RonAnon Courts National Infamy
Why all the conspiracy theories? It’s Ron Johnson’s calculated reelection strategy.
Across the nation, many have been wondering what the hell happened to Sen. Ron Johnson, a question I asked a month ago. How did the self-described “citizen legislator” and businessman who ran for office to take on the federal deficit became a national leader in peddling patently false conspiracy theories?
Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty posed the same question last week, noting that “the former plastics executive from Oshkosh styled himself as a sensible businessman, driven by data and hewing to traditional GOP issues such as smaller government. In 2013, he was excoriated by the right-wing media when he described one of its heroes, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), as ‘intellectually dishonest.’ That is pretty much what some of Johnson’s former fans are saying about him these days. Once referred to affectionately back home as ‘RonJon,’ he is lately becoming known as ‘RonAnon’ for his conspiratorially minded gambits.”
“He has been saying and doing things that just can’t be justified,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, was quoted in the story. “I think a lot of people have been stunned that he would go as far as he has.”
Last week Johnson went on right-wing radio talker Joe Pags‘ show and offered this observation on the U.S. Capitol rioters. “I knew those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, and so I wasn’t concerned.”
Considering that 300 people from 42 states have been charged with crimes, that they caused millions of dollars in damages, the death of a police officer and injuries to 50 other officers, Johnson’s comment is preposterous. But the senator wasn’t finished. “Now… had the tables been turned, and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.”
Is this yet another statement that Johnson knows “isn’t true,” as Stoddard has accused him of doing? Johnson acknowledged the murky waters he was wading into, telling Pags, “Joe, this could get me in trouble.”
Johnson, in short, is deliberately courting controversy. During his first term, he was far more careful, and his focus on one main issue, the federal deficit, did not gain him great approval from the voters. He limped into his 2016 reelection campaign, never having gotten the approval of more than one third of Wisconsin voters, as measured by a dozen or so Marquette Law School polls.
As a result, Johnson was “considered the most endangered Senate Republican incumbent on the ballot” and “left for dead by the GOP establishment,” as Tumolty notes. “Not until the final days of the campaign, when his poll numbers began to show a surge, did the super PAC aligned with then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) decide to throw $2 million into the race. So it is perhaps unsurprising that Johnson might feel some affinity for Trump and the brand of grievance politics that produced an even more surprising upset that year.”
Indeed, Johnson has repeatedly criticized McConnell, most recently announcing he would not support McConnell as the leader of the Senate Republicans, while making clear his support for Trump.
Johnson appears to be following the Trump playbook to a T. Bashing the Republican establishment, Inviting criticism from the media and wearing it as a badge of honor, and assailing Black Lives Matters protestors while supporting the white nationalists who rioted in the Capitol.
And what does he have to lose? His approval rating is still at a dreadful level, but actually up slightly from his second term, so maybe that conspiracy mongering is helping him with Republican voters in Wisconsin.
“He’s basically going where the wind is blowing,” Stoddard told WPR. “His voters are asking for this, and he wants that job.”
Johnson has yet to reveal whether he will run in 2022, but Stoddard appears convinced Johnson will seek reelection. And it’s now clear what his campaign strategy will be: just as Trump did, Johnson intends to keep his name constantly in the news by making outrageous statements.