House GOP candidates join Trump in preaching hysteria

Fundraising pitches echo warnings of destruction of suburban way of life

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is echoing the president's rhetoric on suburban fear in his fundraising pitches to voters, Rothenberg notes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is echoing the president's rhetoric on suburban fear in his fundraising pitches to voters, Rothenberg notes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 28, 2020 at 6:00am

ANALYSIS The fundraising email arrived Friday afternoon. It was a message from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, but the disclaimer said, “Paid for by Zeldin for Congress,” a reference to Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York’s 1st District. The subject line of the email was “Stop the Mob NOW.”

“Friends,” the email began, “This November election is coming down to the fight between freedom and socialism. Rep. Lee Zeldin and I are quickly working to take back the House, re-elect President Trump, and push back against the radical left.”

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen countless mobs destroy our cities, harm our police officers, and disrupt law and order. The kicker is that they’re supported by the Democrats in Congress.” (The words in bold for emphasis was their idea, not mine.)

The purpose of the email was to inform recipients of a Zoom call on July 30 that undoubtedly will try to raise money. Journalists tend to give fundraising emails wide berth, figuring that all “sales pitches” involve puffing and/or frightening, though I always thought they deserved more scrutiny because they seek to polarize and enflame.

But this McCarthy/Zeldin email is a window into Republican strategy, demonstrating how far the party will go in making unsubstantiated claims.

Biden the socialist?

First, the 2020 election is not “coming down to the fight between freedom and socialism.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was the socialist in the Democratic race, but he lost his party’s nomination to Joe Biden, who is definitely not a socialist. In fact, many of Sanders’ supporters have been slow to embrace Biden because the former vice president is a pragmatic progressive who disagrees strongly with many of the senator’s ideas.

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And while there are a handful of self-described socialists in the House, they don’t set the Democratic Party’s agenda.

Obviously, the Zeldin campaign used the freedom/socialism contrast because it is likely to generate more contributions than if the email had said “conservatism and liberalism.” But at least that would have been a fair and accurate contrast.

Second, the assertion that “Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen countless mobs destroy our cities” is more than a little over the top. No city has been “destroyed.” If McCarthy had written that rioters had broken windows, defaced buildings and destroyed some monuments, I wouldn’t have any reason to complain. But he didn’t.

Apparently that language was not sufficiently inflammatory, so it said that cities were destroyed just the way it said that the 2020 election was about socialism.

According to The Almanac of American Politics, Zeldin’s district, which includes much of Long Island’s Suffolk County, is 99.9 percent suburban and more than three-quarters white, and while Donald Trump carried it by about a dozen points in 2016, the district went very narrowly for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Given that, Zeldin apparently figures he needs to scare suburban voters into thinking that their lives and property are at risk.

Pelosi surrenders?

Interestingly, a fundraising email I received earlier from former Georgia Rep. Karen Handel, who is trying to take back her 6th District seat in November from Democrat Lucy McBath, sounded many of the themes that were in the McCarthy/Zeldin email. Indeed, the subject lines of the two emails were identical — “Stop the Mob NOW.”

Quite a coincidence, huh?

The Handel email started by asserting that “Nancy Pelosi is condoning the lawless behavior of the far left mobs.” In the next paragraph, the email bolded the same point: “Pelosi is okay surrendering our cities to lawless and radical crowds.”

I’m pretty sure that the speaker is not “okay” handing over America’s cities “to lawless and radical crowds.” But Republican strategists figure they can scare suburbanites with that language since McBath’s district takes in Atlanta’s northern suburbs.

Unlike Zeldin’s brief email, which flagged a Zoom event, Handel’s note included a paragraph about Georgia and increasingly unpopular Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to deploy “National Guard troops to protect neighborhoods.”

Handel’s email didn’t promote a Zoom call but simply asked for contributions, promising, “I’m standing firm to stop the radical left and ANTIFA, and end the mob violence.”

Like Zeldin, Handel is running in a majority suburban district, though one with a large urban component. Voters here went overwhelmingly for Republican presidential standard-bearers John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, but Trump barely squeezed out a victory of less than 2 points in 2016. Democrat Stacey Abrams carried it by more than 3 points in the 2018 gubernatorial contest.

House control

Finally, it is noteworthy that the McCarthy/Zeldin email says the two lawmakers “are quickly working to take back the House,” while Handel’s email does not mention the fight for the chamber.

In fact, Republicans have little to no chance of winning back the House in November, though that certainly shouldn’t stop them from trying to hoodwink their contributors into thinking it’s possible.

Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales rates Georgia’s 6th District race as Tilt Democratic, while Zeldin’s reelection bid is rated Likely Republican. We’ll see whether the GOP scare tactics aimed at the suburbs work in competitive districts, or whether Republican House members who seem in relatively little danger now find Trump dragging them down faster and further than they ever imagined.