Yesterday, a prominent Republican who has squandered his reputation for sobriety plunged headlong into nuttery by promoting a series of wild conspiracies promoted by Donald Trump.
Wait. Actually this happened twice yesterday. Not only did Rudy Giuliani direct a circus-like hearing to advance his theory that Zombie Hugo Chavez stole the 2020 election, but Senator Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, also held a hearing to promote the benefits of hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19.
Johnson is one of Trump’s more energetic defenders in the Senate, and has used his committee to promote the president’s unfounded claims that Joe Biden was up to no good in Ukraine. He has also spent months assailing public-health officials for refusing to support the use of hydroxychloroquine.
If you have already forgotten the whole hydroxychloroquine thing, Trump used to tout it as a miracle cure, and members of the Trump cult fervently insisted he was correct, seizing on any scrap of positive evidence to support his case. But evidence piled up against its efficacy. By June, the FDA revoked emergency-use authorization for the drug, concluding it was ineffective. Trump hasn’t mentioned hydroxychloroquine in weeks and weeks.
Johnson, though, hasn’t forgotten. Yesterday’s hearing featured a stacked witness list, with three of the few remaining oddball supporters of the drug arguing against well-regarded Harvard public-health expert Ashish Jha. Johnson railed against “the disinformation, the scaremongering, and the prescription log jam that has been created by bureaucrats.”
One might wonder why Johnson, whose committee covers homeland security, would probe questions of medical efficacy that lie far beyond his realm of pseudo-expertise. One might also wonder why he would revive this claim long after Trump himself has walked away from it. (When the president contracted COVID-19, he did not bother to take, or even claim to take, hydroxychloroquine.)
One answer is that many Republican elites do not support Trump out of fear, or even merely out of a shared political interest, neither of which would be reasons for Johnson to hold a hearing after an election Trump has lost. In many cases, they consume the same right-wing news sources and believe in the same conspiracy theories.
In this instance, Johnson’s promotion of the hydroxychloroquine conspiracy theory was overshadowed by another Trump supporters promoting an even wilder conspiracy theory. The fact that it did not even register in the news tells you something about the state of their political party.