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Republicans Can Defend Elijah Cummings Any Time Now

July 29, 2019
Republicans Can Defend Elijah Cummings Any Time Now

I know I’m not alone, but I spent most of my weekend waiting on Mark Meadows. Meadows has been mute since President Trump attacked one of his dear friends on Saturday—Elijah Cummings.

You may remember that back in February, Rashida Tlaib accused Meadows of “a racist act.” Cummings then came to Meadows’ defense, on the spot:

See how Rep. Cummings defended GOP congressman

Now we have President Trump—who seems to think that congressmen are in charge of local governance (and anyway, doesn’t actually know anything about Maryland’s 7th district)—claiming that Cummings’ district is “the Worst in the USA” and “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

Meadows could say that Trump is being un-American or racist or out-of-bounds. If he didn’t want to go that far, he could simply say that Trump is wrong on the merits: That Cummings district has a median income of almost $60,000 and includes a mix of urban and suburban neighborhood, that it is predominantly white collar and is, actually, one of the best models for majority African-American districts in the country.

Or he could have simply told the chief executive of the United States to go back to appointing judges and leave politics to the grownups. Instead: crickets.

I’ve been waiting for other Republicans too, all of them—and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan doesn’t count—to step up and say, at the very minimum, that this is wrong. More crickets.

Trump’s latest tweets hewed to a pattern he has of denigrating minority cities, neighborhoods, or countries as “shitholes” or “infested.” Victor Blackwell, anchoring his Saturday morning show on CNN when the tweet hit, was overcome by emotion and fought back tears telling the president that he was one of those human beings from that district. “When he tweets about infestation, it’s about black and brown people,” Blackwell said.

No matter that son-in-law Jared Kushner is a Baltimore slumlord whose buildings have been cited for code violations for—you guessed it—infestation of mice and maggots. No matter that Trump tweeted in 2015 that Baltimore’s problems were President Obama’s fault and with ”proper leadership” Trump would “bring both sides together,” and that he would “fix it fast.” Nothing matters.

But it gets even worse. Trump’s attack also insinuated that Cummings is somehow profiting while his constituents suffer. We see what Trump did there, right? It’s called projection.

The day before, Trump had called for an investigation into how president Obama got a book deal.

So by the time the American president tweeted “Where is all this money going? How much is stolen? Investigate this corrupt mess immediately!” he had called for two baseless investigations into a black Congressman and a black president in less than 24 hours. And this following the response to his first tweets two weeks ago Trump dug in and called Trump the four congresswomen—who share only one thing, being women of color—“a very Racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced, and not very smart.” After seeing the response to his attack on Cummings Trump doubled down and called Cummings a racist too.

Let’s be clear here: It’s not that Republicans should defend Cummings against these racist attacks just because he is the son of sharecroppers, or represents people of color, or because he is African-American. It’s because Elijah Cummings is—as most congressional Republicans know—everything you hope for in a colleague from the other side of the aisle.

In 2014, when Jason Chaffetz took over as chairman of the Oversight Committee he and Cummings established such a good rapport that they visited each other’s districts together.

When Tlaib and Meadows had their showdown in February, on live television, Cummings stepped in and insisted that Meadows was “one of my best friends.” Because of Cummings, Meadows and Tlaib literally hugged it out the next day. When Cummings was asked by Paul Kane of the Washington Post about the two hugging again he said “interaction, man. Human interaction, that’s all.”

Maybe Meadows is afraid of Trump lashing out at him. Certainly he knows that Trump’s approval numbers among Republicans went up after he attacked the four minority congresswomen?

After all, Meadows is from North Carolina, where the “send her back” chant happened at Trump’s rally. And he no doubt saw how Trump soaked it in at the event. Then, was backed into a modified, limited disavowal—and then subsequently spurned the disavowal, Charlottesville-style, and declared that the people chanting “send her back” at his rally were really “great patriots,” and “tremendous people.”

This progression has made an impression—one way or another—on just about everyone in America. It must have made an impression on Mark Meadows, too.

In the days to come we will hear elected GOP officials, when reporters track them down, tell us what Trump really meant to say. Or they’ll try to rationalize his attack by fixating on some esoteric reading of it. Or, maybe they’ll follow Mick Mulvaney (whose former congressional district has a higher rate of poverty than Cummings’) and just say that everyone just gets so upset no matter what Trump says, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

They should—every one of them—go back and read when Cummings said back in February when he was talking about healing the rift between Meadows and Tlaib: “We need to get away from party and deal with each other as human beings.”

A.B. Stoddard

A.B. Stoddard is a columnist at The Bulwark. Previously, she was associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics.