Opinion

Do Republicans bear any blame for the Pelosi attack?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

The Justice Department and San Francisco district attorney's office laid out a handful of federal and local felony charges Monday against David DePape, formally accusing him of breaking into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) home early Friday morning, waking up her 82-year-old husband, Paul Pelosi, and threatening to bind him up for days until his wife came home so he could interrogate her and break her kneecaps to teach Democrats that their unspecified actions have consequences. 

The charging documents make clear that Paul Pelosi was the victim of a home invasion by a fully clothed stranger with a hammer who was trying to abduct and harm the speaker of the U.S. House. When Pelosi managed to call 911 from the bathroom, the Justice Department charges, DePape decided not to flee "because, much like the American founding fathers with the British, he was fighting against tyranny without the option of surrender." And when the police arrived and Paul Pelosi rushed to open the door, DePape hit him on the head with a hammer because Pelosi's actions meant he was "taking the punishment instead" of his wife.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins told reporters on Monday that the attack was clearly politically motivated, based on DePape's own statements and comments. "It is incumbent upon us all to watch the words we say and to turn down the volume of our political rhetoric," she said. 

Republicans have vilified Nancy Pelosi using charged, sometimes violent rhetoric and imagery for more than a decade, and so "for a wide swath of Republicans, Pelosi is Enemy No. 1 — a target of the collective rage, conspiratorial thinking, and overt misogyny that have marked the party's hard-right turn in recent years," The Washington Post reports. Does the Republican Party share any responsibility for this attack?

Of course Republicans brought this on

"Political violence is not an unintended consequence of the MAGA movement," Jennifer Rubin writes at the Post. "Much like Nike's swoosh, it is at the center of the movement's brand." The Republican Party has "spent years normalizing violence and violent rhetoric," and it got worse under former President Donald Trump, culminating in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, where pro-Trump rioters tried to hunt down Pelosi and "hang Mike Pence."

"When the MAGA movement turns someone such as Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two and injured another during protests following a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, into a folk hero, Republicans hold out the promise of fame to those who follow violent cues," Rubin writes. Also, "when you convince people that politicians are rigging elections, drink babies blood, etc, you will get violence," tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).

Republicans have been targeted for violence — Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot at a congressional baseball game, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh and New York gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin were threatened by men with knives — but "Americans should recognize that only one party has instrumentalized this sort of violence," Rubin argues. After those attacks, "no Democratic officeholder cracked jokes about it. Instead, President Biden and other party leaders have swiftly and unequivocally condemned each act of violence regardless of the victim's party."

You can't blame Republicans for a violent individual

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who asked an Ohio GOP rally "Are you ready to fire Nancy Pelosi?" hours after the Pelosi attack, told Fox News Sunday that "it's just unfair" to blame Republicans for the violence done to the speaker's husband. "You can't say people saying 'fire Pelosi' or 'take back the House' is saying 'go do violence.'" she said. "If this weren't Paul Pelosi, this criminal would probably be out on the street tomorrow" in liberal San Francisco. 

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, defended his recent "#FirePelosi" video featuring him firing a gun, on CBS's Face the Nation. "I'm sure people like to talk about anything but what the Democrats have done to this country," he said.

There has clearly been "a meteoric rise in the number of threats against public officials in recent years," and the threats are "all over the ideological map," writes Seamus Hughes at George Washington University's Program on Extremism. "Threats against right, left, and center. The central theme is that if you're a public official in the news, you're getting a threat." 

More than anything, "it's a reflection of our politics," Hughes adds. "We can't disagree without being more than disagreeable. The mood music of extreme rhetoric without explicit calls for violence results in most not acting but the few that do can draw a straight line to that rhetoric."

Republicans did start this, but Democrats aren't blameless

"As communications director for the Republican National Committee in the 2010 election cycle, I was part of the 'Fire Pelosi' campaign" in 2010 that included "a picture of Pelosi engulfed in flames (fire, get it?)," and its wild financial success "felt like a political gift," Doug Heye writes at the Post. Still, when a gunman shot Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) in 2011, "we discussed the need to roundly condemn the shooting and to do what we could to make sure none of our more caustic members said the wrong thing," he adds. The GOP attacks on Paul Pelosi suggest that's no longer possible. 

"More and more in our politics, the loudest, angriest, most divisive voices get the most attention (and money)," Heye writes. "As a Republican, I know the original sin begins with us," but "if the Republican embrace of Trump represents our sin, Democrats should not be sharpening stones to throw." 

Before the aborted attack on Kavanaugh, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he had "released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price" for overturning Roe v. Wade, for example, Heye notes. "Now, was Schumer calling for supporters to attack Kavanaugh? Of course not. No more so than an old political banner led to last week's assault of Paul Pelosi. But what we say is often not what people hear and everyone in political life has a duty to do better."

But Republicans are still attacking the Pelosi family

"I think Pelosi's attacker is a lot like the guy who shot Scalise," but "there are two differences," writer Tom Nichols suggests. First, "there seem to be a lot more unstable people motivated to violence on the right," and second, "more pundits on the right celebrating the violence." But "this incident feels like a turning point," and not for the better," he adds. "If we're not going to ostracize people who are yukking it up over taking a hammer to a man in his 80s, then we're a different society."

Regardless of what Republicans did before the attack, many of them have continued making it worse and trying to "justify the violence" by spreading "insane, offensive, and false conspiracy theories" about the attack, including the "deranged smear" that Paul Pelosi was in a sexual relationship with the man who nearly killed him, CNN's Jake Tapper said Monday night. "In addition to being an inhuman and inhumane response to a tragedy, it's a lie," and "part of the same sickness that got Paul Pelosi injured to begin with."

The conspiracy about "Paul Pelosi's leftist gay lover" will almost certainly "be accepted by a sizable percentage of the GOP base" within a week, because the right has carefully nurtured a "parallel media ecosystem" tailor-made "to create and propagate conspiracy theories like the latest drivel about the Pelosi attack" Matt Gertz writes at Media Matters. "Sprawling conspiracy theories like 2020 election denial, QAnon, Pizzagate, and Gamergate — all of which DePape had championed — worked their way through these networks."

The right-wing conspiracy theories that sprung up around the Pelosi assault also aim to make the attack about "the depravity of the left," Gertz adds. "They cannot accept that the assailant believed right-wing conspiracy theories without taking on responsibility, so they've developed an alternate explanation instead." Democrats don't have anything like this — or any way to pierce the right-wing bubble. 

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