“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” according to the second and third-century theologian, Tertullian. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” said Obi-Wan Kenobi, in the first Star Wars movie.
A more recent, if less noble, example: When it comes to taking over the Republican Party, QAnon is winning by losing. According to The New York Times, at least, even though Q candidates are losing most of their elections, their ideas are gaining currency.
First, on the rare occasion Q-adjacent candidates do win (think Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert), these backbenchers punch way above their weight, in terms of garnering attention and expanding the Overton window.
Second, traditional Republicans are co-opting their ideas. Questioning Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, talking about the “deep state,” and using terms like “groomer” were once seen as far beyond the pale, but are now considered mainstream.
In a sense, it is not surprising that a movement would lose elections, even as its ideas are mainstreamed. Conservative presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater—viewed as dangerously extreme at the time—got just 38 percent of the vote in 1964, but he won the future of the Republican Party—if not America. As George Will wrote in 1994, “Just as William Jennings Bryan lost three presidential elections but brought invigorating new elements into the Democratic Party, Goldwater precipitated the Republican reorientation that would produce victories in five of the next six elections.”
Goldwater’s run was built on ideas that were injected into the political bloodstream by prior conservative thinkers, leading up to his ’64 campaign. “As is usually the case,” Will wrote, “cultural ferment preceded political transformation.”
Twenty-eight years after Goldwater’s loss, we witnessed another such example. Ask yourself: Who does today’s Republican Party look more like—George H.W. Bush or the Republican he defeated in the 1992 primary, Pat Buchanan?
The point is that losing candidates can still, by virtue of going through with the electoral process, inject their ideas into the larger body politic.
Now, in the case of QAnon, those ideas are especially deranged. Say what you will about Goldwater and Buchanan, respectively, but their most extreme ideas were nothing compared to “pizzagate.” But still, the concept of winning by losing is nothing new or surprising.
This is a bipartisan phenomenon. Indeed, a couple of years ago, it was observed that almost every prominent Democrat was embracing single-payer health care. Sen. Bernie Sanders may have lost the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and then to Joe Biden in 2020, but Bernie’s ideas won the day—at least, rhetorically.
Or did they? Now that Democrats are in power, nobody seems to be clamoring for single-payer. For now, at least, the idea has sort of faded away.
This raises the question: How much of the Q-adjacent rhetoric in today’s GOP is merely lip service? The Jan. 6 hearings have shown us that a lot of key players in Trumpworld never actually drank the Kool-Aid. But they had to pretend they did.
Case in point: next week’s Arizona gubernatorial primary. Some people are dinging Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson for failing to say whether she would have certified the 2020 election result if she were governor.
The problem with this, however, is that Robson is running against a much more Q-adjacent primary candidate, Kari Lake. It’s sad that normal Republican candidates now have to feign madness (it used to be that you had to conceal the weird parts of your life; today, you have to conceal the fact that your brain actually works to compete in the GOP).
My guess is that if Robson goes on to win, she will govern like a fairly normal Republican—perhaps like former Vice President Mike Pence or Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (two high-profile Republicans who have endorsed her). Conversely, Lake would almost assuredly govern more like Trump.
The problem with the tail wagging the dog, though, is that the public eventually gets its way in a democracy. Politicians can try to stand up to their base, or they can try to pretend to go along with their base, but that only lasts so long.
Maybe the fever will pass, and these politicians can bob and weave until it does. Otherwise, sooner or later, the pols either have to get on the bus or get run over by it.
What I’m saying is, it’s a race against time. At some point, it won’t matter whether Republican elites are faking it till they make it. “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be,” as Kurt Vonnegut put it.
Like a man treading water in the ocean, Team Normal can’t hold out forever.
QAnon is failing forward.