Quinn Mitchell is a New Hampshire 15-year-old with a political obsession and a podcast, and one who's already become a fixture of state political events over the last four years. He asks smart questions about current events—and politicians generally let him, since initiating a friendly back-and-forth with a teen or preteen questioner is one of the most reliable ways around to show you can "connect" with campaign crowds.
But Mitchell is also learning some valuable lessons about the state of Republican politics these days, and it all started because he asked presidential contender and current Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis one of those smart questions and the automaton blew out three pistons and the better part of a circuit board trying to formulate an answer.
The biggest lesson? You're never too young or too powerless to be put on a political party's permanent shit list, and there's no better way to find yourself there than to do something that makes an aspiring Dear Leader look bad.
The Washington Post has an update on Mitchell, who last Friday was escorted out of the state's Republican Leadership Summit by security after a party operative recognized him and accused him of being a Democrat and a "tracker."
"He said he was taken to a back room, where another GOP official accused him of misrepresenting himself and causing disturbances at previous events," reports the Post. That's when he was escorted out. He was eventually let back in again, presumably after someone in the building with two brain cells to rub together typed his name into Google and realized that their lower-level apparatchiks had managed a grade-A screwup on this one. Mitchell was again allowed to watch DeSantis speak, but the Post reports he "left when the governor started taking questions."
There are a whole host of important life lessons here for Mitchell, but the most pertinent one is that asking "hard questions" of Republican political leaders will immediately get you accused of being an enemy—a Democrat. You are not here to ask hard questions. You are here to make the pageantry for America's Next Dear Leader look good, and by God if you make one of the party's more powerful figures look bad even once you will be labeled, as Donald Trump so often puts it, an "enemy of the state." Mitchell was let back into the building this time, but it appears he has good enough instincts to have understood that opening his mouth a second time would likely have made the ban permanent.
The second-most pertinent lesson, however, is one provided by the press. The Post's feature on Mitchell pegs him as a teen who asks "tough questions" of political leaders, as if the 11- to 15-year-old has been peppering national leaders with questions about the potential role of large-scale plankton farming as mitigator of climate change. The questions Mitchell is described as asking are basic civic-minded questions that any political figure could be expected to engage on as a matter of course.
The question that caused DeSantis to fall flat on his authoritarian ass, for example, was: “Do you believe that Trump violated the peaceful transfer of power, a key principle of American democracy that we must uphold?”
The obviously correct answer is "yes." Politically expedient lies would either be "yes, but" or "no." It's not this kid's fault that DeSantis descended into paranoid gibberish, whining, "I wasn't anywhere near Washington that day" or "I have nothing to do with what happened that day," as if Mitchell was trying to Columbo him into a criminal confession. Nobody could have expected that the petty Florida tyrant would crumble so completely.
But he did, and that made Mitchell an immediate enemy of the party. When Mitchell approached DeSantis later to (needlessly) apologize for the interaction, he was “grabbed and physically intimidated" by DeSantis' security team at multiple campaign stops. He was responsible for making DeSantis look bad; he is, by party logic, now a "Democrat" and an anti-DeSantis operative.
What Mitchell has inadvertently learned, then, is that much of American political folklore is a lie. It was always true to an extent, but as Republicanism has descended into hoaxes and fascism, it is now an intraparty rule. The crowds at party events are meant to be props, not participants. Speaking up is more likely to get you blacklisted than praised. In a party now scrubbed rafters-to-foundation to remove any troublemakers who considered Donald Trump's brand of authoritarianism too extreme, causing a party official to stumble even once is grounds for demonization.
There are a lot of good questions Mitchell could probably ask about that, but asking even one of them would get him blacklisted from state party events for good. He's got a dilemma on his hands.
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