Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), left, campaigning for president in January 2016, shares a laugh with Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, center, and Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., at a campaign stop in Fenton, Iowa.  (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

The right wing’s iron triangle — President Trump’s White House, Fox News and the Trump cultists — had a bad day Tuesday. Consider all that occurred.

Trump threw out the notion that he’d pursue birthright citizenship repeal via an executive order, whereupon the mainstream media called out the stunt and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), belatedly discovering his political spine, said, “You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order.”

Trump insisted on going to Pittsburgh for a photo op, which House and Senate majority and minority leaders, Pittsburgh’s mayor and the Pennsylvania governor refused to attend given that the city is in the midst of holding massive funerals for the 11 murdered Jews. The day was about them, not Trump. Desperate to have company, he got Israel’s ambassador, Ron Dermer, to go with him. Meanwhile, a sizable group of protesters sang, prayed and objected to his visit. (Not even the family of murdered Daniel Stein, 71, wanted to meet with Trump.)

The Associated Press reported, “Robert Mueller’s office has referred to the FBI allegations that women were ‘offered money to make false claims’ about the special counsel, according to Mueller’s spokesman . . . The statement didn’t specify what the claims were, but the referral to the FBI — and a rare public statement about it from the special counsel’s office — suggests that Mueller’s office believed there was a potential crime for federal law enforcement to investigate.” An outfit called Surefire Intelligence allegedly was hired by GOP conspiratorialist Jack Burkman, who supposedly offered $20,000 to a woman who said she barely met Mueller at a law firm where Mueller worked to claim he sexually harassed her. (The law firm doesn’t  have records of her employment.) The kicker, Natasha Bertrand reported, sounds like the operation was on a par with buffoons’ scheme to break skater Nancy Kerrigan’s leg:

Surefire’s domain records list an email for another pro-Trump conspiracy theorist, Jacob Wohl, who began hyping a “scandalous” Mueller story on Tuesday morning. Wohl told The Daily Beast that Burkman had hired Surefire to assist with his investigation into Mueller’s past, but denied knowing anything about the firm’s involvement in an alleged plot to fabricate allegations against Mueller when asked why his email address appeared in the domain records. He did not respond when asked by NBC why a number listed on Surefire’s website referred callers to another number that is listed in public records as belonging to Wohl’s mother.

It’s not clear if Wohl lived in his mother’s home (or maybe the basement thereof). Fiction writers rarely make up characters this stupid.

Finally, on an already poor day for xenophobic right wingers, “The chairman of the House Republican campaign arm on Tuesday condemned recent remarks made by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on white nationalism, becoming the highest-profile GOP leader to rebuke the lawmaker to date,” The Post reported. (Why he wasn’t thrown out of the caucus years ago is something he should explain.) The Post also reports, “Land O’Lakes has withdrawn its support of a conservative lawmaker after the dairy company’s political donation churned up online cries for a boycott of its products.” It surely seems that some of King’s support is melting away; a new poll has him in a statistical tie with his Democratic opponent.

Is this all Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera or is it a sign that dangerous authoritarian nationalists are running wild? There are two competing takes.

One perspective is that these people aren’t evil geniuses; they’re clowns. They can be exposed, mocked and beaten. The other take is that right-wing extremists often seem clownish from the outside but their loony rhetoric and hoopla (biggest crowd ever!) should not be taken as a sign they are incapable of doing terrible damage to a democracy.

You don’t need to go back to 1930s Europe to see this latter phenomenon — just take a look at Brazil, Poland, Hungary, Italy and Turkey. It’s tempting to laugh off the antics of right-wing nationalists, but we do so at our peril.

Certainly, they don’t really have the capacity to govern or engage in rational debate, but that’s sort of the point. Their goal is to disrupt, discredit government, confuse or eradicate truth and induce the people simply to put faith in a cultish leader. There’s nothing the least bit amusing about that.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: Trump’s hate and lies are failing. Two new studies show why.

Paul Waldman: If Republicans keep their hold on Congress, things will get worse

Jennifer Rubin: Trump finally gets the shunning he deserves

Jennifer Rubin: Another Cabinet official is under an ethics cloud — yet Congress does nothing