an independent against Trump-needling Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), in a district the Cook Political Report rates as solidly Democratic. Meanwhile, Loomer is running against Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), who didn’t even face a Republican opponent in 2018 and handily won her 2016 campaign.
But while the media personality candidates seem destined to lose at the ballot box, they can still win by using the bids to win fame on the right. Tesoriero’s ex-boyfriend, California politician Omar Navarro, pioneered leveraging unlikely campaigns into conservative media stardom. He lost his last two quixotic runs against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) by more than 50 points, but conservative donors continue to fund his doomed campaigns in an effort to oust Waters, a frequent Trump foil. As Waters’ reputation as a Trump nemesis grew after Trump won the White House, Navarro’s campaign coffers boomed along with it.
The conservative personalities’ campaigns often echo right-wing media talking points. Loomer has spent much of her campaign so far lambasting Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), even though Omar isn’t her opponent and is running for reelection halfway across the country. Fricke’s campaign launch video, meanwhile, features shots of him looking sternly at homeless encampments—an increasingly popular topic on Fox News and other conservative media outlets.
“We must not only show compassion for the disadvantaged, but for the hardworking constituents who abide by the laws,” Fricke says in the video, over shots of people who appear to be homeless.
But while the pro-Trump media personalities can draw on their built-in fanbases for donations and internet attention, they’ve also created a lengthy record for opponents to draw on. Loomer’s campaign, for example, has been hurt by the fact that she’s banned from all major social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
Saladino has a rich store of prank footage awaiting future oppo researchers, should he make it to the general election. In 2016, Saladino, who’s running in the GOP primary to take on Rep. Max Rose (D-NY), was caught faking a racist prank in which a group of African-American men destroyed a car with a Trump bumper sticker. While Saladino’s video claimed that the incident really happened, an onlooker took pictures of Saladino coordinating the prank with the vandals ahead of time.
Unlike many of his compatriots, Saladino is running in a battleground district. But should he beat his more established GOP primary rivals, he’ll have to contend with both his racist prank history and a picture of him, taken while he was making a prank video, wearing a swastika armband.
Tesoriero has her own online record to deal with. She’s frequently tweeted her support for QAnon, a conspiracy theory based on anonymous internet clues from a poster called “Q,” which posits that top Democrats are involved in pedophilic cannibal rings and will soon face military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. If Tesoriero does believe in QAnon, she’d be the third Republican House candidate this cycle to endorse the conspiracy theory.
In June 2018, for example, Tesoriero tweeted “Q is real,” adding later, “It’s exciting to see him be proved right.” But in an interview on Sunday, Tesoriero claimed she isn’t a QAnon believer.
“I wouldn’t say that I believed in him or the group or anything, but I do believe in some of the issues that he discusses,” Tesoriero said.
Tesoriero has also tweeted her support for the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which holds that top Democrats sexually abuse children in a Washington pizzeria. In 2016, the conspiracy theory inspired a North Carolina man to drive to the restaurant and fire a gun.
On Sunday, Tesoriero hedged on whether she believes in Pizzagate.
“Do I believe in Pizzagate?” Tesoriero said. “I’m trying to think about how to answer that.”
Candidates from the right-wing media typically choose prominent incumbent Democrats as their opponents. But D’Abrosca is running a primary challenge against Republican Rep. David Rouzer (NC), who he claims is soft on immigration. D’Abrosca has built his campaign around far-right policy ideas, including a proposed 10-year moratorium on legal immigration.
Rouzer’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Coming from the pro-Trump media doesn’t necessarily guarantee coverage from ideological allies, at least for D’Abrosca. In an email to The Daily Beast, D’Abrosca complained that conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and the Washington Examiner, which he claimed are allied with the “open borders-loving GOP establishment,” have ignored his candidacy.
“The far-left Daily Beast is the first national news outlet to request an interview about my campaign,” D’Abrosca wrote in an email.
While the various right-wing media personalities’ efforts seem destined to flop, Tesoriero insisted that she thinks she can beat Pelosi, who won her 2018 reelection campaign by more than 70 points.
“I do think that I stand a chance,” Tesoriero said.