And to think, I was worried that he might be easily baited by Lewis’s criticism of him.
Did Lewis freelance his attack on Trump’s legitimacy or was it plotted with Democratic leaders in hopes of drawing a response, to strategic ends? This is exactly the kind of headline the party may have been hoping for:
Lewis is the perfect person to lead the left’s attack on Trump since he’s a deeply partisan pol who’s typically treated as nonpartisan. He’s admired by people in both parties for his civil-rights-era activism, which gives him a degree of moral authority beyond partisanship that no one else in Congress enjoys. In practice, though, he’s been a reliable liberal as a congressman and a usefully vicious critic of Republicans for his party. The 2008 campaign ended with Lewis accusing John McCain of “sowing the seeds of hatred and division” and comparing him explicitly to George Wallace. Five years later, McCain was still vowing that he’ll never forgive him for it. For the left’s purposes, “John Lewis” is basically a synecdoche for “the civil-rights movement.” Criticize him, for whatever reason and no matter how justified, and you’re criticizing social progress writ large — exactly the sort of perception Democrats want to create about Trump.
Someone on Twitter this morning speculated that Lewis’s shot at Trump and the predictable counterpunch might be a Democratic ploy to give the party a reason to boycott the inauguration en masse. Lewis has already said he’ll skip it, to protest Russian efforts to damage Hillary during the campaign. Now a second Democratic congressman, Mark Takano, has said he won’t attend — not for anything having to do with Russia but for Trump’s jabs at Lewis:
"All talk, no action."
— Mark Takano (@RepMarkTakano) January 14, 2017
“All talk … no action” is a dumb criticism for Trump to lob at Lewis, a man who was beaten savagely more than once for marching in the 60s, once to the point of needing a plate put in his head. Ben Sasse, who appealed to Lewis last night to attend the inauguration as a tribute to the peaceful transfer of power, called Trump on that this morning too:
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) January 14, 2017
The smart play would have been for Trump to call Lewis out for being a partisan hack and, more importantly, for dubiously questioning Trump’s legitimacy even though no one’s showed that the Wikileaks material affected the outcome of the election. Instead he went for a lazy shot about crime and Lewis somehow being “all talk.” Trump’s gonna Trump, I guess. But it’ll work out okay for him. This is exactly right:
Trump's attacks on John Lewis are precisely what his base lives for: the evisceration of progressive taboos.
— Michael Malice (@michaelmalice) January 14, 2017
Trump’s populist image is based mostly on his willingness to slaughter the establishment’s sacred cows, and the more left-wing they are, the better. Lewis is as sacred as they come. And if this really does trigger a mass Democratic boycott of the inauguration, so much the better. It’s already clear that Trump’s not going to enjoy much bipartisan support during his presidency; between the suspicions about Russia and Democratic sour grapes about the Comey letter having unfairly tilted the election, the well has already been poisoned. That being so, the best thing he can do to shore up his national support is embrace the left’s attacks on him and count on the right to circle the wagons around him in response, essentially a mirror image of the Obama presidency. If Dems refuse to attend the inauguration, he’ll say that’s all the more reason why Republicans need to rally urgently behind him. In that sense, Trump and Lewis are yin and yang. Their mutual contempt is useful to each.
Oh, in case you’re wondering whether Trump is right about the state of Lewis’s district — which comprises most of the city of Atlanta — it’s a mixed bag. Median household income is $48,017, below the national average of $55,775, but the share of residents with a bachelor’s degree is 40.6 percent, higher than the national average of 33 percent. The crime rate is high by national standards: Atlanta’s murder rate ranked 18th out of all U.S. cities in 2015 and has risen a bit in recent years. Crime declined dramatically in the previous decade, though, in keeping with the trend across major cities nationally. (Lewis has represented the fifth district since 1987.) Typically it’s the mayor and PD that are responsible for fighting crime, not the local congressman, but tossing Atlanta’s intractable problem with crime in Lewis’s face is of a piece with Trump’s overall pitch that Washington doesn’t deliver on the things people really care about — jobs, crime, etc. We’ll see how Democrats answer. Don’t be surprised if they bring up the Central Park Five.