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Opinion Uh-oh. Has Ron Johnson gotten into the ivermectin?

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) at the U.S. Capitol on June 23. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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A conspiracy theorist might wonder if Ron Johnson has been hitting the ivermectin too hard.

To be sure, there is zero factual basis for speculating that the Republican from Wisconsin, a.k.a. “the Senate’s leading conspiracy theorist,” has been indulging, much less overindulging, in the deworming medication, which, in too-high doses, has been known to cause “confusion.” Yet, you needn’t be Alex Jones to observe that Johnson — vaccine skeptic, covid junk scientist, ivermectin (and hydroxychloroquine!) champion, election denier, insurrection apologist and Russian propaganda promoter — has been exhibiting acute confusion over his role in promoting fake electors on Jan. 6, 2021.

Last week, the Jan. 6 House select committee revealed that Johnson’s chief of staff wrote to an aide to Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6 that “Johnson needs to hand” to Pence an “alternate slate of electors for MI and WI” but was shut down when Pence’s aide responded in the text exchange: “Do not give that to him.”

Johnson reacted to the fake-elector revelation by staging a fake phone call. As reporters followed him out of the Capitol, he held his phone to his ear, saying “I’m on the phone right now.”

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A reporter retorted: “No you’re not. I can see your phone. I can see your screen.”

Johnson, abandoning his imaginary caller, declared he “was basically unaware” of the fake-elector incident in question, adding, “I had no knowledge of this.” He also claimed it was “a staff-to-staff exchange” coming from “some staff intern” in the House.

But two days later, Johnson admitted that he was the one who received a text about the electors from a Trump lawyer seeking to overturn the election results, and that he then set up a text chain between his chief of staff and the lawyer. This time, Johnson claimed the matter originated with Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) — a claim Kelly’s office called “patently false.”

Johnson Explanation 3.0? It doesn’t matter, anyway. “There was never going to be a chance of disallowing any elector,” he told an activist in a video posted Monday. At last sighting, Johnson was in Wisconsin, dodging questions put to him by CNN’s Manu Raju.

A Johnson spokeswoman told me “there isn’t contradiction” between his accounts and alleged a “smear” by the Jan. 6 committee.

Telling lies is one thing. Contradicting one’s own lies repeatedly is rather different. Johnson is less untruthful than truthless: He seems to have no factual framework whatsoever. And this is a man who, as top-Republican on the investigations subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has been the Senate GOP’s lead investigator of the Biden administration and family. Johnson is running for reelection after previously vowing he would not.

Even as Johnson was giving his latest iteration of the fake-elector scandal on a radio talk show in Wisconsin last week, he debuted his latest conspiracy belief.

The host, Vicki McKenna, said she thought President Biden’s urging to prepare for a “second pandemic” was “a very curious thing to say especially since this particular pandemic came from a lab. One wonders whether the president’s got intel on another one coming down the pike, maybe to coincidentally time with the midterm election.”

Johnson responded: “They certainly were vested in creating a state of fear over the last one … So, yeah, I mean I would be suspicious of them.”

Johnson had previously suggested, among other things, that “standard gargle mouthwash” could be used as a covid-19 treatment, and he held several Senate hearings promoting covid untruths. YouTube suspended him for a week for violating its policy on medical misinformation. He said it “may be true” that the covid-19 vaccines cause AIDS and posited that professional athletes were “dropping dead on the field” from the vaccine. He suggested "breakthrough infections" proved there was no point in getting vaccinated, asserted vaccines were “quite unsafe” for pilots, and alleged that the unvaccinated were being consigned “basically into internment camps.”

Johnson’s 2020 investigation of the Biden family’s dealings in Ukraine prompted the FBI to give him a briefing cautioning him that he was a target of Russian disinformation, which was seeking to weaken the U.S. presence in the region.

After the 2020 election, Johnson claimed there were “so many irregularities” and joined with 10 Senate GOP colleagues in vowing to “reject the electors from disputed states as not …‘lawfully certified'.” (He abandoned the plan after the day’s violence).

He later argued that Jan. 6 “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection” and he attempted to blame the attack on Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and on “agents-provocateurs” who didn’t support Donald Trump.

Johnson, who on the day before the insurrection told states to “take control over your own elections,” now claims he was “just an innocent bystander” in the fake-electors scheme.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d say that’s the ivermectin talking.

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