When Donald Trump congratulated Laura Loomer, an Islamophobe and conspiracy theorist, on her Republican congressional primary victory this week, it seemed to bring the president’s version of the Republican party full-circle to the start of his rise.
Trump opened his 2016 presidential campaign by claiming Mexico was sending drug dealers and rapists to the US. He followed that up in office by implementing a travel ban on majority Muslim countries, and later refused to condemn white supremacists.
In that context, Loomer’s triumph in Trump’s own Florida voting district, is indicative of a broader pattern of prejudice and misinformation running through the modern day Republican party – which is now undeniably shaped in Trump’s image.
Loomer has been banned from all the most prominent social media networks for promoting hate speech, has said she wants more migrants to die, and last year said “nobody cares about Christchurch” after a shooting at a mosque in New Zealand killed 51 people.
She is just one of a slew of extreme Republicans who are running for office this year. Many have been endorsed by Trump.
“Great going Laura,” Donald Trump tweeted after Loomer won the primary on Wednesday.
Great going Laura. You have a great chance against a Pelosi puppet! https://t.co/pKZp35dUYr
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2020
While Loomer may espouse the most dangerous beliefs of all the Republicans to win primaries this year, it’s a tight contest.
Media Matters, a not-for-profit progressive research center which monitors misinformation, has counted 67 current or former rightwing congressional candidates who have embraced QAnon, a conspiracy theory based in antisemitic tropes which has incited supporters to violence and is popular among Trump supporters.
Angela Stanton King, a QAnon believer who claimed Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter were a screen “for pedophilia and human trafficking”, won an uncontested primary in Georgia in July.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, who said the election of the first two Muslim women to Congress in 2018 was evidence of an “Islamic invasion of our government”, will also run for office in Georgia.
“A big winner. Congratulations!” Trump tweeted after Greene’s victory in June.
A big winner. Congratulations! https://t.co/ZsL3YA33H8
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2020
Loomer is unlikely to defeat congressman Lois Frankel in her heavily Democratic district, while Stanton King, running to replace Democratic civil rights leader John Lewis, who died in July, is also a long shot.
Others, like Lauren Boebert, in Colorado, is the favorite in her race for a seat in the House of Representatives. Win or lose, however, the extremist candidates are still given an opportunity to make their voice heard.
“It shows a disconnect between Republican leadership and the Republican base,” said Jared Holt, research associate at People for the American Way, which seeks to combat right-wing extremism.
“Loomer’s victory shows that despite Republican leadership’s insistence that the party is on the up and up, and committed to a set of deeply held values, that the base is interested in Trumpism 100%.
That need to avoid alienating the Trumpian base has led to the Republican party in Florida backing Loomer.
“Congratulations @RepLauraLoomer on your victory!” the Florida GOP tweeted on Tuesday. “We look forward to you defeating @RepLoisFrankel.”
— Florida GOP (@FloridaGOP) August 19, 2020
Loomer has also been promoted by Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time friend who the president recently pardoned, and Matt Gaetz, a Trump sycophant who represents Florida’s first district.
There are few Republicans willing to condemn Loomer and the other Trump extremists – and those who will go on the record tend to be on their way out of the party.
“I’ve always said we need a big tent party. I just didn’t think it would turn into a carnival tent,” Republican congressman Denver Riggleman, who was defeated by a far-right challenger in his Virginia GOP primary race earlier this year, told the Hill.
“Candidates like this really actually hurt our profile, because it overshadows the great work that’s being done by legitimate members.”
But the condemnation is sparse. Republicans in office are well aware of Trump’s vengeance should they speak out against him.
On 4 June, after Trump’s former defense secretary Jim Mattis issued a statement excoriating the president, Alaska Republican senator Lisa Murkowski said she was “struggling” over whether to vote for Trump.
Within hours, Trump attacked her on Twitter.
“Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the Great State of Alaska (which I love) campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski,” Trump wrote. “Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!”
Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the Great State of Alaska (which I love) campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski. She voted against HealthCare, Justice Kavanaugh, and much else…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2020
It was a stark contrast with his praise of Loomer, who despite her longshot candidacy, represents a serious threat.
“I absolutely think we should be concerned,” said Holt.
“Loomer’s victory represents, at least to some degree, a stamp of approval from Trump voters on the messages she espouses, the way she conducts herself in public.”
Given Loomer is now a legitimate, nominated candidate in an actual election, it also means journalists are obligated to cover her, irrespective of her extremist racist beliefs.
That could lead to further promotion – inadvertently – of the racism and conspiracy theories Loomer and others espouse.
It’s causing problems for newsrooms, as they grapple with this new wave of Republican candidates – one issue being how to label people like Loomer.
“Just calling her far right does not fully explain what she is about,” Holt said.
“It is unavoidable for a lot of reporters to cover her election victory at this point. And that coverage is OK – as long as it properly explains her extreme views.
“When you cover her, you can at least bring the proper context, and a full picture of who she is as a candidate.”
Originally published: 2020-08-24 03:30:20