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Image: Ron Johnson
Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., speaks at a hearing to examine the nomination of Neera Tanden, on Capitol Hill, on Feb. 10, 2021.Anna Moneymaker / Pool via Reuters file

Why Ron Johnson's ugly rhetoric about US 'demographics' matters

Ron Johnson's concerns about efforts to "remake" the nation's "demographics" were ugly, but they're also part of unmistakable pattern.


Fox News' Tucker Carlson sparked widespread criticisms last week when he echoed the "great replacement" conspiracy theory on the air. What was less obvious at the time was the degree to which this would spread on Capitol Hill.

"I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term 'replacement,' if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World," Carlson declared last week. "But they become hysterical because that's what's happening actually. Let's just say it: That's true."

As Media Matters explained soon after, the "great replacement" conspiracy theory "posits that a globalist cabal is systematically 'replacing' white people with people of color through mass immigration." With this in mind, some right-wing extremists celebrated Carlson's comments, while the Anti-Defamation League called on Fox News to fire the host.

It wasn't long before a toxic echo reverberated in some Republican circles. The Washington Post noted, for example, that Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) spoke up at a congressional hearing on Central American migrants, delivering rhetoric that sounded awfully similar to Carlson's.

"For many Americans," Perry said, "what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is, what appears to them is we're replacing national-born American -- native-born Americans to permanently transform the political landscape of this very nation."

It was against this backdrop that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) appeared on Fox Business yesterday, condemned Vice President Kamala Harris as being "completely AWOL" on matters related to the border, and appeared to dip his toes into the same waters as Carlson and Perry.

"[T]his administration wants complete open borders. And you have to ask yourself why? Is it really they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure their -- that they stay in power forever? Is that what's happening here?"

So, a few things.

First, the idea that the vice president is "completely AWOL" on matters related to the border is obviously untrue. Second, the idea that the Biden administration "wants complete open borders" is hopelessly bonkers, as the former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee knows.

But as important as those relevant details are, it's the degree to which Johnson's suggestion dovetails with Tucker Carlson's "replacement" rhetoric that's especially jarring. The wording obviously wasn't identical, but the similarities in sentiments are hardly subtle, and they reinforce larger concerns about the poison spreading, both on Capitol Hill and in conservative media.

The chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party last night accused Johnson of "parroting" the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, adding, in reference to the incumbent Republican lawmaker, "He shouldn't be anywhere near the United States Senate. If he doesn't do the right thing and resign, Wisconsinites are going to end his disgraceful political career [in 2022]."

All of this, of course, comes on the heels of a series of related Johnson controversies, including his efforts to downplay the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, his ridiculous conspiracy theories related to the 2020 presidential election, and his cringe-worthy nonsense related to the pandemic.

The Wisconsin Republican also spent much of last year going out of his way to light his credibility on fire.

Johnson's concerns about efforts to "remake" the nation's "demographics" were ugly, but they're also part of unmistakable pattern.