Opinion writer

President Trump, who is now intently focused on the new conservative strategy of pushing the base to the polls by telling it that maniacally violent Democratic “mobs” are rampaging through the streets and must be stopped, took some me time Tuesday morning for his favorite TV show, “Fox & Friends,” and this was the result:

In case you’re wondering what this is in reference to, Trump was live-tweeting the show when Asra Nomani, discussing a piece she wrote for the Wall Street Journal called “George Soros’s March On Washington,” said that in response to her article, “people have sent me lots of messages that they’re waiting for their check.”

Surely Nomani is not so spectacularly dumb as to not realize that those messages are sarcastic. After all, liberals often say this (“Darn, I’ve been to five protests and haven’t gotten a single check from Soros!”) to mock the idea that Soros pays protesters. But apparently there was at least one Fox News viewer who thought it was serious.

We know the “angry mobs!” strategy is about promoting fear and anger, because that’s the strategy Trump always returns to in critical moments. And right now, his allies are feverishly working to convince Republican voters that Democrats may be literally coming to kill them. “The average citizen, if you’re on the right, should be concerned and in danger,” said Fox’s Tomi Lahren. Yes, it’s about creating fear and hatred. But here’s another question worth asking: Why is it that when Republicans protest, raise their voices and get angry, we’re supposed to regard it as righteous, appropriate and even worthy of celebration?

That’s how Brett M. Kavanaugh’s display of anger at his hearing was widely greeted. And remember the tea party protests? They were often unspeakably ugly and hateful, but they were supposedly a vital manifestation of the feelings of American voters who had to be listened to.

Yet if Democrats protest, and if, heaven forbid, they raise their voices? Then they’re an “angry mob” on the verge of violence. They’re not people exercising their rights to protest; they’re a dire threat to democracy itself. Protesters, you see, have complaints that might need to be taken seriously. An angry mob, on the other hand, has no claims that require attention. It simply needs to be shut down for the sake of public safety. That’s different from a paid mob, but in both cases the purpose of the accusation is to shift focus away from the specific grievances that gave rise to the protest and on to the methods and character of the protest itself.

The idea that every time liberals mount a protest, it’s not a genuine expression of Americans’ opinions but a play staged by George Soros is a remarkably persistent fantasy. We hear this literally every single time there’s a large liberal protest, whether it’s the Women’s March or the anti-Kavanaugh demonstrations or any other mass gathering: The protesters were all paid by Soros!

In her op-ed, Nomani allows that “while most demonstrators are not paid for their efforts, the protests at the Capitol Saturday, and the ones that have included stalking lawmakers inside and outside their offices, are organized by groups of which Mr. Soros is an important patron.” This is a classic bit of misdirection, one that is representative of the kind of contempt conservative elites have for the base of the Republican Party. Though Nomani herself says she is a Trump-supporting liberal, her blockbuster revelation is that many of the groups active in the Capitol Hill protest — such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Planned Parenthood — have gotten support from Soros.

Of course they have. He’s a very rich man who contributes to liberal organizations — just like a lot of rich people contribute to conservative organizations. And when those groups participate in protests, some of them send their staffers who are experienced at organizing protests, to help maximize the political efficacy of the event. The liberal ones do it, and the conservative ones do it.

Conservative elites understand perfectly well how mundane that is, but they also quite like to spread the false idea that at any liberal protest, the protesters themselves are being paid to attend by George Soros. The conservative elites don’t for a second miss the anti-Semitic undertones in the conspiracy of the Jewish financier acting as international puppetmaster, but that’s fine with them. They look at the rank-and-file conservatives who are the targets for these stories and say, That’s it, lap it up, you rubes.

Interestingly enough, the only person in American politics who has actually paid participants to show up to a political event in recent years is, you guessed it, Donald Trump. But ordinarily, paying protesters makes about as much sense as trying to steal an election through voter impersonation: It would be terribly inefficient, and if you did it you’d probably be found out.

Yet Republican elites keep feeding their base the idea, even though they know how ludicrous it is. Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa senator who chairs the committee that was supposed to evaluate Kavanaugh’s nomination in a serious manner, recently pretended to believe this as well. Soon afterward, Trump tweeted this:

This isn’t even the only preposterous conspiracy theory going around right now. Republicans are still spinning fantasies about how Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations were either invented or orchestrated in a complex plot dating back months, positing her not as a victim who chose to come forward (which is the truth) but as someone who was manipulated into doing so by scheming Democrats. This isn’t something being said by nutballs posting to their YouTube channels. Such whacked-out theories are also being pushed by a United States senator and a prominent conservative radio host.

The purpose is the same: If you say Ford was part of a conspiracy, you no longer need to consider her story. She can be defined as simply illegitimate. Likewise, if the Democrats are merely a mob, you don’t have to listen to their arguments for why they would be better for the country than Republicans. As Trump said recently at a rally in his prepared remarks, “You don’t hand matches to an arsonist, and you don’t give power to an angry left-wing mob. That’s what they have become. The Democrats have become too extreme and too dangerous to govern.”

We cannot overstate how important this argument — that Democrats are fundamentally illegitimate in every aspect of their participation — is becoming to the GOP. That’s because Republicans are facing long-term crisis. The president was elected by a minority of the voters, and senators elected by a minority of the voters just confirmed a Supreme Court nominee who was supported by a minority and will swing the court dramatically to the right in opposition to the desires of most Americans. And it is entirely possible that Republicans could lose the popular vote this fall and still hold on to both houses of Congress.

Never before has one party been this unpopular and had this much power. So in order to sustain its own legitimacy, it must define the other party as illegitimate now matter how many Americans support it — not just in its hopes to govern but in everything it does.

Read more:

Catherine Rampell: The one conspiracy theory that Republicans won’t believe

Greg Sargent: Think Trump and GOP minority rule is bad now? Here’s how it could get much worse.

Ed Rogers: Democrats look, shout and storm like a mob

Paul Waldman: Republicans are already spinning their own myth about the Kavanaugh controversy

Jennifer Rubin: So you want to change the Senate?