Many Republicans have condemned the attack on Paul Pelosi, making clear that they believe beating the spouse of a top Democrat with a hammer is horrifying and disgusting, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put it in the immediate aftermath. But much of the GOP has remained silent on the extremism that precipitated the violence. The assault did not happen in isolation, but in a heated climate in which the threat of political violence has been hanging in the air — and the GOP doesn't want to talk about it.
Like the January 6 insurrection, which also, in part, targeted Nancy Pelosi, the attack on the House Speaker’s husband should have been an opportunity for the GOP to lower the temperature — and, specifically, to cast off those in the party who insist on continuing to ratchet it up. Instead, they have stood by as prominent figures among them make a mockery of the situation. Several Republicans, including Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins, have promoted baseless conspiracy theories about the attack — one of which was amplified on social media by Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk. Others, like Senator John Cornyn, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Donald Trump himself, have used the attack to score political points. The former president, calling the attempted murder of Paul Pelosi a “terrible thing,” attempted to link the targeted assault to a broader rise in crime. (In a subsequent interview, Trump called the attack a “sad situation” and appeared to float a conspiracy theory about “weird things” going on in Pelosi's house.) Greene, who previously suggested Nancy Pelosi should be executed, used the occasion to attack “mainstream media democrat activists.” Cornyn, meanwhile, tried to twist the whole thing into a statement about Joe Biden’s immigration policies. (David DePape, the apparent right-wing conspiracy theorist who has been charged in the attack, grew up in Canada.)Twitter content
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Cornyn didn’t pull that tortured argument out of thin air; Fox News commentator Jesse Watters said on his program Monday night that Pelosi’s attacker “should have been deported,” and suggested that California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was actually to blame. “When a mentally ill, homeless drug addict who has committed crime after crime in his state, and was never deported, attacks Paul Pelosi with a hammer, Gavin Newsom has to blame anybody but himself,” Watters said. “If anything, Gavin Newsom has done more to aid and abet this attack on Paul Pelosi.”
Of course, that sort of conspiracy theorizing and political gamesmanship is almost tame compared with the mockery some on the right have engaged in. Donald Trump Jr. has been perhaps the worst offender; over the weekend, the former president’s son posted to social media a picture of a hammer, underwear, and the text, “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.” But the jokes weren’t limited to those like Trump Jr., desperate to shock their way into relevance: Kari Lake, the election denier Republican candidate for governor of Arizona had a punch line of her own in a Scottsdale campaign event Monday. “Nancy Pelosi, well, she’s got protection when she’s in D.C.,” Lake told the crowd. “Apparently her house doesn’t have a lot of protection.”
Even as disturbing details continue to emerge about the attack, and prominent Republicans grow increasingly comfortable making light of it, some in party leadership have remained shamefully silent. Take Kevin McCarthy, who aspires to take Pelosi’s job and has joked about his desire to hit her with the speaker’s gavel; the minority leader’s office said he had reached out to Pelosi, but he hasn’t made a public statement himself. That’s not surprising, considering the way he’s stood by Greene, Paul Gosar, and other GOP extremists, but it’s dangerous nonetheless. “Last year, a GOP Congressman shared a depiction of himself killing me,” Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote over the weekend, referring to a violent cartoon Gosar posted of himself attacking the progressive with a sword. “When the House rose to censure, [McCarthy] defended him.”