Elected Republicans have become Trumpists at heart

Most were silent after Paul Pelosi was attacked.

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San Francisco district attorney Brooke Jenkins speaks during a news conference on Oct. 31. in San Francisco.

San Francisco district attorney Brooke Jenkins speaks during a news conference on Oct. 31. in San Francisco. Jenkins announced state level charges against David Wayne DePape, who allegedly attacked Paul Pelosi, husband of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, after breaking into their home.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The House speaker’s husband was brutally attacked, and most GOP officeholders — even the “good Republicans” we’ve been assured will usher us out of Trumpism — failed the test. 

A handful still had enough of a decency default to find the right words. Mitch McConnell tweeted his concern, as did Mike Pence. But most elected Republicans were silent.

Kevin McCarthy took his time. He didn’t tweet for most of the day except to say, through an aide, that he had reached out privately to Nancy Pelosi. That’s nice, but that’s not what the situation calls for. The crucial thing is to condemn the act publicly and leave no doubt that when it comes to acts of violence and terrorism, there are no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans.

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On Saturday evening, Kevin McCarthy finally found it within himself to say the attack was “wrong” but immediately vitiated the sentiment with heavy-handed whataboutism. “We’ve watched this with Lee Zeldin, we’ve watched this with Supreme Court justices, this is wrong — violence should not go. You watch what happened to Steve Scalise and others. This has got to stop.” McCarthy’s list contained only Republican victims. 

While Paul Pelosi was in surgery, Gov. Glenn Youngkin told a campaign crowd that “Speaker Pelosi’s husband, they had a break-in last night in their house, and he was assaulted. There’s no room for violence anywhere, but we’re gonna send her back to be with him in California. That’s what we’re going to go do.” Very tasteful. The audience naturally cheered, because crowds, especially at political rallies, are not given to sober reflection. That’s why leaders must set the right tone.

So even the “normal” Republicans are, if not trolls themselves, troll adjacent. 

Chris Sununu, another Republican who seemed, if you squinted just the right way, to be normal, appeared on “Meet the Press” the day after Pelosi was attacked. Sununu looked wise when he declined to run for the Senate and accurately characterized Don Bolduc, the GOP’s eventual Senate candidate, as “not serious, a conspiracy type” back in the spring. Today though, Sununu is supporting Bolduc because he wears the correct jersey. So it’s not terribly surprising that he lapsed into whataboutism, saying that “This started back in the summer of 2020, right, when you saw cities burning, you saw not a whole lot of accountability there.”

This is a version of a Republican talking point. Democrats failed to condemn the violence that followed the murder of George Floyd, they say, so they have unclean hands when it comes to the violence committed by Trump’s mob on Jan. 6. While it’s true that some Democrats seemed soft on antifa violence in the summer of 2020, there are a few flaws with the argument. For one thing, leading Democrats, including the party’s presidential nominee, did condemn the violence repeatedly. Second, the rioters were not acting as agents of any political party. They were not called into the streets by the president of the United States with the words “stand by” and “will be wild!” They were not carrying flags emblazoned with Biden’s name. And third, while the violence that followed Floyd’s murder was unconscionable and extremely destructive of property, it was not political except in a very abstract sense. It was not designed to, and could not have, affected the outcome of any election, for example. Nor did it involve threats of violence against political figures. There was tremendous property damage, but no gallows erected for Republican officeholders and no rioters chanting, “Hang Donald Trump.”

Democrats have not fetishized guns and violence as the GOP has. They have not elevated to hero status a young man, Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot his way into a protest, killing a man; nor featured gun-brandishing suburbanites at their national convention; nor filled their commercials and even their Christmas cards with images of themselves bedecked with weaponry. 

So Sununu’s bothsidesism breaks down.

Nor is there anything to compete with the GOP’s descent into sheer brutishness. Remember Larry Elder, noting that Paul Pelosi had been arrested for a DUI a few months ago, tweeted: “Poor Paul Pelosi. First, he’s busted for DUI and then gets attacked in his home. Hammered twice in six months.” 

What the hell is wrong with these people?

All of this is a garden party compared with the bilge (thank you, Charlie Sykes) released into the atmosphere by Donald Trump Jr. Repeating a rumor from the fever swamps (which rumor was later retweeted by the new chief Twit), he displayed a picture of men’s underwear and a hammer, saying “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.” The vile, baseless claim that Pelosi was in the midst of a homosexual tryst with his attacker thus became the official conservative response to a horrifying attack on a defenseless 82-year-old man.

It’s beginning to look like Republicans go along with Trumpism not because they feel they must, but because they’ve really come to embody it.

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