“They are in love with terrorists,” Collins said of Democrats on Fox Business Network’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” “We see that they mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That’s a problem.”
The remark from Collins drew rebukes online from critics who pointed out how a similar line of attack against Democrats skeptical of the president’s actions was used by some of Trump’s most notable surrogates this week, including former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
The theme was also deployed by Trump booster Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) Wednesday against Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) after they criticized an administration briefing for members of Congress as “lame” (in Lee’s words), adding that they would support a war powers resolution from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) ordering the removal of forces engaged in hostilities against Iran, which could come up for a vote early next week.
“Whether you mean to or not, you’re empowering the enemy,” Graham said, a comment described by Paul as a “low, gutter type of response.”
Detractors seized on Collins’s mention of the treatment of Gold Star families, specifically in regard to Trump’s criticism and feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, a Gold Star family whose Muslim American son, Humayun, died serving as an Army captain in Iraq. By early Thursday, a video of Collins’s comments to Dobbs had been viewed about 1.5 million times and made the ranking Republican on House Judiciary Committee a trending topic on Twitter.
Hours after Trump indicated he would not respond militarily to Iran launching more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq, Collins pushed a media strategy that has become repeated in recent days: painting Democrats as sympathetic to Iran. As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reported this week, this approach has played out despite many Democrats emphasizing that Soleimani won’t be missed and questioning the wisdom behind the killing.
Perhaps the most notable of these early punches was from Haley on Monday, who told Fox News host Sean Hannity that Democrats were “mourning” for Soleimani.
“You don’t see anyone standing up for Iran. You’re not hearing any of the Gulf members. You’re not hearing China. You’re not hearing Russia,” she said. “The only ones that are mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democrat presidential candidates. No one else in the world.”
The claim continued with Conway on Tuesday, who emphasized to Politico the significance of the president taking out “the world’s most threatening terrorist” and the response from his political opponents.
“The alarmists and apologists show skepticism about our own intelligence and sympathy for Soleimani,” Conway said.
By Wednesday, the third consecutive day a Trump surrogate has portrayed Democrats as Iran sympathizers, people on social media were quick to skewer Collins for trying to do the same. Filmmaker Judd Apatow made an appeal for Georgia residents to register to vote against Collins this year. Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was ousted by Trump in 2017, called the congressman’s words “an abomination” and “pathetic,” and urged people to contribute to whomever wins the Democratic nomination against Collins in November.
“I happen to be a Democrat and I prosecuted terrorists for living. Sent many to prison for life,” Bharara said on Twitter. “I don’t know what Doug Collins has ever done … for America except preen and sound stupid.”
Collins’s line also struck a chord with some conservatives, who described Wednesday’s rhetoric as “despicable.” Former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh, who is running in the Republican primary against Trump, said that the Georgia congressman’s words reflected the president’s GOP. “Just sick,” he tweeted.
Jim Swift, a senior editor for the Bulwark and former writer for the Weekly Standard, said on Twitter that the message in Collins’s exchange could have staying power among Trump voters.
“I think the saddest part is that Doug Collins’s talking point here, while wrong, will bloom with the base,” Swift noted. “Thanks in no small part to the formerly-reasonable Nikki Haley.”
The online reaction to Collins mentioning Gold Star families was equally passionate, with many posting photos of the Khan family and wondering whether the congressman had a selective memory on the topic.
“The Khan family would like to have a word with Doug Collins,” one person tweeted.