IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Following Pelosi attack, too many Republicans fail a simple test

Through the responses to the attack on Paul Pelosi, we're learning something important about the character at the heart of the parties.


In San Francisco yesterday, Paul Pelosi remained in intensive care following a brutal attack in which an assailant fractured Pelosi’s skull with a hammer. As part of a federal criminal indictment, the Justice Department shared new details about the incident, including the fact that the suspect told the police he intended to break House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s kneecaps.

The suspect is also alleged to have told investigators that “by breaking Nancy’s kneecaps, she would then have to be wheeled into Congress, which would show other members of Congress there were consequences to actions.”

The test for Republicans is simple. All they have to do is act like decent human beings. In fact, by any fair standard, this is a tough test to fail: To pass, they should simply condemn the attack, denounce political violence, and extend best wishes to the victim and their loved ones. Even for the most callous of partisans, this couldn’t be much simpler.

It is a low bar far too many Republicans are struggling to clear.

Some of the garbage is coming from prominent GOP voices who play the roles of activists, operatives, and commentators. Ugly responses from the likes of Donald Trump Jr. and Charlie Kirk, for example, among others, have been well documented.

But to assume that elected Republican officials know better would be a mistake. NBC News reported overnight:

The Republican nominee for governor of Arizona, Kari Lake, made light of the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband in remarks at a campaign event Monday, drawing laughter from the audience. Asked about school security, Lake suggested the protection afforded to federal lawmakers should be available to students, as well.

“Nancy Pelosi, well, she’s got protection when she’s in D.C. — apparently her house doesn’t have a lot of protection,” Lake said at a campaign event in Scottsdale, generating big laughs as Paul Pelosi remained in intensive care.

The far-right gubernatorial candidate was hardly the only Republican who went down this road. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin also treated the attack as a punch line; Rep. Clay Higgins briefly promoted a bogus anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theory surrounding the attack; and Sen. Ted Cruz appeared to endorse a Twitter thread from an activist challenging the idea that the suspected attacker was politically aligned with the right, despite the alleged assailant’s online trail.

Part of this is surprising, simply as a strategic matter. We are, after all, in the midst of a competitive election season. Arizona’s Lake is by no means a shoo-in in her gubernatorial race. Common sense suggests GOP officials and candidates would want to present themselves to voters as honorable people of good character.

And yet, here we are. It’s as if some Republicans believe voters will reward them anyway. Those assumptions might very well be correct.

We’re also learning a great deal about the right’s ecosystem for conspiratorial nonsense, which a Washington Post analysis highlighted yesterday.

But I also find myself stuck on the GOP’s eagerness to push the “both sides” frame. Yes, Paul Pelosi was violently attacked, the argument goes, but what about the shooting that nearly killed House Minority Whip Steve Scalise? Can’t we all just agree there are sometimes dangerous lunatics on the right and the left?

The importance of the details should not get lost in the political fog: When Scalise was in intensive care, Democrats did not make jokes. They also did not create and/or peddle dumb conspiracy theories. Instead, they put partisanship aside and acted the way honorable people act.

We’re learning something important about the character at the heart of the parties.