Nobody goes to a Donald Trump rally to get a taste of civility. Nope, there’s never anything but red meat on the menu.
Still, if there’s a line left to cross these days, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy crossed it at the president’s Wednesday appearance in Monroe on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone. Kennedy’s comments were brief but still managed to land him, and Louisiana, in an unwelcome spotlight.
“In three short years, President Trump has doubled the growth of the greatest economy in all of human history. And do you know what our Democratic friends have done for him? Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to impeach him,” Kennedy said. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but it must suck to be that dumb.”
Despite his disclaimer, Kennedy’s goal was clearly to offend, and mission accomplished.
Here’s how conservative analyst Bill Kristol, an outspoken critic of the president, reacted on Twitter: “I do mean every disrespect when I say it is pathetic to aspire to be the most abject and vulgar Trump toady.”
And this was how Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC host and former Republican congressman from Florida, introduced the clip: “They’re degrading themselves in ways that they would not allow their children to degrade themselves.”
Both are right. Such language about a colleague, even played for laughs in a friendly crowd, has no place in political discourse — even the highly partisan kind.
Kennedy is not the only Louisiana politician to engage.
U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Lafayette, preached the gospel of respect to a local audience this week, then showed how easy it is to breach that message. Speaking at a Broussard business event, the typically affable Higgins lamented the tone of American political discussion these days.
“It’s not reflective of who we are,” said the second-term congressman, decrying the “lack and love and respect” among Americans in their political speech.
That was before he referred in his public remarks to U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California as “dirty” for his actions in investigating Trump, and before he offered comical comments about how U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., dresses. Both might be easy targets in conservative Louisiana, but Higgins’ message about mutual respect would have been better served if he had held his fire.
Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee and the chamber’s point person on the impeachment inquiry, is also a frequent target of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who has called him a “proven liar.”
Such rhetoric isn’t limited to Washington. It’s also infiltrated the gubernatorial contest. Rispone claimed that Gov. John Bel Edwards “hurt the reputation of West Point” by becoming a trial lawyer after he left the Army. A Democratic New Orleans group ran an ad linking Rispone to David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader and state representative, based solely on their mutual support of Trump.
Attacks like these are designed to demean and delegitimize their targets, but all they really do is tell us something about the person doing the attacking. And what they tell us is downright embarrassing.