The GOP used to love ‘mob’ rule

The Washington Post - - THURSDAY OPINION - KAREN TUMULTY

Not all mobs are equal, ap­par­ently. There was a time, less than a decade ago, when the sound of red-faced protest was mu­sic to Repub­li­can ears.

That, of course, was when Barack Obama was pres­i­dent, and the tea party move­ment was hi­jack­ing con­gres­sional town hall meet­ings with shouts of “Tyranny!” There were plenty of shov­ing matches, and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers were burned in ef­figy. The po­lice were reg­u­larly called in to bring a sem­blance of or­der.

Democrats tried to dis­miss the sig­nif­i­cance of all this dis­rup­tion. “It’s not re­ally a grass-roots move­ment,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (DCalif.), who was soon to lose the ma­jor­ity that had made her speaker of the House. “It’s Astro­turf by some of the wealth­i­est peo­ple in Amer­ica to keep the fo­cus on tax cuts for the rich in­stead of for the great mid­dle class.”

Mean­while, Se­nate GOP leader Mitch Mc­Connell (Ky.) lauded the con­ser­va­tive ag­i­ta­tion as a pure ex­pres­sion of the frus­tra­tions and val­ues of or­di­nary Amer­i­cans.

“You’re the peo­ple who prove the politi­cians wrong when they say that all this ac­tivism and un­rest was crafted, some­how, in a board­room, down on K Street,” he said. “The grass-roots move­ment isn’t Astro­turf, as they like to put it. It’s some­thing that started at your kitchen ta­bles.”

Now it is the Democrats who are mak­ing the noise, and the ar­gu­ment is play­ing in re­verse.

“You don’t hand matches to an ar­son­ist, and you don’t give power to an an­gry left-wing mob. Democrats have be­come too EX­TREME and TOO DAN­GER­OUS to gov­ern. Repub­li­cans be­lieve in the rule of law — not the rule of the mob,” Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted Satur­day about the demon­stra­tions that erupted af­ter the Se­nate voted to con­firm his nom­i­na­tion of Brett M. Ka­vanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Other Repub­li­cans have taken their lead from Trump. “Mob rule,” Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Charles E. Grass­ley (R-Iowa) said of the protests. “Scream­ing an­i­mals,” wrote Fox News’s Todd Starnes, who added for good mea­sure that those who demon­strated in the Se­nate gallery should be “tasered, hand­cuffed and dragged out of the build­ing.”

As for Mc­Connell, he de­clared he is “proud of my mem­bers for not knuck­ling un­der to those kind of mob­like tac­tics.”

Just as Democrats once dis­missed the out­rage of tea party ag­i­ta­tors as hav­ing been ginned up by the Koch broth­ers, Repub­li­cans see the hand of George Soros be­hind the hun­dreds who showed up to voice their ob­jec­tions to Ka­vanaugh.

In the case of Soros, the con­spir­acy the­o­ries also carry a fa­mil­iar whiff of anti-Semitism, as Trump and oth­ers sug­gest — with no ev­i­dence — that the for­eign-born Jewish bil­lion­aire is pay­ing the de­mon­stra­tors to do his bid­ding.

“The paid D.C. protesters are now ready to RE­ALLY protest be­cause they haven’t got­ten their checks — in other words, they weren’t paid! Scream­ers in Congress, and out­side, were far too ob­vi­ous — less pro­fes­sional than an­tic­i­pated by those pay­ing (or not pay­ing) the bills!” the pres­i­dent tweeted Tues­day.

There can be a sort of so­lace in the thought that all of this anger is be­ing man­u­fac­tured by an evil ge­nius, rather than ac­cept­ing it as ev­i­dence that a sig­nif­i­cant share of the pop­u­lace ac­tu­ally op­poses what your party has done.

But as Democrats learned from the trounc­ings they got in the midterm elec­tions of 2010 and 2014, this kind of ra­tio­nal­iza­tion can be dan­ger­ous to a party’s health.

Repub­li­cans also con­tend that there is a qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ence between the lib­eral protesters who con­fronted sen­a­tors in the Capi­tol last week and the con­ser­va­tive ones of pre­vi­ous elec­tion cy­cles who aired their griev­ances at town hall meet­ings in in­di­vid­ual con­gres­sional districts. But it was telling that dur­ing this year’s Au­gust re­cess, most law­mak­ers of both par­ties de­cided not to hold any town hall meet­ings at all, rather than face an­other wave of con­stituent fury.

The su­per­heated me­dia en­vi­ron­ment am­pli­fies the vol­ume of th­ese protests, but the tac­tics them­selves are hardly new. And some­times, they are the only way for the ag­grieved to make them­selves heard over pow­er­ful in­ter­ests.

In 1989, then-House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) was chased down a Chicago street by a group of se­niors an­gry about the cost of a new Medi­care cat­a­strophic health­in­sur­ance pro­gram. When one of them draped her­self over the hood of his car, the 6-foot-4 con­gress­man es­caped by dash­ing through a gas sta­tion.

“Th­ese peo­ple don’t un­der­stand what the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to do for them,’’ Rostenkowski said as he fled the fu­ri­ous se­niors.

Still, he got the mes­sage. The Medi­care Cat­a­strophic Cov­er­age Act was re­pealed less than a year af­ter it went into ef­fect.

Some­times, the key to sur­viv­ing in pol­i­tics is know­ing when to lis­ten — a les­son the Repub­li­cans might learn the hard way, come Nov. 6.

ALEX WONG/GETTY IM­AGES

Mem­bers of the Tea Party Pa­tri­ots rally in front of the Supreme Court on March 28, 2012.

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