Oops, she did it again. After using vulgar language and calling for President Donald “Motherfucker” Trump’s impeachment, freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib used a “dual loyalty” slur in attacking a bipartisan bill aimed at letting state and local governments counter boycotts against Israel.
What is “dual loyalty”—and why is it deemed offensive? As the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein explains, “The idea of Jews as having divided loyalty, and of using their influence to convince others to act against the interests and principles of their own country, is an age-old anti-Semitic trope.”
Just as Obama-era and Trump-era Republicans alienated large swaths of the public by embracing racially charged rhetoric aimed at Hispanics and Muslims, a new crop of progressive Democrats risk alienating supporters, allies, colleagues, and donors by inviting charges of anti-Semitism.
This is merely one of the reasons today’s Democratic Party increasingly reminds me of the train wreck I spent years chronicling on the right.
For years, I wrote about the destruction of the conservative movement, labeling it a tragedy of the commons-type situation where “individual actors have perverse incentives to tarnish the collective brand” of the GOP.
Whether it was Michele Bachmann or Ted Cruz, Republican rabble-rousers said and did things that tarnished the GOP brand and drove leadership insane, even as they seemed to prosper politically. Ultimately, this fostered a chaotic and fractured environment that led to the nomination of Donald Trump—a man who arguably won the Republican nomination by saying so many controversial things that he squeezed out everyone else’s media coverage.
Democrats like Tlaib, it seems, were taking notes.
Consider her calls for impeachment. Democrats in leadership had been trying to quell such talk. Wouldn’t it be wiser to arrive at the decision to impeach after employing your powers of oversight? Collectively, yes. But if you want to make a name for yourself as a straight-shooter who speaks truth to power and up your number of cable appearances, it makes all the sense in the world.
As a group, though, impeachment talk hurts Democrats because it confirms what Donald Trump has been saying all along.
There is a narrative (advanced by President Obama) that Mitch McConnell “announced at the beginning” that his goal was to make Obama a “one-term president.” In fact, as the Washington Post’s Fact Checker noted, those comments “appeared in the National Journal on Oct. 23, 2010—nearly two years after Obama was elected president.”
Despite its erroneous nature, this talking point was quite effective. Well, guess what? In this case, Donald Trump’s supporters can literally and truthfully say that Democrats wanted to impeach him from the moment they took control of Congress. This is a talking point we won’t soon hear the end of.
Avoiding the “I” word only works if everyone in your caucus abides, and we live in a world where any one of the 435 members of the lower house can make a self-serving comment go viral. In short, a party is only as disciplined as its least disciplined caucus member.
Desperate to take back the majority in 2010, establishment Republicans gleefully rode the Tea Party wave, confident they could coopt a new breed of newly elected conservative politicians (just as previous waves of insurgents had been subdued by the establishment).
They soon found out they had created a monster they could no longer control.
Absent a powerful Sherpa, a party out of power is tempted to lose its mind—especially when they are up against a president whom they view as extreme and unworthy. That is why Republican backbenchers were at their orneriest during the eight years of Obama’s presidency. It is also why Democrats, by virtue of their midterm success, are ironically entering a perilous time.
No longer dependent on institutions like political parties for money or exposure, today’s newly elected pols have Twitter, podcasts, and cable news to garner attention and raise campaign dollars. Consider, for example, freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—sometimes referred to as the “shadow Speaker”—who boasts 1.6 million followers on Instagram. Why would she defer to party leadership?
Nancy Pelosi is a formidable leader who has been adept at commanding party loyalty. But times have changed, and based on the way this first week has started, she’s going to have her hands full. But here’s the thing: America is better off when we have two sane political parties. We are now in danger of having zero. When it comes to reining in her caucus, we should all be rooting for Nancy Pelosi.