Politicians, Experts Doubt Pause in Partisan Bitterness Will Last

Rare displays of political unity offer hope for rhetorical reset, most observers remain skeptical

Official Washington basked in a feel-good moment of bipartisanship on Thursday with the annual Republicans vs. Democrats charity baseball game.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) appeared on CNN with his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in a show of unity in the wake of a shooting that has left Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) in critical condition.

Both wore LSU attire in honor of Scalise’s alma mater.

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“We’re all close to Steve Scalise,” Pelosi told CNN anchor Jake Tapper. “He’s a lovely person … Tonight, we’re all Team Scalise.”

Said Ryan: “What we’re trying to do is tone down the rhetoric, lead by example and show people we can disagree with one another. We can have different ideas, without being vitriolic, without going to such extremes.”

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If only it could last.

But it probably won’t.

“It’s an opportunity,” said Cassandra Dahnke, co-founder of the Institute for Civility in Government. “I’m not sure that’s what will happen.”

Dahnke recalled the reaction in 2011 to the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)., the last member of Congress to suffer gunshot wounds.

“When Gabrielle Giffords was shot six years ago, people said the exact same things … Things did not reset then,” she told LifeZette.

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) said Thursday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that he was 20 feet away from Pelosi on Wednesday when she told the House that she was praying for President Donald Trump and his family. He pronounced himself hopeful but skeptical.

“I think Democrats are already back on fire. This rhetoric does not come from the Right.”

“That’s the first time I ever heard her say anything about her praying for Donald Trump to be successful,” he said. “I hope it is [genuine]. You know, it’s hard to judge the heart. But sometimes you have to watch the actions more than the rhetoric.”

Walker, who was practicing with his Republican colleagues in Alexandria, Virginia, when left-wing activist James T. Hodgkinson opened fire, said it should not be a surprise when some people get pushed over the edge.

“They get incited by this language and by this lingo … This level of language that’s being used against conservative thought, especially the last six or seven months, has picked up to a feverish pitch that I’ve never seen in my lifetime,” he said.

Another congressman who was at the practice, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), spoke Thursday about vitriol continuing even as Scalise fought for his life in a hospital room.

“There had been talk about maybe this would be an inflection point,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. “I got to tell you, I’m a little bit pessimistic that will — that anything much is going to change. I mean, I got a call after this happened to my congressional office, praising what had happened and hoping that Donald Trump was next. One of my colleagues got an e-mail saying, ‘One down, 216 to go.'”

DeSantis said on CNN that he does not blame Democrats for the murderous actions of an extremist.

“I don’t blame some random Democrat because this guy did what he did even though he had left-wing views,” he said. “But I will say there is some nastiness out there that I have not seen before.”

Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance, told LifeZette he does not believe a rhetorical reset will be long lasting. He also criticized what he regards as a false equivalency in the characterization of political speech by conservatives and progressives.

“I think Democrats are already back on fire,” he said. “This rhetoric does not come from the Right.”

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There are nuts on the Right, Meckler said. But he said the difference is that mainstream conservatives do not mimic the words and actions of many of the celebrities, activists and even elected officials on the Left.

“They’re as radicalized as ever … I don’t think they can purge it,” he said. “There is a war in the Democratic Party between the fascists and the Democrats, and the fascists are winning.”

Dahnke, of the Institute for Civility in Government, said the divisive atmosphere is not just in Washington and will take “intentionality” to turn around. She said the political climate is much more caustic than it was when she co-founded the Houston-based organization nearly 20 years ago.

“It’s gotten much worse,” she said. “The silver lining of that is at least people are aware of the problem.”

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