Is Ron Johnson the New Trump?
The nation's new leader in peddling conspiracy theories. Is he planning a run for president?
Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson made the front page, top of the fold, in the New York Times this morning, with the headline “Untruths Flow From Senator, Shaking Trust” and the subhead, “Conspiracies Spurred by Wisconsin’s Johnson.”
Calling Johnson “an all-access purveyor of misinformation on serious issues,” the Times story declared that the senator “has become the Republican Party’s foremost amplifier of conspiracy theories and disinformation now that Donald Trump himself is banned from social media and largely avoiding appearances on cable television.”
If the goal is to replace Trump as the nation’s leading peddler of misinformation and conspiracy theories, why not hire the president’s former director of media affairs, who is an expert in that department.
And increasingly, that seems to be the goal for Johnson. In March alone, Johnson has made “at least 15 appearances on 11 different radio shows,” the Times noted. And Johnson has picked up the pace on Twitter, where he offered some 55 tweets to his 237,000 followers.
He was discussed on all the Sunday morning news shows yesterday, and has been a frequent topic of discussion on the influential Morning Joe show in the last week.
Johnson has become a national lightning rod, “remarkably adept at adopting the misinformation that increasingly animated Fox News commentators and right-wing talk radio,” the Times observes. Christian Schneider, a former Republican political operative and frequent defender of Johnson back when Schneider was a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, offered this view of the senator to the Times: “Through the years, as the party has morphed into a muscular ignorance, Q-Anon sect, he’s followed along with them.
Johnson’s “continuing assault on the truth, often under the guise of simply ‘asking questions’ about established facts, is helping to diminish confidence in American institutions at a perilous moment, when the health and economic well-being of the nation relies heavily on mass vaccinations, and when faith in democracy is shaken by right-wing falsehoods about voting,” the Times story notes.
Yes, Johnson has always made some questionable claims, but never so often or so aggressively. His most recent claim came on Saturday, about the U.S. Capitol riot, telling a group of conservative Republicans that “There was much more violence on the House side. There was no violence on the Senate side, in terms of the chamber.” In fact, Trump supporters stormed the chamber shortly after senators were evacuated.
There is another possibility, that Johnson is laying the groundwork for a run for president, something I’m told he flirted with during his first term as senator. If that’s the plan, you don’t want to run for reelection. as that might require you to moderate your views in order to run up the score in Republican counties like Waukesha and Ozaukee, where many voters deserted Trump in 2020. And it would require, should you get reelected Senator, to make some votes that might compromise your image when you enter the 2024 Republican primary.
But it you don’t run for reelection, you’re free to position yourself as the most Trump-like Republican in America, a businessman like Trump and now “target No. 1” of the radical left, as Johnson recently dubbed himself — and spend the next two years courting Fox, the conservative media and influential conservative groups. Hiring the Trump aides will be a big help with that and is a sign that Johnson has a much bigger goal than to be reelected senator