The Republican Strategy? Fear and Lies
If I listened only to Donald Trump and those Republican candidates who follow his example, I would be petrified. I would be living in a bunker. I would have cyanide capsules at hand.
I would be convinced that the scattered protesters disrupting some Republicans’ meals were the advance guard of a violent liberal mob about to wrest control of the country. I would worry that the Democratic Party was secretly trying to elect terrorists and traitors to the House and the Senate.
And that caravan of migrants — I would see that, too, as some nefarious Democratic plot, or as a Trojan horse with jihadists in its belly. Either way, I would recognize it as the end of the world: Armageddon in the hunched form of a pregnant Honduran woman limping toward the only hope that she has.
To prevent a blue wave on Nov. 6, the president and his puppets are traveling audaciously far from the truth and shockingly deep into the gutter. I’ve seen bad before, but not this. The midterms aren’t just a referendum on which direction the country will go. They’re also a test of where the limits of decency and shamelessness are drawn.
Politicians, operatives and hustlers in both parties have behaved wretchedly — Michael Avenatti, anyone? — but it’s Republicans especially who have outdone themselves. I’ll get to Trump shortly, but the saddest and scariest part is that I really needn’t get to him at all.
In the Arizona battle for an open Senate seat, Representative Martha McSally, the Republican nominee, used a 15-year-old quip about the Taliban by Representative Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic nominee, to say that Sinema is guilty of treason.
In Ohio, Representative Jim Renacci, the Republican who is trying to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown, told the editorial board of The Cincinnati Enquirer that “multiple women” had contacted him to say that they had been assaulted by Brown between 1987 and 2004. Renacci offered no names, no details, no way for anyone to look into the matter. He just dropped the bomb and moved on.
In at least four House districts around the country, Republicans twisted aspects of Democrats’ pasts for inflammatory television commercials that alleged a tolerance for terrorism or an indulgence of it.
Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, blithely lofted the unfounded speculation that the liberal philanthropist George Soros had funded the caravan. On Monday, an undetonated explosive device was found outside Soros’s home in the New York City suburbs.
And Corey Stewart, the Republican challenging Senator Tim Kaine in Virginia, went out of his way to opine that Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributor murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, “was not a good guy himself.” I’d dismiss that as the ranting of one practiced provocateur, but as Robert Costa and Karoun Demirjian wrote recently in The Post, it belonged to a “whispering campaign” by some Republicans to “protect President Trump from criticism of his handling” of the Saudis. Anything, no matter how grotesque, for leader and party.
Maybe it’s desperation. The Republicans’ one huge legislative accomplishment over the past two years — the tax overhaul — is much less popular with voters than they had hoped it would be.
Maybe it’s inspiration. “Trump’s habit of pushing the boundary on truthfulness has almost been a permission slip for everyone else to push that boundary,” said Jennifer Duffy, who monitors and handicaps congressional and governor’s races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which also analyzes races, said that in some politicians’ eyes, Trump “has paid no penalty for his whoppers over the years.”
“You focus on your own campaign,” he added, “and maybe you think, ‘I can say whatever I want, too.’ In that sense, he’s a role model.”
The role model’s whoppers are quadruple-patty in these final, furious weeks. He has again conjured the hallucinatory specter of rampant voter fraud, the kind he once cited to explain away Hillary Clinton’s winning of the popular vote by nearly three million ballots. He has claimed nonexistent riots in California by people upset about living in sanctuary cities.
He has insisted without proof that there are “unknown Middle Easterners” (his proxy for “terrorists”) in the caravan of migrants. He has insinuated that deep-pocketed Democrats paid the migrants — which makes zero sense, because images of them are more likely to help anti-immigration Republicans than their Democratic adversaries.
But it’s not all darkness from Republicans. Sometimes it’s phony light. At several recent rallies, Trump boasted that he and Republican leaders were sprinting to devise and potentially enactan additional “10 percent tax cut for middle-income families” before Nov. 6. That would require more than just budgetary magic. It would call for some epic scheduling sorcery. Congress is in recess until after then.
Meanwhile, many Republican candidates who fought proudly and persistently to junk Obamacare without any suitable alternative are brazenly denying that past and fashioning themselves as the planet’s greatest champions of guaranteed health insurance for Americans with pre-existing conditions. That’s less an artful flip-flop than an extravagant fiction, and it’s of a piece with Republicans’ sudden complacency about deficits now that they’re ballooning under the party’s governance.
Democrats are calling out the mendacity. But are they also catching the fever?
The behavior of some of them in response to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court suggested so. And during a recent CNN appearance, Representative Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, passed along a theory that Jared Kushner orchestrated Jamal Khashoggi’s killing by putting his name on a “hit list” submitted to the Saudis. (Castro later walked back the comment.)
Go sinister or go home. Besmirch first, worry about the fact checkers later. Or don’t worry about them at all. That’s Trump’s ethos, and nothing would make him happier than the devolution of American politics from a con