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The GOP Can’t Whatabout the Pelosi Attack

Even the “good Republicans” loosed their inner Trump troll.
November 1, 2022
The GOP Can’t Whatabout the Pelosi Attack
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pictured with her husband, Paul Pelosi, on Capitol Hill on January 3, 2019 (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Most of them cannot even manage ordinary decency anymore. That’s what the GOP has become.

The House speaker’s husband was brutally attacked in his home by a hammer-wielding lunatic who was shouting “Where is Nancy?” and most GOP office holders—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. At 11:31 a.m. on October 28, soon after the news of the attack on Paul Pelosi broke, Mitch McConnell tweeted: “Horrified and disgusted by the reports that Paul Pelosi was assaulted in his and Speaker Pelosi’s home last night. Grateful to hear that Paul is on track to make a full recovery and that law enforcement including our stellar Capitol Police are on the case.” Mike Pence was similarly swift, tweeting “This is an outrage and our hearts are with the entire Pelosi family. ⁦We pray Paul will make a full recovery. There can be no tolerance for violence against public officials or their families.” Ted Cruz also said the right thing.

But the former president was silent. Most elected Republicans were as well.

Kevin McCarthy, the man who would like to be the next speaker, 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. On Saturday evening, during an interview on Breitbart, 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.

Paul Pelosi is 82. He suffered a fractured skull and other injuries as well. All this talk of “full recovery” is fine, but frankly, who knows? Even some 25 year-olds are never the same after a skull fracture. And the perpetrator had designs on disabling (by breaking her kneecaps) and kidnapping the House speaker.

As Paul Pelosi was in surgery, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, out stumping for House candidate Yesli Vega, told the audience that “Speaker Pelosi’s husband 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. They come prepared for red meat. That’s why it’s so important that the speakers set the right tone. But not Youngkin. When the crowd cheered he figured he was on the right track and repeated, “That’s what we’re going to go do” twice. Crass and cruel.

Youngkin was widely viewed as the ticket out of Trumpism for many “regular” Republicans. He was not a human blow torch like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Doug Mastriano. He was the sort you could bring home to your mother. Never mind that he played a double game on election denial—declining to say that the election was fair until after he had secured the GOP nomination. And never mind that he hopped a plane to Arizona to campaign for Kari Lake, who admires Trump’s “BDE.” (Look it up—if you must.) 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 flunked the decency question about Pelosi too, sliding right into McCarthy-style whataboutism. Asked by Chuck Todd where he thought the violence was coming from, he said:

Well, look, you can go back to the beginning. This started back in the summer of 2020, right, when you saw cities burning, you saw not a whole lot of accountability there. The line for folks that were disagreeing with what might have been happening, not happy with what’s happening in their communities, the line completely moved with very little accountability. And that set kind of a new standard in a—in a very dangerous way, and then that carries over into the politics and what happened in 2020, the insanity of what we saw on January 6th. What has happened to Steve Scalise, that was years before 2020, the threats on Justice Kavanaugh—so—Gabby Giffords. I mean, there doesn’t seem to be an end to this. It’s on both sides of the aisle.

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 January 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 office holders 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, the radio host who ran for governor of California? He was a normal conservative, or seemed to be. But the mood of the right has infected him. Noting that Paul Pelosi had been arrested for a DUI a few months ago, he 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? Where has their sense of ordinary decency gone?

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 an 82 year-old man and attempted attack on the speaker of the House. Doubtless it will be but a few weeks or months before the Pew Research Center releases a survey showing that 70 percent of Republicans believe that the attack on Paul Pelosi was fake or a false flag. Was Antifa responsible? Just asking questions.

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.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is Policy Editor of The Bulwark, a nationally syndicated columnist, and host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast. She can be reached at [email protected].