Democrats urged voters not to hand over power to an angry Tea Party mob in 2010, when the Obama White House and then-Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiElection Countdown: Big fundraising numbers in fight for Senate | Haley resigns in surprise move | Says she will back Trump in 2020 | Sanders hitting midterm trail | Collins becomes top Dem target | Takeaways from Indiana Senate debate The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Trump heads to battleground Iowa, where GOP House members seek help Democrats won’t let Kavanaugh debate die MORE (D-Calif.) sought to hold on to the House majority.
Eight years later, the tables have been turned, and it is President Trump and a GOP Congress who are warning voters against putting a radical, left-wing mob in charge of Washington.
The Democratic arguments in 2010 failed, at least as measured by the ballot box. Republicans gained 63 seats and took back the House majority.
Republicans, however, think their arguments will succeed this time around given the tactics of the so-called resistance to Trump, which has included heated confrontations with senators and administration officials in restaurants, airports and the hallways of the Capitol.
“The extremism on the left displayed by these out-of-control actions shows the agenda that has captured the Democratic Party,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who has faced angry crowds at town halls in his western New York district. “As I have been a voice of the Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress, I still believe the silent majority of Americans want us to stand up to this extremism.”
Democrats think the GOP’s tactics could just further alienate the segment of the electorate that it already appears to be losing: independent and moderate female voters in the suburbs.
“Referring to women’s anger over the Kavanaugh nomination as ‘lethal’... and describing political opponents and huge pockets of the electorate as the ‘mob’ is really inciting something ugly,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told The Hill. “And I think it will backfire.”
Democratic and independent women were already furious with Trump and fired up in the wake of the “Me Too” movement, but the emotional and heated debate over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has only further inflamed the tensions.
Hundreds of people were arrested for protesting Kavanaugh’s nomination in Senate office buildings last week, and death threats have been directed at Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who during his confirmation process publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, as well as at senators from both sides of the aisle.
Demonstrators who confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in an elevator were partly credited with his decision to push for a supplemental FBI background investigation into the nominee.
Similar acts of protest unfolded in 2010, during the rise of the conservative Tea Party movement that sprang up in response to Obama’s presidency and the Affordable Care Act.
Democratic town halls all around the country turned rowdy as Tea Party protesters shouted down lawmakers and expressed anger over ObamaCare.
Nearly 1 million conservatives marched to the Capitol building armed with signs and derogatory chants about the “parasite in chief,” while a number of Democrats received violent threats and harassment, including a picture of a noose being faxed to Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and a brick being thrown through the window of the district office of the late Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).
Democrats say it’s hypocritical for the GOP to now decry the liberal “mob” when conservatives engaged in such heated protests in 2010.
“I was there then, and I remember Republicans going out to the balcony of the Capitol and egging on groups of angry protesters, some of whom were chanting racial epithets,” Connolly said.
“So to turn around and call someone else a mob, when they actually incited people to engage in some pretty vile behavior, gives a whole new meaning to chutzpah.”
Strategists in both parties say fear and anger are some of the strongest motivating factors in the midterm elections.
“People don’t go to the polls to say thanks,” said GOP strategist Liz Mair.
Republicans say the Supreme Court battle has galvanized and united their party for the first time this election cycle. But there is some concern in GOP circles that the energy may not last another four weeks, especially now that Kavanaugh is already on the bench.
“Now that they’ve got Kavanaugh on the court, the Republican outrage may settle down,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
In an effort to keep their base engaged, Republicans have been stoking fear that the “mob” is coming for other parts of the Republican agenda and the Trump presidency if Democrats win back control of Congress.
Hours before the Kavanaugh vote Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the anti-Kavanaugh “mob” that harassed senators in the Capitol hallways and elevators and in public had energized GOP voters.
On Tuesday, McConnell again repeatedly invoked “the mob.”
Sharing a new campaign ad this week, conservative Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) tweeted that his Democratic opponent, Abigail Spanberger, was part of the “liberal mob” that attacked him at a recent town hall. The minutelong ad portrays Spanberger sitting in the first row, saying she did not want individual and corporate tax cuts and backed tax hikes to pay for more programs.
It was hardly an angry mob. Spanberger and others were seated as Brat posed questions to the audience from the stage in Chestfield, Va.
But in a follow-up interview, Brat said Democrats this cycle have attacked him with “vulgar language” and alleged that the Spanberger campaign left a flyer at his house while his kid was home alone that read: “Rot in hell, Dave.”
He also says he saw people looking through his home window and taking photographs of his cars and property.
“You will not find any of this coming from the conservative right now,” Brat told The Hill. “The left is out of control, and I think the average American is picking up on this.”
Democrats, however, say Republicans are just trying to weaponize the raw, emotional responses to the bitter confirmation process.
“The national outpouring of support for Dr. Ford shouldn’t be confused for anything else,” said a spokesman for Pelosi. “We have seen an unprecedented mobilization of women coming forward, many with their own stories speaking truth to power.”
But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued that Republicans are not just stoking fear about mob violence for political gain.
He has experienced such violence firsthand over the past 18 months, when a gunman opened fire on Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game in the summer of 2017 and again when a neighbor attacked him and broke six of his ribs.
His wife, Kelley Paul, wrote in an op-ed that she now sleeps with a loaded gun next to her bed.
“I really worry that someone is going to be killed and that those who are ratcheting up the conversation ... they have to realize that they bear some responsibility if this elevates to violence,” Rand Paul told a local radio station Tuesday.
“I think what people need to realize, that when people like [Sen.] Cory Booker say ‘get up in their face,’ he may think that that’s OK,” Paul added. “But what he doesn’t realize is that for about every thousandth person that might want to get up in your face, one of them is going to be unstable enough to commit violence.”