So far, 2019 hasn’t been a great year for the ratfuckers. The old masters of the style, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, are now doing time or contemplating the prospect, having made the mistake of attaching themselves to the one politician who was more outrageous than they were.
And the new guys carrying on in their place—well, have you seen them? They’re a disgrace. The GOP’s foremost budding dirty trickster is a youth named Jacob Wohl, a millionaire failson most recently seen trying to enlist a young gay Republican to make a false rape accusation against South Bend mayor and Democratic presidential flavor-of-the-month Pete Buttigieg. On Monday, the scheme achieved liftoff—and then promptly fell apart: The college student who had made the allegation told the Daily Beast that the whole thing had been Wohl’s idea, and that the allegation itself, written and published in a Medium post on Monday, had been written by Wohl and posted without his consent.
To anyone familiar with Wohl’s oeuvre, this was shocking, but not surprising. It isn’t that he lacks the misanthropic amorality and delusions of grandeur that are the prerequisite for anybody who wants to break into the ratfucking game—he proved he had generous supplies of both during his high school years, which he spent play-acting at being a Wall Street wunderkind while habitually hoodwinking his investors, earning himself a lifetime ban on trading from the National Futures Association before he could even drink. It’s more that his schemes are just very, very, very stupid. The Buttigieg smear wasn’t even the first time he’s tried this exact move: Last year, Wohl tried to orchestrate a false allegation of rape against special counsel Robert Mueller, including throwing a dramatic press conference at which, he maintained, a woman would come forward to accuse Mueller publicly. (No woman ever appeared, although Wohl stuck around to stumble through some Q&A with an audience of increasingly amused reporters.)
Months later, Wohl could be found tooling around Minneapolis with alt-right clout-chaser Laura Loomer, trying to pump some life into old conspiracy theories that freshman Democrat Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American immigrant, had committed immigration fraud by marrying her brother. This stunt, too, was accompanied by a goofy press conference, this time in the lobby of CPAC.
It’s all very tiring, the kind of stuff that almost makes you nostalgic for the old guard. At least the Roger Stones of the world, for all the damage they did over the years, had a kind of lowbrow panache—a fondness for the baroque aspiration of triple-bankshot schemes and shady backroom deals. Stone was larger than life: the sartorial extravagance, the “Stone’s Rules,” the swinging scandals. He was a serious operative doing bits. Wohl and his compadres are the opposite: they’re performatively grave goofballs, knitting their brows through boring, ludicrous press conferences with their flies undone.
What made them like this? It’s tempting to just write off Wohl as an edge case, an isolated and forgettable cretin. But the right’s other recent schemers don’t come across any better: Think of Project Veritas’s amateurish 2017 attempt to entrap the Washington Post by sending a staffer “undercover” to approach them with false rape allegations against then-Senate candidate Roy Moore (who was facing other . . . allegations . . . at the time). Or think of last year’s bizarre, ill-conceived, ill-fated attempt to throw a North Carolina congressional election to Republican Mark Harris through election fraud—a fraud that, after being quickly discovered, required a whole new special election. The common thread here is the thinness of the schemes—how did anyone possibly think they would get away with this kind of thing?
It’s not comprehensive, but let me present a theory.
The modus operandi of the old ratfuckers was based on a particular view of the political world: That people thought things were mostly on the up-and-up, and wanted them to stay that way. Getting by on dirty tricks, they believed, was tricky—you had to be cunning, vigilant, prepared, and industrious, because you not only had to win—you had to appear to have won honestly.
The new class, meanwhile, holds the opposite view: along with much of the right, they’re convinced that nothing in politics is on the up-and-up. These are the people who think everything is a false-flag, or a conspiracy, or the work of shadowy leftist forces. They’ve heard for years, for example, that Democrats are getting away with murder on voter fraud, on spurious sex assault accusations, and the like—and they’ve thought most of the public was just too dumb to notice.
And so they decided, Hey, how hard could it be?