The Republican Party is the only thing standing between you and “the left’s angry mob” of ideological zealots (who are all, also, the hired hands of a foreign Jewish billionaire, and thus, aren’t genuinely angry, or ideological, or zealous).
This is the narrative that Republican lawmakers are pushing in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. A majority of Americans might think they just saw the Senate GOP install a temperamentally unfit perjurer — who probably committed sexual assault — onto the Supreme Court. But Republicans believe they can persuade the public that what they really saw was a Democratic mob’s lawless attempt to destroy an innocent man by any means necessary.
Democrats “have encouraged mob rule,” Judiciary committee chair Chuck Grassley lamented from the Senate floor Friday, before proceeding to tell Fox Business that he believed the protesters were mercenaries employed by George Soros, as “it fits in his attack mode and how he uses his billions and billions of resources.” Utah senator Orrin Hatch echoed this assessment, decrying the self-proclaimed sexual assault survivors who’d gathered in the capitol as “a paid mob trying to prevent senators from doing the will of their constituents.” Marco Rubio, meanwhile, criticized the media for treating these (entrepreneurial) anarchists with undue sympathy, tweeting, “Imagine the coverage on cable news if an angry mob of conservatives stormed the steps of the Supreme Court building.”
On one level, this is just bog-standard, bad-faith Republican messaging. The GOP long ago determined that it can’t compete on the strength of its (deeply unpopular) tax cuts and health-care agenda, or even, on a straightforward presentation of its positions on “culture war” issues — most Republican voters want more border enforcement, and a pathway to legalization for all undocumented immigrants (i.e., the Democratic Party’s official position on immigration). Rather, Republicans know that their best bet is to stoke the paranoid fears and cultural resentments of their base, through demagogic lies if necessary. So, the party that insisted on a thorough, nonpartisan investigation of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations is trying to end “due process” in the United States; protesters who nonviolently made their voices heard in the halls of power are assaulting “democracy”; Dianne Feinstein is the lead sponsor of an “open borders bill”; and some Democratic House candidates are literal terrorists.
And yet, it wouldn’t be fair to call the GOP’s attacks on Kavanaugh purely cynical. Rather, what makes the party’s arguments truly concerning is that they are rooted in genuine principle — just not the one that Republicans are publicly endorsing.
The modern GOP has no principled opposition to angry, or even lawless, demonstrations. When the far-right rancher Cliven Bundy protested federal land policy by assembling a heavily armed militia — which then threatened to shoot Bureau of Land Management (BLM) workers who refused to obey their orders — many Republican lawmakers rallied to Bundy’s defense; Ted Cruz even suggested that this insurrection against federal law enforcement was an understandable response to the Obama administration’s “jackboot of authoritarianism.” Years later, Bundy’s son Ammon led an armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge — demanding, among other things, that the government release friends of his who’d been convicted of arson. Over the summer, Donald Trump rewarded this (ostensibly not moblike) form of protest by using his clemency powers to honor Ammon’s request. And, of course, Republicans celebrated tea party protesters for deploying the exact same “in-your-face” protest tactics that GOP lawmakers are currently clutching their pearls over — even as those same lawmakers continue to venerate pro-life activists who spend their free time verbally accosting pregnant teens at Planned Parenthoods.
But if the GOP’s arguments are hypocritical and ever-shifting, their actions are nonetheless consistent with an overriding principle: When conservatives exercise political power it is by definition legitimate, when their opponents do, it is not.
So, when a federal government headed by Barack Obama tried to collect grazing fees from conservative ranchers, it was an act of unconstitutional authoritarianism that could be justly met with threats of violence. When a sheriff’s office headed by Joe Arpaio tortured inmates at tent prisons, terrorized Latino constituents, arrested journalists who reported critically on their activities, blackmailed a man into staging an assassination attempt against Arpaio, and openly defied court orders, it was acting as a “tireless champion” of “the rule of law.” When reactionary senior citizens scream at Democratic lawmakers to get government’s hands off their Medicare — or a heavily-armed militia challenges the state’s monopoly on violence for a cause the conservative movement supports — then they are civic-minded Americans who know that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. When sexual assault survivors, liberals, and labor unions protest the Senate’s decision to confirm a Supreme Court justice — over majoritarian opposition — they are an unruly mob doing the bidding of their sinister paymasters.
For the moment, the GOP’s attacks on George Soros’s lawless minions is a campaign tactic, not a rationalization for criminalizing dissent. But every time a “normal,” mainstream Republican like Chuck Grassley or Orrin Hatch derides Democratic activists as the lawless agents of a foreign power, it becomes a little easier to see a “jackboat of authoritarianism” peeking out at the edge of our republic’s horizon.