Rejected Republicans now seek revenge
Police Tape (AFP)

News coverage of failed GOP candidate Solomon Peña's arrest for allegedly orchestrating a plot to shoot up the homes of various elected Democrats has consistently highlighted one key detail: His claims to be the "real" winner of the race for New Mexico House District 14 are so ridiculous that it's hard not to laugh. Ever since Donald Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election, there's been an assumption that election denialists would at least try to make their claims a little plausible by only crying "fraud" in relatively close elections. Failed Republican Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, for instance, continues to proclaim herself the "real" winner of an election she lost last cycle by less than a percentage point. Peña, on the other hand, lost his bid for the New Mexico House of Representatives in the deep blue city of Albuquerque to Democrat Miguel Garcia by over 47 percentage points, garnering only 26.4% of the vote.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Prior to allegedly paying people to drive stolen cars to shoot at the homes of four Democratic officials, Peña was reported harassing various officials and insisting that he was the real winner of the race. Chilling video from the doorbell camera of former Bernalillo Commissioner Debbie O'Malley, whose home was later the target of an attempted shooting, shows an agitated Peña at her door, demanding a conversation about his delusions.

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

The standard take on this is indisputable: This is the natural outcome of Trump's Big Lie. "What we're seeing now are the results of the way that Donald Trump opened the door," Lindsay Schubiner, programs director at the Western States Center told Vox. The conspiracy theories that led to January 6 are ongoing, and so, therefore, is the political violence they inspire.

But in another sense, the root cause of such political violence runs even deeper than that. Peña's alleged plot is the latest manifestation of a deeper and expanding malady affecting Republicans nationwide: A refusal to accept that their political views are simply unpopular. When faced with proof that they and their ideas are being rejected, rather than reform or at least try to recast their ideas, Republicans often turn to conspiracy theories about sinister forces working against them. In the right-wing imagination, the problem could never be that people have heard their ideas and decided they just don't like them. Blame is instead put on "woke" educators or Hollywood manipulators "brainwashing" the masses. The "deep state," meanwhile, supposedly steals elections. And the "globalists" (read: Jews) somehow pull all of the strings.

This week, Kaitlyn Tiffany of the Atlantic reported on one of the funnier headaches Tesla CEO Elon Musk invited into his life by buying Twitter to cater to right-wingers: Conservative users who insist dark forces are suppressing their god-given right to way more followers. Prior to Musk's takeover, conservatives routinely insisted that their failure to see tweets go viral must be due to "shadowbanning," a mostly-imaginary practice of social media companies reducing a tweet's weight in an algorithm to hide a toxic viewpoint. Musk promised he'd stop the "shadowbanning" — which, easy enough, since it's not really a thing — but, of course, conservative Twitter users are still claiming their low engagement rates must be due to these alleged shadowbans. Tiffany writes:

Musk recently added "View" counts to the bottom of tweets, presumably with the intention of equipping users with data and giving them greater insight into whether others actually are seeing their tweets and just not liking them. This effort appeared to mostly anger people: The numbers were smaller than expected, which served as more evidence of shadowbanning.

What else are they going to do? Admit that most people just don't like them? They're no more going to admit that than Trump admits he lost the 2020 election. Instead, a conspiracy theory is plugged in to explain how unpopular right-wing accounts are actually beloved by the masses.

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

Watching Twitter users like "Catturd" whine that they'd be getting more retweets but for the "shadow-ban" is funny. Less so is this article from the New York Post about reactionary parents who are estranged from their children, and have chosen to blame "woke brainwashing" instead of their own bad choices. The Post, being a right-wing rag, is totally credulous in the face of stories of parents who want to hire "deprogrammers" to fix their supposedly brainwashed kids.

"While Peña took it to a near-deadly level, the basic premise he was working under is widespread on the right."

"I've had fights with some of my girls just because I wouldn't get myself a Rainbow pride Starbucks cup," one woman, who unconvincingly claims to be "a Democrat and a liberal," told the Post. One child hasn't spoken to her in four years and the other in a year, which she chalks up not to anything she's done, but to the kids being "politically correct."

Another woman claims that her daughter abandoned her "because we're conservatives and that we all should be against men."

If you're skeptical that you're getting the full story from these women, you should be — their children were not interviewed. (The Post says they reached out to two but got no response, which is likely not a sign of "woke brainwashing" but frustration with an overbearing mother who sicced a Rupert Murdoch-owned organization against them.) Both women tacitly admit that their daughters are lesbians while insisting homophobia is not at the center of the fight, leaving one to suspect that the fight over a Starbucks cup was not actually over a Starbucks cup.

Trump's narcissism is no longer just his individual psychological damage, but the systematic structure of the GOP.

Indeed, the article glowingly quotes self-proclaimed "deprogrammer" Ted Patrick: "You've got to get these kids alone. I've snatched people from Yale." Unmentioned in the article is that another word for "snatching" is "kidnapping," or that Patrick and his clients have a long history of legal battles stemming from taking adults against their will to "cure" them of behaviors like being in a same-sex relationship or joining more liberal churches than their parents liked. He's done time in prison for this crime.

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

Tempting as it is to write these two off as truly deluded outliers, the truth is the New York Post ran this article because they thought a lot of readers would see sympathetic victims of "wokeness" where the rest of us see narcissistic bullies. It goes to show that, while Peña took it to a near-deadly level, the basic premise he was working under is widespread on the right. Conservatives increasingly feel emboldened to tell themselves that it's impossible that they or their ideas could be honestly rejected. Instead, they react to the word "no" like a stalker ex-boyfriend, as permission to use coercive tactics.

People who refuse to take "no" for an answer have always been a problem, of course. But in the era of Trump, that toxic behavior is being validated and mainstreamed as the standard Republican practice. Trump's narcissism is no longer just his individual psychological damage, but the systematic structure of the GOP.

It's a soothing myth, of course, to believe that your failures to persuade others are not on you, but the fault of shadowy conspiracies. But the danger is that such a belief ends up, as the frightening "deprogramming" rhetoric shows, justifying the use of force where persuasion fails. Because of this, Peña's alleged crimes cannot be dismissed as outlier violence. He is simply the logical conclusion of the increasingly standard Republican view that conservatism can never fail, but can only be failed.