by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
So it turns out that Karl Marx was right about history’s repeating itself as farce. That axiom was validated last week when White House spokesman Sean Spicer sought to dismiss the crowds showing up to protest at town-hall meetings for Republican members of Congress this past week. He characterized them as a “professional protestor manufactured base,” distinctly echoing the contempt that the Obama administration showed in 2009 and 2010 when tea-party activists showed up at town halls to hound Democrats over stimulus spending and Obamacare.
It’s true that eight years ago many of the current GOP House and Senate members weren’t yet in Washington, and no one outside of Trump Tower could imagine a Trump presidency. But most Republicans must surely remember the way liberals derided the Tea Party as a fraud, insisting that the grassroots movement was bought and paid for by the Koch Brothers. Worse than that, Democrats believed their talking points and continued to insist that the mass movement of conservative opponents was a figment of GOP public relations. That’s why they were caught by surprise in the 2010 midterm elections. So when the Trump White House as well as some congressional Republicans (including those who have decided to stay away from town halls for the moment, discretion apparently being the better part of valor) treat the turnout of hostile liberal protestors as merely a PR event staged by Democratic paymasters, they’re making a huge mistake.
The point isn’t that there is no organized aspect of the Democratic protests. Of course the demonstrations are orchestrated to some extent, and some Democratic money is helping the left-wing organizers. The same was true of the Tea Party. The point is that the ability to manufacture an effective protest is itself a sign of political life. Democrats learned too late that the tea-party movement was the engine of a GOP comeback in 2010.
Is there really a grassroots movement arising to save Obamacare? Hard as it may be for Republicans who have spent the last several years pointing to the law’s unpopularity, the answer is “maybe.” …
… Moreover, the ability of liberal activists to turn out their base to hound Republicans is also a function of a potentially bigger problem for the GOP — a problem named Donald Trump. The GOP knows that its fate in 2018 and beyond will be linked to whether public disapproval for Trump’s behavior and statements becomes so great that it overwhelms the advantages that ought to preserve their power in the next midterm. If Ryan fails on Obamacare and Trump’s antics become too great a liability, we might look back at the protests in the first month of the administration as the turning point that led to eventual Democratic victories.