Trump’s hard lesson for Republicans: Fight back

Trump’s hard lesson for Republicans: Fight back
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Health care, immigration, the Kavanaugh hearings, and the economy each helped to motivate voters in the recent elections. But the larger issue was President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE and the belief among some of those on the left that he is not a legitimate president and his supporters are deplorable.  

Political extremists, and a compliant media, have used this to claim license to do and say things that only a few years ago would have been considered outrageous and out of bounds.

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Talking heads on major cable news outlets have gone so far as to accuse President Trump of sending “children to the showers,” a horrific reference to Nazi concentration camps. Routinely on “Morning Joe,” Mika Brzezinski openly questions President Trump’s mental health and slams the intelligence of Trump voters.

When it comes to President Trump, the strategy is all roads lead to “ist.” When he defined himself as a nationalist, putting the needs of our nation first, CNN wrote, “It primarily conjures two close associations: Nazism and white nationalism,” presenting examples Adolf Hitler and white supremacists to make the point.  

In President Trump’s post-election news conference, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor asked whether “calling himself a nationalist was a dog whistle for white nationalists.” This question assumes Trump is racist.

Antifa, calling itself “Smash Racism D.C.,” assembled outside the Washington home of Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, yelling, “We know where you sleep at night!” Their beef with Carlson is his opinions that they frame as: “Every night, you spread fear into our homes.” They chanted “Racist scumbag!” to the beat of a tambourine as they vandalized his home and terrorized his wife.

The media have treated Antifa as protesters. CNN anchor Don Lemon told his viewers the Antifa is “fighting racists and fascists,” and excused their intimidation tactics and destruction of property, saying, “No organization is perfect.”  

This should not come as a surprise. Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersDemocrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Maxine Waters: Trump 'has done everything that one could even think of to be eligible for impeachment' Maxine Waters: Parts of Trump immigration plan are 'very racist' MORE (D-Calif.) gave groups such as this license to harass Republicans with tactics that resulted in driving Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) out of restaurants. When a protester exercising his “license to intimidate” confronted Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems MORE (R-Ky.) and his wife in a restaurant in Kentucky, other patrons told the protester to stand down. Perhaps this is a turning point?

In late October, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Buzz grows Rep. Amash will challenge Trump as a Libertarian MORE (R-Calif.) tweeted, “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th. #MAGA.” When reports accused him of focusing on Jewish donors, McCarthy deleted the tweet, rather than have to explain that he is not an anti-Semite. The lesson: You can’t hide.

Most Americans either do not know, or never thought about, the religion of billionaires George Soros, Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg, each of whom is deeply involved in supporting the Democratic Party. According the Center for Responsive Politics, in the 2004 presidential election Soros, the founder of the Center for American Progress, donated $24 million to various tax-exempt groups to defeat President George W. Bush. Steyer contributed $91 million to Democratic Party candidates during the 2016 election cycle and $120 million during the recent midterms, and now supports impeaching President Trump. During the midterms, Bloomberg gave $38 million to support Democratic congressional candidates.   

CNN’s Lemon has called white men a “terror threat” and questioned whether their movements should be restricted; the network has refused to comment. This, too, isn’t surprising; ours has become a culture that views masculinity as “toxic” and it’s acceptable to accuse and criticize others of “white privilege.”

This played out in the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSupreme Court sides with Native American hunter as Gorsuch joins liberals Clash with Trump marks latest break with GOP leaders for Justin Amash ACLU, Women's March to hold nationwide protests over abortion bans MORE. Any questioning of the veracity of Christine Blasey Ford, his primary accuser of sexual assault, was deemed to be sexist and misogynistic, even though she presented no proof of her allegations. To stay above the fray, Republican Senate committee members, all white males, hired a female sex crimes lawyer to question Dr. Ford during the hearing.

Protesters united behind “believe all victims” and defined Kavanaugh as “an abuser.” The radical left is focused on shutting down debate with vile celebrity rants, tortured late-night comedy, labored opinion on early-morning cable news, tormented college students retreating to safe spaces, angst-ridden journalists and flash mobs. These anti-fascists act like real fascists. They question motivations, rather than positions on issues, in an effort to brand those who hold conservative opinions as racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, Nazis or fascists.   

Republicans for too long have purposely avoided conflict and confrontation with the radical left. The lessons of the past two years show that does not work. What appears to work is Trump’s manner of fighting back, even if he sometimes goes over the top with his remarks. The president is teaching Republicans to stand up to protesters, defend free speech and fight back when anyone tries to impugn your motivations.

The next two years will be a stern test as Democrats go all-in on investigations. Let’s see what Republicans have learned from the past two years.

Dennis M. Powell is founder and president of Massey Powell, a national public affairs consultancy headquartered in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. He has been involved in more than 300 political campaigns doing strategy, messaging, polling and fundraising. He was retained for six years by Trump Entertainment Resorts to build coalitions.