How many millions of words have been exhausted by pundits trying to figure out what appeal Donald Trump has to the MAGA base? For years, theories were floated about his "populism" and the way that his run on "The Apprentice" deluded people into thinking he was actually a successful businessman. Much digital ink was spilled wondering how his followers didn't notice his comical comb-over, orange make-up and the massive gap between his self-image as a tough manly man and the doughy senior citizen that he actually is. The curiosity lingers: What accounts for the charisma that his followers see that is utterly invisible to people with any modicum of decency?
Turns out the secret to Trump's success was not all that mysterious and staring us right in the face, 240 illiterate letters at a time: The man is a relentless Twitter troll.
So "relentless Twitter troll" is now the main skillset required not just to skyrocket to the top of the GOP attention economy, but to become the de facto party leader. When Republicans think of who they want as their leader for both the policy agenda and political strategy, the main thing they're now looking for is someone with that right combination of total moral depravity and desperation for attention that drives them to abuse social media in the worst possible way.
We know this to be true because in the months since Trump was kicked off Twitter and Facebook for inciting a violent insurrection, Republicans found a new person to be the party leader in all but name: An anonymous Twitter troll who posts under the name "Libs of TikTok."
Well, she was anonymous until this week, when heroic Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, who deserves all the Pultizers, published the name of the masked queen of the GOP: Chaya Raichik, a Brooklyn-based real estate salesperson. From the safety of anonymity, Raichik reposts TikTok videos made by ordinary Americans, mostly LGBTQ people, "often including incendiary framing designed to generate outrage." Videos originally meant for small and friendly audiences are dangled out for the right's daily Two Minutes Hate sessions. Raichik uses accusations of "grooming" to justify what is, in reality, a virtual effort to revive the practice of gay-bashing. All the worst people in America — including Fox News hosts and Joe Rogan — adore the account. Meanwhile, people have lost jobs and been subject to terror campaigns due to Raichik's abuse.
The uncut sociopathy on display at Raichick's account means that, without even revealing her identity, she has become what Lorenz describes as "an agenda-setter in right-wing online discourse," and what Media Matters staffer Ari Drennen characterized as "a wire service for the broader right-wing media ecosystem." Her targeted harassment often goes viral and is frequently shared on Fox News for a national audience.
Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.
But Raichik hasn't been just the functional editorial director of Fox News. Her relentless drumbeat of queerphobia has, seemingly overnight, reshaped the entire political agenda of the GOP. On the state level, Republican lawmakers have focused their energies on crushing LGBTQ rights with "don't say gay" laws, bans on gender-affirming care, and even forcing CPS workers to harass families with trans kids. On the Senate level, Republicans have circled back to the idea of overturning Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. In Tennessee, a bill meant to remake marriage into a straights-only institution has already been filed.
"Triggering the liberals" is the main reason for being a Republican these days.
What's notable about all these efforts is that, following Raichik's lead, Republicans rarely bother to make coherent arguments against LGBTQ rights. Instead, their rhetorical strategy is focused mainly on trolling, primarily in the form of calling anyone who argues against these bigoted policies a "groomer." No one who flings that word around, of course, actually thinks that LGBTQ people and their allies are in a conspiracy to sexually abuse children. It's a pure troll, meant to be so beyond the pale that even responding to it slimes the person falsely accused. Republicans are so excited by this troll that they even used it to smear Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson with similar insinuations during her Senate confirmation hearing. No one believed the accusations — in fact, her approval ratings went up in response — but persuasion is not the point. The point of the troll is to get everyone arguing about the false accusation of "groomer" so that they're not arguing about the real issue here: LGBTQ rights.
Not surprising from a party that is so unable to defend their policy preferences that they got rid of the party platform and have pulled out of nationally televised debates. When Sen. Rick Scott of Florida tried to issue a shadow party platform that called for ending Social Security and raising taxes on disabled people and veterans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded with anger. No one is to puncture the bubble of secrecy that's been established around what Republicans actually stand for. No one knows better than Republican leaders that their actual ideas are indefensible. Instead of trying to defend their ideas, they instead mire the public debate in bullshit and noise through relentless trolling.
It works in no small part because ordinary Republican voters care little about policy, and are mainly focused on tribalistic hatred and resentment of liberals. "Triggering the liberals" is the main reason for being a Republican these days. The new class of Republican leaders are selected mainly for their trolling skills. That's why people like McConnell or House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy may be the nominal leaders of the GOP, but the people they answer to are insurrectionist dirtbags like Georgia's Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. These folks have nothing positive to offer the world, but they are extremely good at trolling. The result is that the official party leaders cater to the trolls, letting them set the agenda and never putting up any real resistance to their excesses.
Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.
Of course, the most dramatic example of this phenomenon is former president Donald Trump, a man who loves Vladimir Putin and declared on national television that injecting bleach into your lungs might be a good cure for COVID-19. He's a man without conscience and without reading skills beyond the third grade. He is also the god-king of the GOP. He sits on his throne in Mar-A-Lago, watching Republican politicians debase themselves before him to get his approval out of the hope that his trollish grace will result in electoral wins. They don't respect him or like him, but he is a very good troll who reliably triggers the liberals, so they must pay fealty.
Republicans would rather engage in a go-nowhere debate over what is "doxxing" rather than answer hard questions about why they've made such a monstrous person their de facto leader.
Of course, Trump has been deprived of what remains the most potent weapon in the troll's arsenal: social media. Without it, his provocations often go into the ether, with nary a liberal triggered or a reporter even paying attention. And not for lack of trying, either. On Monday, Trump issued a press release that basically called on Ukraine to surrender (though he tried to spin the demand as "working out some kind of agreement" with Putin) and threatened "everyone will be DEAD" if they don't stop fighting the Russian invasion. Leveraging genocidal threats against a fledgling democracy is nuclear grade sociopathy, but Trump barely made a ripple with it. Without social media, his trolling is mostly stillborn.
Raichik, on the other hand, still has a Twitter account and is still using it to dish up bloody red meat to the ugliest souls in America. And even when she was outed, she and her defenders continued to use trolling as their main rhetorical strategy. They're currently pretending to be outraged at Lorenz "doxxing" Raichik. This is, of course, laughable bad faith, since the entire point of Libs of TikTok is to expose private citizens to millions of bigots who will harass them, threaten them, and try to get them fired. But miring the public discourse in a bad faith "debate" over doxxing is about making sure people aren't talking about what really matters here: That one of the two main political parties in the country takes their marching orders from an anonymous Twitter troll who has dedicated her life to personally ruining people's lives to punish them for being queer.
One can see why Republicans would rather engage in a go-nowhere debate over what is "doxxing" rather than answer hard questions about why they've made such a monstrous person their de facto leader. There are no good answers to those questions. The real answers are "we suck" and "holy crap, we are the absolute worst." They know they can never win a public debate based on reason and evidence, which is why they resort to childish, bigoted provocation. It's a reminder why Trump and his acolytes turned to violence on January 6, which Raichik apparently bragged about participating in. They have nothing to offer, in terms of persuasive arguments or meaningful ideas. All they have is inchoate hate. The entire Libs of TikTok debacle is yet more proof that the party of Trump is nothing but a troll nation.