President Donald Trump likes to dabble in conspiracy theories, and he does not like to contradict his base. So it should come as no surprise that the president tonight refused to denounce the warped conspiracy-theory movement known as QAnon, which posits that a global cabal is torturing children, and which exalts Trump as its savior.
Yet if Trump no longer has the power to surprise, he still has the power to shock. He proved that once again tonight, when NBC’s Savannah Guthrie confronted him about Q during the network’s town hall, as Trump first claimed not to know what QAnon was and then voiced sympathy with its supposed central tenet. “What I do hear about it is they are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that,” the president said. “I do agree with that.”
“But they’re not a satanic cult?” Guthrie asked.
“I don’t know that,” Trump replied.
The question—“Can you once and for all denounce QAnon in its entirety?”—had been a layup for Trump, an opportunity for him to signal to middle-of-the-road voters that he is not, in fact, crazy, and to the conspiracy theorists of America that they should give up this delusion. It was remarkably similar to the shot Trump had in the first debate to unequivocally condemn white supremacy, which resulted in another infamous air ball. (Pressed on that by Guthrie tonight, Trump quickly denounced white supremacy and then quickly pivoted to railing against antifa.)