The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Ivy League Republicans’ phony rebellion against the ‘elites’

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) questions Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 22 in Washington. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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Sen. Tom Cotton is what you might call a counterfeit commoner.

The dour Arkansas Republican announced with indignation at this week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings that he doesn’t want a justice who follows the “views of the legal elite.” He later complained that “a bunch of elite lawyers” such as nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson “think that sentences for child pornography are too harsh. I don’t and I bet a lot of normal Americans don’t, either.”

And who is this “normal American” decrying the “legal elite”? Why, he’s a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, a former clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and a former associate at two Washington-insider law firms who now sits on the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate.

He’s part of a Republican Party of 2022 that has flipped the script on populism: The gentry are revolting.

At the same hearings this week, Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) decried a “managerial elite” of media, academics, bureaucrats and corporations. “This cabal think they are smarter and more virtuous than the American people,” argued Kennedy, whose bio says he has a “degree with first class honors from Oxford University (Magdalen College).” This man of the people — Phi Beta Kappa at Vanderbilt, executive editor of the law review at the University of Virginia and a member of something called the Order of the Coif — has been heard denouncing the “goat’s-milk-latte-drinkin’, avocado-toast-eating insider’s elite.”

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson faced questions from senators on March 23 during the second day of her confirmation hearing. (Video: Mahlia Posey, Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Also on the dais during the proceedings: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law who loves to inveigh against the “coastal elites,” and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a former Supreme Court clerk out of Stanford University and Yale Law School who fancies himself standing with the proletariat in “the great divide” between the “leadership elite and the great and broad middle of our society.”

Three decades ago, Pat Buchanan, himself a Washington insider, ran for the Republican presidential nomination claiming a revolution of “peasants with pitchforks.” The latest Republican revolution seems to be of the trickle-down variety. Call it plutocrats with pitchforks.

Cruz, Hawley and Cotton are all contemplating presidential runs — where they might meet in the Republican primary another man of the people, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A graduate of Yale and Harvard Law, he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Don’t Trust the Elites,” and he rails routinely about “elites” trying to shove this or that “down the throats of the American people.”

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These phonies must be onto something, because a new generation of pretend populists aims to join them in the Senate.

In Nevada, Republican candidate Adam Laxalt portrays himself as a modern-day Robespierre. He has repeatedly warned of the “rich elites … taking over America,” “elites in Washington,” the “coastal elites,” the “elites” who “do not believe in our nation” and the “elites” who are “all in one club” while “we’re all in another club.”

“We”? Laxalt is the grandson of a U.S. senator and governor of Nevada and the son of a Washington lobbyist. He is a graduate of prep school, Georgetown University and Georgetown Law School who recently hauled in $2.2 million as a partner at Cooper & Kirk, the same Washington firm that employed those plebeians Cotton and Cruz.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Dave McCormick, a Senate contender, is portraying opponent Mehmet Oz as the darling of the “Hollywood elite” — and himself as champion of the little guy. He boasts about his youth spent baling hay and bussing tables, and his ads are about hunting, football, and an “us” vs. “them” theme that targets Big Tech.

So who’s “us”? Well, McCormick was head of one of the world’s largest hedge funds. His wife is a Goldman Sachs executive and White House veteran. A who’s who of hedge fund billionaires is financing his campaign.

In Arizona, Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamon professes to speak for “we the people.” He denounced Washington for “being one of the richest Zip codes in our country.”

This particular common man sold his solar energy business to Koch Industries for a price he put at $1 billion — and he vows to self-fund his campaign with $50 million.

Then there’s J.D. Vance, Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, who bemoans that “our elites don’t care about the American people” and the “elites in the ruling class in this country are robbing us blind.”

“Us”? Before running for office, Vance, another Yale Law School graduate, allowed that it was “objectively true” that he’s an elite. Now Vance even attacks Republican elites, saying, “Establishment Republican apologies for our oligarchy should always come with the following disclaimer: ‘Big Tech pays my salary.’”

So who pays Vance’s salary? CNBC reported that “a great deal” of Vance’s income came from ventures linked to Big Tech billionaire investor Peter Thiel and other tech investors.

That’s some elite-level phoniness.