No Excuse For Political Violence

The Briefing, Vol. V, Issue 25 – This week:

  • No excuse for political violence
  • Gillespie squeaks by in Virginia, showing continued anti-establishment sentiment
  • Georgia, South Carolina House races decided on Tuesday


“[T]he Americans, having once admitted the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people, apply it with perfect sincerity. It was never their intention out of elements which are changing every day to create institutions that should last forever; and there is consequently nothing criminal in an attack upon the existing laws, provided a violent infraction of them is not intended.”

— Alexis de Tocqueville

At times, some people come to believe that their political cause is so righteous that it is worth shedding blood over. This may have been the case at various times and in various places in human history. But it is most certainly not the case in U.S. domestic politics today.

In a nation where free speech is both prized and well-protected by the law, there is no reason to take up arms to prove one’s point, whatever it might be. This is all the more true given that our society and political culture both provide a constitutional mechanism for change, and have shown a willingness to adapt to the popular will. Not everyone’s side can win every election, but no one is silenced or oppressed so badly that their message cannot be heard. This is why our political battles in twenty-first century America are fought with ballots, not bullets. The freedom of political expression and the real possibility of political change through election obviate violent revolution, and thus do more to prevent it than an entire occupying army could.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees things clearly. And today, with so many people in the mainstream of society losing their minds over the election of Donald Trump, it was only a matter of time before someone lacking self-control stepped forward to do something regrettable.

Fortunately, the Bernie Sanders volunteer who assaulted the Republican practice for the Congressional baseball charity game failed to kill anyone.

It would be a big mistake to suggest that Sanders-ites are generally violent, or that the Left has a monopoly on political violence, or even that the general tone of political rhetoric led to this result. It’s perfectly fair for people to be passionate about their disagreements; it’s not their passion that is to blame for the occasional nut who does something like this.

But this shooting incident, with its unmistakable political motive and ideological overtone, serves as a warning about what happens when people fail to keep things in perspective. Anyone who believes their political cause must succeed by any means necessary is a threat to the civil order that has made America great and prosperous.

Assuming the survival of House Majority White Steve Scalise, R-La. — upgraded from “critical” to “serious” over the weekend — the deceased shooter failed in his mission to end the lives of the unarmed Republicans he happened across on the baseball diamond. The Capitol Police contingent that guards Scalise can be thanked for this.

Even if American politics is important, it is not worth killing one’s opponents over. The nation is divided, and people have disagreements. But we have a Constitution and laws that provide means for settling them in a civilized manner. And the notion that the manner can always be civilized has never been truer than it is today. There is no excuse for this sort of attack.

Governor 2017

Virginia: Polls of primary elections in Virginia, it appears, cannot be taken very seriously. Perhaps the lessons of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s 2014 defeat were not taken to heart as they should have been.

The supposedly up-and-coming progressive wing of the Democratic Party suffered a defeat last week as Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam defeated former Rep. Tom Perriello in the primary for governor by a healthy 12-point margin — a 20-point swing from a late poll showing Perriello comfortably ahead.

Northam benefited from the Washington Post’s endorsement, surely, but not by that much. In the late stages of the race, it really seemed like Perriello had the momentum and he had begun taking a lead in a number of polls.

Yet Virginia Democrats ignored the endorsements of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, various Obama administration officials, and left-wing SuperPACs that got involved in the race. They made the safer, more conventional choice, and it wasn’t even close.

On the Republican side, things were even more interesting. Yes, former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie won as expected. But it was by the slightest of margins, just over a percentage point, despite a massive polling lead that had seemed insurmountable.

His opponent, Prince William County Executive Corey Stewart, carried the Trump banner in this race, even if he did not enjoy President Trump’s support. Stewart, recall, was booted from Trump’s campaign team last year after he staged an unauthorized picket outside the Republican National Committee’s headquarters to protest the party’s supposed lack of support for Trump. Before any of that, he was well-known as an immigration hardliner, and in this race, he had vocally opposed the removal of Confederate monuments in Virginia.

The lesson in Stewart’s near-miss against a strong second-time statewide candidate is that the same anti-establishment fervor that handed Trump the nomination remains unexpectedly strong among the Republican rank-and-file. This should put a bit of fear into the hearts of many Republican incumbents who face 2018 primary challenges. Even now, as Trump faces grave challenges and even threats to his young presidency, the message and attitude that propelled him to the White House continues to hold sway within the party he took over.

Gillespie emerges from the primary a battered nominee in a very harsh environment for the GOP, and Stewart did not commit to support him. It is also not a good sign that Democratic turnout last week was considerably higher than Republican turnout — although this could be due to the fact that Republicans haven’t had a gubernatorial primary in 12 years, and haven’t had a competitive one in even longer than that.

House 2017

Georgia: The polls generally do not look good for Republican Karen Handel, although one local media poll shows her recovering from a seven point deficit to pull even in this wild race. Once again, she will likely have to overcome a large advantage for Democrat Jon Ossoff in the early vote with votes cast on election day.

Democrats want and need this scalp. After many disappointing defeats, it is their best opportunity by far to put points on the board in the first quarter of Trump’s presidency. If Handel wins, the frustration and recriminations will be deafening.

South Carolina: Republicans really need to hold the former seat of OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, and they most likely will. Former Republican state Rep. Ralph Norman should be considered a strong favorite over Democrat Archie Parnell in a district that is quite unlike the one in Georgia that will be decided the same night.

Whereas Georgia’s Sixth district moved away from the Trump GOP, giving Hillary Clinton much better results than Barack Obama had gotten in 2012, this district did the opposite, showing its Trump-esque streak in November. The fact that the parties and outside groups haven’t been spending here is the clearest indicator.

House 2018

Idaho-1: As we expected, former state Sen. Russ Fulcher is abandoning his run for governor and running for this seat instead. He is deferring in the governor’s race to the seat’s current occupant, Rep. Raul Labrador, with whom he is personally close and who endorsed Fulcher immediately to succeed him. If Labrador and Fulcher both win their respective offices — a very strong possibility — it will swing the state’s Republican-dominated politics dramatically rightward from where it is now.