Perhaps the easiest way to understand the right’s 15-year preoccupation with George Soros is that our ever-heightening polarization requires a billionaire cartoon villain to hover malevolently over Team Bad.
Did the U.S. president really just accuse Soros of paying for anti–Brett Kavanaugh protesters? You bet. Just like a U.S. president’s key adviser in 2010 accused the Tea Party of being the creation of the Koch brothers, a “grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”
But while the Charles Koch–George Soros comparison is far deeper than most people would suspect—both are amateur (and published) philosophers, both are fans of Austrian economist-philosophers Karl Popper and F. A. Hayek, both entered the scrum of two-party politics late in life, after several decades of philanthropy more focused on ideas and individual issues—the Soros caricature has extra resonance in the battle to redefine the modern GOP.
He’s a “globalist,” as Breitbart News would put it, a sovereignty-hating internationalist financier, and meddler into the affairs of too many. He’s a punching bag for resurgent populists worldwide, and has been for a quarter century.
Anti-Soros paranoia, of the kind casually bandied about Friday by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley—who said he tended to believe that Soros had paid the sexual-assault survivors who confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator—has long been a bellwether for authoritarian-flavored nationalism abroad. What’s relatively new is that Americans are getting in on the game.