On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted one of his more alarming and surreal statements in recent weeks.
“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!” he wrote. “Screamers in Congress, and outside, were far too obvious—less professional than anticipated by those paying (or not paying) the bills!”
The overt conspiracymongering came off as a little abrasive for 8:30 in the morning, but it wasn’t an entirely new argument from the president amid the upheaval surrounding the Kavanaugh hearings. Last week, just before the procedural vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, Trump accused two sexual assault survivors, who had confronted Jeff Flake in an elevator, of being paid by George Soros “to make Senators look bad.” He called them “very rude elevator screamers.”
In a similar vein, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a press conference Monday before Kavanaugh’s ceremonial swearing-in that Republican senators were “literally under assault” by liberal protesters.
“These demonstrators—I’m sure some of them were well-meaning citizens, but many of them were obviously trained to get in our faces, to go to our homes up there, basically almost to attack us in the halls of the Capitol,” he said. “So there was a full-scale effort to intimidate as well as to eliminate fundamental notions of fairness and due process, such as the presumption of innocence.”
According to the Washington Post, Republicans are using this language more and more, evoking the idea of a liberal “mob” to stoke conservative anger in a party fired up over the Kavanaugh hearings. Here are the examples the Post cited from the past week:
• Trump: “The radical Democrats have turned into an angry mob.”
• McConnell: “We stood up to the mob.”
• Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee: “They have encouraged mob rule.”
• Sen. Orrin Hatch: There was “a paid mob trying to prevent senators from doing the will of their constituents.”
• Sen. Marco Rubio: “Imagine the coverage on cable news if an angry mob of conservatives stormed the steps of the Supreme Court building” and “Can you imagine what democrats & many in media would be saying if it was conservatives ambushing them at restaurants,confronting them at home,disrupting Senate hearings & vote with primal screams & now literally banging on door of Supreme Court building? They would call it a mob.”
Politicians running for re-election, both in state and local elections, have positioned themselves as standing up against a rabid mob. And conservative commentators, too, have leaned heavily on the “mob” and related imagery.
As the Post put it, the strategy is effective, and Republican staffers who saw protests over the weekend were “elated.”
The characterization evokes fear of an unknown and out-of-control mass of people, and it taps into grievances about the nation’s fast-moving cultural and demographic shifts that Republicans say are working against them. With its emphasis on the impact on traditional values and white voters, particularly men, it strikes the same notes as earlier Trump-fanned attention to immigrants, MS-13 gang members and African American football players protesting police treatment of young black men.
Thousands of protesters marched to the Capitol over the weekend and before the confirmation vote, and hundreds of anti-Kavanaugh protesters were arrested over the past week. Chanting crowds on Saturday tried to disrupt the confirmation vote and banged on the Supreme Court doors when Kavanaugh arrived for his swearing-in.
Individual politicians have apparently seen a boost from the protests against them. After Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, were heckled out of a restaurant for Cruz’s support of Kavanaugh, Cruz had his best campaign fundraising day of the year.