Why Maxine Waters' low-road strategy on Donald Trump is a very bad idea
Posted June 25, 2018 10:18 a.m. EDT
(CNN) — On Saturday in Los Angeles, California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters had some thoughts about the Trump administration. Here's the key bit:
"Let's make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere. We've got to get the children connected to their parents."
What she is urging is harassment: If you see someone who works for President Donald Trump, you confront them. You build a crowd. You "push back on them."
That sentiment, which Waters reiterated Sunday on MSNBC, came just after White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, due to her work on Trump's behalf. And it follows Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen being forced to leave a Mexican restaurant in Washington last week.
It's one that plenty of Democrats and liberals will cheer. It's also totally and completely self-indulgent, self-defeating and wrong.
Let's start here: There is nothing -- and I mean nothing -- that can be said of Trump and those who work for him that would be a bridge too far for many Democratic activists. They hate Donald Trump. They believe he is a racist. A xenophobe. Someone who is using the presidency to enrich himself. The worst President ever. And so on and so forth.
They also believe -- and this is the fundamental mistake inherent in what Waters urged on Saturday -- that the behavior of Trump and those who work with him justifies anything and everything. Trump is a bully. Trump always takes the low road, they believe. Therefore, the only proper response is to give him some of his own medicine and give it to him worse than he got it.
Waters is the most high-profile example of this belief, but she is far from the only one. My Twitter feed is filled on a daily basis with liberals insisting that there is nothing too awful to say about Trump, his daughters, his sons or his wife. Whether or not these attacks are fact-based appears to be of little consequence to this element of the Democratic base; they are literally blinded with hatred for Trump.
There's a moral and a political argument to make against that approach.
The moral one is simple: Two wrongs don't make a right. Or: An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.
The "well, he did it first" argument is one any parent is familiar with -- and familiar with responding "Well, that doesn't mean you should do it too." No matter how noxious Trump's behavior and policies may be to you, the idea that his nastiness somehow allows you to say and do anything you want in response is a self-defeating proposition.
Bullying Trump supporters or those who work for him makes the likes of Waters no better than Trump himself at a rally encouraging the police to rough up a protester or personally attacking members of the media who are simply there doing their jobs. It's small, low and dangerous. And just because someone else did it doesn't mean you can -- or should -- do it too.
Then there is the political argument: No one gets down in the mud with Trump and comes out clean. Or, in the words of George Bernard Shaw: "I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."
There's ample evidence of how an attempt to play the low game Trump has perfected fails every time. Remember back to those few days during the 2016 Republican primary fight when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio decided to go full Trump?
"You know what they say about men with small hands," Rubio said of Trump's hands at one campaign stop. He then paused -- for a while. "You can't trust them." Trump, of course, responded in a GOP debate a few days later. "Look at those hands, are they small hands?" Trump said. "And, he referred to my hands --- 'if they're small, something else must be small.' I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee."
Rubio later apologized -- articulating a sentiment that would come up time and again during Trump's campaign and his presidency. Rubio told CNN's Jake Tapper:
"I mean, this guy is out there every day mocking people, saying horrible things about people, but if you respond to him and somehow, you're hitting him below the belt? That was my sense at the time. What I didn't realize at the time was it's not who I am. And if you're not being who you are, it doesn't come across well."
There's just nothing to be gained from trying to out-Trump Trump. People have very low expectations when it comes to how he acts and carries himself personally. Just one in three people in exit polling in 2016 said Trump was honest and trustworthy; just 38% said he was qualified to be president and 35% said he had the temperament to be president.
He didn't win because people liked him or his tactics. He won because he was a change agent in a time when people were desperate for a change.
It felt like gutter politics was everywhere this weekend. Mike Huckabee tweeted a picture of tattooed men who appeared to be making MS-13 gang signs, with this text: "Nancy Pelosi introduces her campaign committee for the take back of the House." Jimmy Fallon issued a sort-of apology to the left for his infamous hair-tousling interview with Trump during the 2016 campaign; Trump tweeted back at Fallon, urging the late night host to "be a man."
Taken together, the past three days felt like a new tear in our collective culture -- the latest in a series of reminders that what separates us may not be all that large, but man oh man is it powerful.
Bullying and harassing Trump administration officials or supporters -- as Waters is advocating -- might make some people feel good. How's that taste?! -- and all that. But morally and politically, it's a stone-cold loser.