Activism

Cowardly Republicans Are Running Away from Voters and Cancelling Town Meetings This Weekend

Only 19 GOP members—a tiny number—will face critics in public.

Photo Credit: townhallproject.com/

Almost all congressional Republicans are scared of facing voters in town hall meetings over the long President’s Day weekend. Only 19 representatives and senators—a tiny number—will hold town meetings during the first recess of the current session of Congress, according to the Town Hall Project. But the group’s listing of these democratic mainstays barely tells the story.

According to an eye-opening Washington Post account, Republican officeholders have been cancelling planned town halls because they don’t want to face critics upset that they may soon lose their health insurance or see an increase in costs as the GOP plans to undermine Obamacare. Even worse, they don’t want organized progressive groups to show up with posters and video camera and determination to challenge them in public and post the confrontations on YouTube. 

“According to the Town Hall Project, which collates information about public town halls, there are no availabilities in Utah—where every federal officeholder is a Republican—over the coming week,” WaPo wrote. “That’s not a fluke. Just 19 Republican members of Congress have scheduled traditional town halls over the weeklong recess. Several more, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have listed ticketed events or “office hours;” a few more have announced tele-town halls, which allow constituents to lob questions without risking a “YouTube moment."

This cowardly response is nothing new from immoderate Republicans; it’s in line with their partisan ethic that “anything goes” to win, except playing fair. They cannot win in many states without gerrymandering federal and state districts, which allowed them to seize power after the 2010 Census. They cannot win widely in high turnout elections, hence their efforts to limit participation by creating barriers like new voter ID laws or restricting voting options favored by critics, like early voting on weekends.

Their partisan cowardice goes further by not wanting to reveal who is funding negative attack ads, thus they encourage super PACs to throw mud because they do not disclose donors. In contrast, they never stand up and say all sides should put forth their best ideas and allow citizens to decide, live with that verdict and fight another day. And in 2017, a new twist has emerged: the party that would stamp on others is hiding from voters.

Indeed, as WaPo reports, Republicans don’t like it when the tables are turned on them—that is, when their town hall meetings are not filled with angry Tea Partiers but with aggrieved citizens from their districts and organized progressives.

“Since Republicans took control of the House six years ago, helped by angry, viral town halls that embarrassed incumbent Democrats, big public meetings have become rarer and workarounds like the tele-town hall more common,” WaPo wrote. “But in the past week, as Indivisible, Organizing for America and other progressive groups have become more open about demanding town halls, some Republicans have become bolder about shutting them down.”

A few are even admitting this is exactly what’s going on.

“In a letter to constituents first shared by the Knoxville News Sentinel, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said that he valued being accessible but would not indulge protesters by holding a public event,” WaPo noted. “I am not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals,” Duncan said. “Also, I do not intend to give more publicity to those on the far left who have so much hatred, anger and frustration in them. I have never seen so many more sore losers as there are today.”

Needless to say, these Republicans are fine when their own propagandists are doing the yelling, namely those in right-wing media and related GOP groups, who conveniently ignore that progressives and others are doing what Tea Partiers have been doing for many years. 

“The National Republican Congressional Committee denounced a ‘top-down effort’ to manufacture controversy,’ WaPo said. “‘Fox and Friends,’ a cable news morning show that President Trump watches regularly (and praised in Thursday’s news conference), has frequently highlighted violent protests and hyped reports that some protesters are being paid.”

Such shamelessness is nothing new in Republican circles. It may even be part of their twisted political DNA—the attitude that everything they do is magically patriotic, all-American and justified. The truth is congressional Republicans are running away from the voters in their districts who have ample reasons to be angered at the GOP's uncritical embrace of Trump and the far right’s extremist economic and cultural agenda.

What’s the word for elected officeholders not standing by their beliefs in public and facing voters in their districts? Cowardice, plain and simple, and that’s just the start. 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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