Another fantasy bites the dust.
Despite breathless, reverential, tender, loving coverage for his opponent from a few corners of the right-wing media world, Paul Ryan isn’t going anywhere. He handily bested his primary challenger, businessman Paul Nehlen, by upwards of 80 points at press time.
There was no reason to expect any other outcome. Ryan led in every poll, and his approval ratings in his district are consistently high. In fact, he’s one of the most popular Republicans in the Badger State; after assuming the Speakership, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that moderates and independents liked him more than ever.
But there was no point tell that to the right-wing media figures who set up camp in Nehlen and Co.’s fantasy land. The same pundits who seem wholly convinced that Trump is definitely going to be president also hopped on the Nehlen Train -- which may raise some questions about their prescience. Nehlen’s campaign operated in an alternate universe of chem trails and conspiracy theories. Thanks to his loss, that universe is a little smaller.
But though Nehlen’s campaign is now over, the media figures who fueled it are unlikely to feel chastened. Breitbart, an increasingly hilarious collection of Trump fanfic, touted Nehlen’s candidacy with breathless glee -- and was braced for his defeat long before the final numbers rolled in.
“Ann Coulter Lights Wisconsin on Fire for Paul Nehlen Against Paul Ryan,” read a headline on Aug. 6. “‘This is It, This is Your Last Chance to Save America.’”
Sorry, America. Ann Coulter thinks you’re doomed.
An Aug. 9 headline on the site quoted Nehlen as saying, “Paul Ryan is a soulless, globalist snake, and we smoked him out of the snake hole.”
That, in retrospect, is so wrong it’s adorable.
When Breitbart wasn’t providing succor to Nehlen’s campaign, he found lots of friendly attention from a blog called TheConservativeTreehouse -- mostly known for its efforts to smear Trayvon Martin. Bloggers there love Nehlen, and refer to his race as “The Battle of Janesville.” Nehlen loves them too; he tweeted out their stories about his race, as well as one suggesting Philando Castile -- the African-American Minnesota man shot and killed by police in July -- had it coming.
Nehlen got a little less help from his most prominent endorser. In May, Sarah Palin promised CNN she would work to boost Nehlen’s bid.
If by “work” she meant “post about on Facebook a few times,” then she made good on her word. The governor-turned-reality television star never set foot in the district.
Collectively, Coulter, Palin, and Breitbart set Nehlen up for the night’s humiliation. Even Trump, for the most part, stayed out. He flirted with Nehlen a bit early last week, tweeting at him to thank him for his “kind words.” But by the end of the week, he’d officially endorsed Paul Ryan -- at an event Ryan skipped. Nehlen put on his favorite tie and drove three hours to attend that Trump rally in Green Bay, according to the Washington Post, but couldn’t get in.
“They held me from going in. I said, ‘I have a ticket. I’m on the list to get into VIP,’ ” Nehlen told the paper. “And they said, ‘Nope, you’re not,’ and they pushed me back out.”
It would have been hard to watch if he hadn’t spent his campaign race-baiting and conspiracy-mongering. But, alas, that’s what he did. Nehlen referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as “#RadicalLeftWingTerrorism.” And he floated the idea of deporting all Muslims living in the U.S.
“I’m suggesting we have a discussion about it, that’s for sure,” he told a Chicago radio station on Aug. 4.
Unsurprisingly, white nationalists dig the guy.
Nehlen wrapped up his pre-primary media blitz with a hit on Alex Jones’ show. He appeared shortly after Jones plugged his “Anthroplex” product to boost male vitality.
“Everybody should get behind him,” the 9/11 truther said soberly.
“He is the head of the snake and we’re going to take him off, we’re going to cut the head off the snake,” Nehlen told Jones.
Jones then noted that the polls suggesting Ryan would win are “absolutely staged.”
“We’re sendin’ a message here,” Nehlen replied.
“Something’s going on here with these polls,” Jones reiterated.
Tonight’s results will give Jones plenty to chew on. For the rest of us, 2016 got slightly less silly.