There has been some hand wringing among establishment Democrats and their supporters in the mainstream media about the harassment, and calls for more harassment, of Trump administration officials by raging leftists. The hand wringing has less to do with the impropriety of such behavior and the threat it poses to civil society than with fear that it might help Republicans.
Thus, a front page headline in Tuesday’s Washington Post (paper edition) declared: “Public feud over civility heightens: Some Fear Fight Benefits GOP.” And Jonathan Martin’s story on this subject in the New York Times focuses on Democratic anxiety over how the harassment of Sarah Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen, Steven Miller, and possible future victims will play with the electorate.
Martin reports that there’s “a rift in the party over whether stoking anti-Trump outrage is helping or undermining its prospects in the midterm elections.” Electoral politics, not whether the behavior is acceptable or appropriate, is at the heart of the rift.
Here’s David Axelrod’s objection to the harassment:
It’s totally counterproductive. You’re making Sarah Huckabee Sanders a sympathetic figure.
Similarly, Paul Begala warned that the left’s harassing tactics could alienate voters Democrats need. He explained:
The [Republicans] are trying to keep older, high school-educated white men angry. I want to show college-educated GOP women there’s no home for them in vulgar vicious Trumpland.
Unfortunately for Begala, the Trump-resisting left is stoking anger among white men, and not just high school-educated ones, while showing GOP women that the worst vulgarity and viciousness resides in Resistanceland.
Ed Rendell, a former DNC chairman and winner of more than a few elections, echoed Begala’s sentiments. “The only way we lose the House is if we something to rile up the Trump base,” he said.
I’m not convinced that the behavior of the resistance will cost Democrats the House in the 2018 election, although the belief that House Democrats are determined to impeach Trump will cost them some votes. More likely, resistance antics will help Trump in 2020.
I remember very well how President Nixon skillfully used the student protest movement, in which I participated, to assist his reelection effort. Middle America (as the white middle class was known back then — Nixon called it “The Silent Majority”) was appalled by flag burners, anti-war rallies featuring far left rhetoric, and occasional acts of violence. Nixon baited us and we played right into his hands.
Trump baits the left even more effectively than Nixon did.
Will the Democratic establishment be able to curb the over-the-top antics of the anti-Trump resistance? Probably not.
Will it be able to keep Democratic members of Congress from overplaying their hand if Democrats gain control of the House? I doubt it. The pressure to appease the leftist base likely will be too hard to resist.
Will any of the dozen (or two) Democratic presidential candidates have a “Sister Souljah moment” in which he or she gains mainstream support by standing up to the crazies. Don’t expect this. There are so many more crazies now than in Bill Clinton’s time.
Expect instead that the candidates will race to endear themselves to the fringe because the energy resides there. As voters begin to notice, the media will likely excuse this, noting that candidate Trump didn’t stand up to his supporters on the fringe.
There’s something to this. But Trump supporters didn’t engage in a sustained campaign of public harassment. And the egging on of his supporters that Trump engaged in occurred at Trump rallies that leftist precursors of today’s “resisters” tried to disrupt.
A campaign of public harassment is the left’s unique contribution to incivility and decline, and it might well become the Democrats’ albatross.