Column: GOP, spare us the bothsides-ism when it comes to the Pelosi attack

An officer outside a brick house
A police officer stands outside the Pelosi home in San Francisco on Oct. 28, hours after Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, was attacked.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)
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LOL, GOP? Really?

What could possibly better illustrate just how sick the Republican Party has become, how perversely tolerant and thus encouraging of political violence it’s grown, than members’ laugh-out-loud joshing over the last week — on social media, at campaign rallies — about the bludgeoning of an 82-year-old man married to the much-vilified Democrat who is speaker of the House?

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

Expressions of sincere sorrow for Paul Pelosi from Republican leaders — statements that aren’t followed by “But, what about…?” — are few and far between. Rarer still are denunciations of other Republicans whose rhetoric animates such violence, from inciter-in-chief Donald Trump on down. More common, including from members of Congress, have been punchlines at the Pelosis’ expense: homophobic jokes, cracks about sending Nancy Pelosi back to San Francisco for good and mockery of the “hippie nudist from Berkeley” who broke her husband’s skull.

Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, who’ve received their own death threats for their anti-Trump apostasy, are again exceptions to the rule. After the Oct. 28 attack, Kinzinger quickly tweeted that it reflected “a dangerous reality encouraged by some members of my own party.” On CNN, he elaborated: “The idea that you can radicalize a significant portion of this country and not expect things like this to happen is unrealistic.”


Indeed. Message to Republicans: Take responsibility. When you don’t resolutely condemn violence and those who encourage it, you’re complicit. When an alleged attacker parrots right-wing conspiracy theories to justify attempted murder, own up to your party’s problem.

And spare us the whatabout-ism and bothsides-ism.

Paul Pelosi is recovering after surgery at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital “to repair a skull fracture and serious injuries to his right arm and hands.”

Nov. 3, 2022

Yes, conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh was threatened in June by an armed California man who was arrested outside Kavanaugh’s home. Yes, Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer made an odious comment at an abortion-rights rally in 2020 about how Kavanaugh and Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, another Trump appointee, would “pay the price” for their opposition to Roe vs. Wade. And yes, five years ago a supporter of liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders fired on Republican members of Congress practicing baseball, gravely wounding Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise.

Yet study after study after study has shown that far-right extremists account for the overwhelming share of domestic political violence, and that threats have spiked in the years since Trump entered national politics.

“What we’re seeing in our data, and others’,” says Garen Wintemute, the director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program, “is that support for political violence is more common among Republicans than Democrats, and more common among MAGA Republicans than other Republicans.” Political leaders’ failure to police provocative rhetoric creates what he calls “a climate of acceptance.”

“Silence is acquiescence here,” Wintemute told me.

The U.S. Capitol Police reported 9,625 threats against members of Congress in 2021, significantly more than double the number in 2017. Between January 2020 and mid-September this year — amid the right’s conspiracy-mongering over voting, pandemic measures and alleged racial and pro-LGBTQ indoctrination in schools — hundreds of local election, health and education officials reported harassment in 43 states. Both the IRS and FBI have boosted security; their agents are in the right’s crosshairs as Republicans falsely claim that Democrats are hiring 87,000 tax agents to audit middle-income taxpayers and confiscate their guns, and as Trump rails against the “raid” on Mar-a-Lago to seize the government documents he stole.


ICE says David DePape entered the U.S. as a temporary visitor in 2008. The status he used generally allows Canadians to stay in the U.S. for six months.

Nov. 3, 2022

Both sides encourage violence? That claim rings as false as Trump’s vile pronouncement in August 2017 that “both sides” bore blame after a white supremacist at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., drove through a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters, killing a woman.

Just one side in our political system is led by a human megaphone for conspiracy theories and dehumanizing rhetoric. Just one is populated with other “leaders” who won’t stand up to Trump or who actually spread his bilge. Democrats not only traffic far less in provocative rhetoric overall, they are typically quick to condemn their own, even a leader. Schumer, facing a backlash from Democrats as well as Republicans for his reckless comment about Supreme Court justices, the next day expressed remorse from the floor of the Senate.

Compare that with how the Republican Party apparatus responded to the Pelosi attack.

Chair Ronna McDaniel just stayed on message — that is, Republicans’ campaign message blaming Democrats for crime. “Violence is up across the board,” she said dismissively on Fox News, as if the assault by a man shouting “Where’s Nancy?” was random. Then she resorted to whatabout-ing, falsely claiming, “Joe Biden didn’t talk about the assassination attempt against Brett Kavanaugh.” (The Fox News headline back then? “Biden condemns actions of armed man arrested near Kavanaugh’s home …” )

Trumpian intimidation and harassment of local election workers give new meaning to the phrase battleground states.

Oct. 28, 2022

Sadly, the hammer blows to Paul Pelosi mark a fitting bookend to a two-year Congress that began with the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, when hordes also demanded “Where’s Nancy?” Republicans have refused to reckon with that unprecedented assault on democracy, and they remained silent when Trump promised, if he’s president again, to pardon the “patriots.” Little wonder, then, that armed vigilantes from Trump’s election-denial camp have lately felt free to harass early voters and election workers.

And yet, with political and economic forces blowing hard against the Democrats, control of the House and possibly the Senate may fall to Republicans.

The new House speaker could soon be Rep. “My Kevin” McCarthy, who once joked about taking a hammer — the speaker’s gavel — to Nancy Pelosi. McCarthy declined to make a full-throated public statement of sympathy with the Pelosis, like the one Nancy Pelosi issued after Scalise’s shooting. He instead waited to be asked by friendly interviewers about the attack, and combined perfunctory denunciations of it with whatabout-ing references to Kavanaugh and Scalise. He was silent about fellow Republicans yukking it up.


If Republicans take over, it will only get worse. Not only will the House include more MAGA Republicans, but McCarthy has promised that, as speaker, he would restore committee assignments that Democrats stripped from Republican Reps. Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene for their comments endorsing violence against Democrats.

And that’s not a joke. I wish it were.