The "Indivisible" movement is rapidly becoming a nightmare for Republicans. It's been less than a month since the Indivisible guide went live and it's already causing Republicans to flee from their own events. A week ago, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) needed the police to whisk him away from an angry crowd demanding answers. Thursday night, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) ended his own town hall seconds after being asked difficult questions (we'll get back to how low Brooks went). Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) was loudly booed the second he stepped on the stage.
For Republicans, the most frustrating aspects of the protests are the speed at which they've grown and their entirely organic nature. The Tea Party needed three to four months to get started and that with Fox News relentlessly boosting the "grassroots" movement. It also required a huge influx of money from the Koch brothers to keep it alive long enough to survive on its own.
This has not been the case so far with the Indivisible movement. Worse, Indivisible isn't even the nexus of the protests, it's just one center of gravity. The Women's March, the single largest one day protest in American history has no connection to Indivisible other than the ones being forged after the fact.
Republicans and their media machine have been scrambling to smear the movement as "paid protesters" because, if nothing else, the right excels at projection:
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told Fox News on Monday that the anti-Obama conservative opposition was “a very organic movement” but the rippling wave of liberal protest is “a very paid, Astroturf-type movement.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) sounded a similar note in an interview. “I think it’s going to be a demonstration a week until they run out of funding,” he said, predicting that “they will incrementally die off.”
This is both wishful thinking and vapid propaganda. Unlike the Tea Party, anti-Trump protesters can actually say what they're angry about without using coded language. Remember, the Tea Party was super angry that Obama was going to raise their taxes and steal their Medicare. The fact that this was total gibberish and Obama did the exact opposite was unreported by the press. This was back when pointing out the racism of right wingers was still considered beltway media taboo. We all knew the Tea Party was raging against a black man in "their" White House but it was considered rude to say it.
The nonsense people were screaming about left Democrats baffled and unable to respond. How do you convince someone that is absolutely convinced that "death panels" were coming that they weren't? And if the real source of their rage is a black president, how do you address it? You can't and the Tea Party won because of it.
But now Republicans face the opposite problem. They are openly discussing gutting Medicare, stripping millions of people of their health insurance and raising taxes on everyone who is not rich. They felt secure doing this because they control Congress and the White House (sort of) and they haven't faced any real opposition in their districts in years. Some of the Tea Party Republicans have never faced any kind of opposition at all, ever. They've always been safely protected by Fox News and friendly Tea Party rallies. They just had to throw out some red meat about immigrants, guns, gays or God and no one cared when they signed a bill to dump lead into the local drinking water.
Much like a compromised immune system, living in a Tea Party bubble has left Republicans unable to explain why dismantling Medicare is good for the country. Or how putting a religious kook who has never had a job in her life in charge of public education will help our children. Or why they're ignoring Trump's blatant corruption when they promised to drain the swamp. Of course, there really is no good answer to these questions so Republicans are double screwed. And that's why they're freaking out.
While McClintock was hiding behind the police, other Republicans were discussing ways to evade protesters. They're pretending to be so afraid of violence that they just have to make themselves more inaccessible to their constituents. A move Democrats have soundly mocked:
Democrats, meanwhile, dismissed Republicans’ security ramp-up as an attempt to shield themselves from criticism.
“I think what you’re seeing is Republicans trying to use security to try to hide themselves from their constituents because they have no plan for a replacement and very little support from Donald Trump,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). “They’re going to use so-called security to keep people away.”
Republicans are also hard at working finding new ways to stifle free speech they don't like:
In Minnesota, a bill passed a Republican-controlled committee last week that would allow cities to sue protesters in order to collect money to pay police forces required at the demonstration. Lawmakers drafted the legislation in response to massive Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in the state after a police officer shot and killed Philando Castile.
While they attempt to open up the laws to sue protesters, Minnesota Republicans are also considering a bill that would increase the potential penalty for nonviolent demonstrations. Introduced in early January and named the “Minnesota Public Safety Personnel Protection Act,” the legislation would mandate a penalty of no less than 12 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 to any protester that obstructs police or other public employees.
Attaching a price tag to free speech is nothing new for Republicans but this is essentially telling people that they have to be able to pay for the right to protest. But other Republicans are going even further, deliberately putting the lives of protesters at risk:
The Intercept summarized the bills that Republican lawmakers have proposed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Washington, and Iowa:
In North Dakota, for instance, Republicans introduced a bill last week that would allow motorists to run over and kill any protester obstructing a highway as long as a driver does so accidentally. In Minnesota, a bill introduced by Republicans last week seeks to dramatically stiffen fines for freeway protests and would allow prosecutors to seek a full year of jail time for protesters blocking a highway. Republicans in Washington state have proposed a plan to reclassify as a felony civil disobedience protests that are deemed “economic terrorism” … And in Iowa a Republican lawmaker has pledged to introduce legislation to crack down on highway protests.
Can you imagine if Democrats had tried to shut down the Tea Party with these kinds of unconstitutional laws? There would have been riots.
What all of this hysterical push back means is that the protests are working; Republicans are terrified of a repeat of the 2010 blood bath that gave them the House. They're doing everything they can think of to avoid answering to their voters. Rep. Jason Chaffetz was booed out of his own town hall after trying and failing to defend his lack of action. After promising years of investigations into President Hillary, Chaffetz refuses to even acknowledge Trump's obvious corruption. The crowd chanted "Do you job!" and it went downhill from there.
Rep. Mo Brooks wins the prize (so far) for being the most cowardly. The local Tea Party put together a public town hall for Brooks at a church. These meetings are usually cozy affairs where Brooks can bask in the praise of his allies. But when hundreds of people signed up, Brooks had the genius idea having the organizers "cancel" the meeting. A group of liberals were suspicious and went anyway. Magically, Brooks appeared right in time to hang out with Tea Partiers who just happened to know he wasn't really cancelling. But then Brooks left within seconds of being asked uncomfortable questions and the Tea Partiers tried to force the pesky liberals out of the no-longer-public meeting. And it's all on video.
This is exactly the kind of terrible PR that makes politicians lose elections. But the alternative was to be caught on video trying to defend the numerous unpopular things Republicans are doing which is just as bad for keeping a seat.
This, of course, is the entire point of the Indivisible movement and it's why Republicans are starting to live in mortal fear of it. It's not their lives that are on the line, but their political careers ( a close second as far as politicians are concerned). And as long as Trump is in the White House, spiraling out of control, Indivisible and all of the other truly organic protest movements will keep growing no matter how hard the GOP tires to stamp it out.