Pelosi attack rattles an already skittish campaign trail
The brutal assault on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul inside their San Francisco home early Friday morning reverberated across the campaign trail Saturday, with some Democratic campaigns acknowledging increased threats of violence and some Republican campaigns exercising extra caution in their rhetoric.
In recent years, threats of violence against elected officials have increased, with some members of Congress and elected officials purchasing flack jackets, home security systems and other protective measures in recent months. Republican ads targeting Pelosi and other congressional figures have proliferated nationally and trended more violent. In the Arizona GOP Senate primary earlier this year, for example, Jim Lamon aired an ad showing him shooting at actors pretending to be Pelosi, President Joe Biden and Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly.
“Speaker Pelosi and her family in the space of 18 months have now been attacked at her place of work and at her home,” Massachusetts Rep. Jake Auchincloss told POLITICO in an interview Saturday. “It is a symptom of an unhealthy political culture. And GOP candidates, in particular, need to be mindful of their rhetoric on election night.”
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Kevin McCarthy-aligned super PAC, mentioned the speaker in at least 29 ads over the past week, according to Democratic strategists tracking the issue.
“The attack is not an isolated event,” Barbara Walter, the political scientist and author of “How Civil Wars Start,” told POLITICO. “It’s part of a rising wave of domestic terror since 2008 — most by members of the radical right — who are targeting opposition leaders, minority groups and federal agents. This is their form of civil war and it is only likely to increase as our democracy remains weak and unstable, and our society deeply divided.”
Publicly, elected officials, candidates and campaign committees expressed reluctance to comment on the record about increased security measures they were taking down the homestretch of the campaign. Multiple Democratic gubernatorial campaigns declined to comment on such procedures, and the Democratic Governors Association referred POLITICO to state police agencies. The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and several Democratic senate campaigns, meanwhile, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Speaking at a Detroit campaign rally on Saturday afternoon, former President Barack Obama called on Republicans to turn down the temperature on violent rhetoric.
“If our rhetoric about each other gets that mean, when we don’t just disagree with people but we start demonizing them, making crazy allegations against them, that creates a dangerous climate,” Obama said. “If elected officials don’t do more … people can get hurt.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who weathered the siege on the Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump in the tense hours of Jan. 6 while working closely with Pelosi, decried the attack on her husband. “This is an outrage and our hearts are with the entire Pelosi family,” Pence tweeted Friday.
In an interview with POLITICO on Saturday, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who challenged Pelosi for the leadership in 2016, drew a line from the attack to extremist elements of the Republican Party — and to talkers on Fox News “making light” of the attack.
“It’s repugnant what they’re doing,” said the Ohio Democrat, who was campaigning in Portsmouth, Ohio, in the closing days of his U.S. Senate race against Republican J.D. Vance. “J.D. Vance raised money for the insurrectionists. … These guys are so extreme, they’re stoking violence, they’re raising money for the people who try to overthrow the country, they blow it off, and this is what you get. And it’s sad.”
In the wake of the Pelosi attack, at least one spouse of a political figure — Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Transportation Secretary and former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg — blamed Fox News for fomenting political attacks on his family. “If Fox News is interested in bringing down the tenor of political discourse, I’m happy to point them to their specific segment that increased targeted attacks on my family,” Buttigieg tweeted. “It’s not hard to forget, it’s our kids’ birthday.”
On Saturday, Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman tweeted about a campaign sign set ablaze in what he said was “deep red Lawrence County.” As a well-known political figure, threats aren’t new for Fetterman, said a campaign aide. But in the last two to three weeks, Gisele Fetterman, Fetterman’s wife, has found herself amid an uptick of threats as well, the person said.
Joe Calvello, Fetterman’s spokesperson, has also received threats of violence in recent days. He tied them to stories in conservative media about him following Fetterman’s debate with Mehmet Oz this week, when he said Fetterman “took it to Dr. Oz pretty fucking hard” in the media spin room.
“Gateway Pundit puts out a story on me at 9:25 right after the spin room. That night I’m getting threats in my personal email,” he said. “The next morning, Fox News has a standalone story about me spinning in my colorful language. And then I’m getting more threats to my personal and work email. It’s hard not to see a direct link here for me.”
Gateway Pundit did not immediately respond to a POLITICO request for comment.
A Fetterman campaign aide said that Fetterman has a security detail as lieutenant governor. “There is no place for violence and intimidation in politics,” Fetterman tweeted. “All Pennsylvanians should feel safe to show their political support.”
Republicans, Auchincloss said, “need to be put on notice that their rhetoric has the potential to inspire political violence, and they need to be cognizant of the words that they are using, and the effect that it can have on instigating political violence.” For their part, some Republicans attempted to tamp down the political temperature in the hours after the attack.
“As we wait to hear more, every single American needs to be lowering the temperature,” Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said in a Friday statement.
In Ohio on Saturday, Republican Sen. Rob Portman, campaigning alongside candidate J.D. Vance, Gov. Mike DeWine, and Rep. Steve Chabot at a canvassing event in the Cincinnati area was discussing crime and public safety with a small crowd of supporters when he turned briefly to the attack.
“By the way, what happened yesterday to Speaker Pelosi’s husband, none of us can tolerate that,” Portman told a crowd. “We are not about violence. What we’re about is settling our differences at the ballot box, and that’s what we’re going to do.” A voice in the crowd called out, “We’re going to beat her at the ballot box.” Portman replied, “Beat her at the ballot box, absolutely.”
Before the event, though, one woman in the back of the crowd confessed a small part of her felt that “maybe bad people deserve to have bad things happen to them.” Still, the woman said her hope for Pelosi’s husband’s health outweighed that impulse: “Godspeed on your recovery,” she said.
Ally Mutnick, Zach Montellaro and Natalie Allison contributed to this story.
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