The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Eric Holder: ‘When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about.'

Former Attorney General Eric Holder on Oct. 7 pushed back on former First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2016 slogan, “When they go low, we go high." (Video: Charlie Bailey for Georgia)

For the second time this week, a leading Democratic voice is proposing that the party pursue a meaner, more combative approach — with this one going so far as to allude to metaphorical violence.

During a campaign swing in McDonough, Ga., on Sunday, former attorney general Eric Holder notes former first lady Michelle Obama’s high-minded 2016 slogan, “When they go low, we go high.” Then he makes clear he disagrees.

“No, no,” Holder says. “When they go low, we kick 'em. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about."

Several minutes later, Holder clarifies that he’s not advocating anything illicit.

"When I say we, you know, ‘We kick ‘em,’ I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate. We don’t do anything illegal,” Holder said. “But we got to be tough, and we have to fight for the very things that [civil rights leaders] John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Whitney Young – you know, all those folks gave to us.”

The former Obama administration official and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was in the state to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams and others. His comments surfaced just after 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton suggested that Democrats can’t afford to be civil with Republicans if they want to retake power.

In his comments, Holder noted that he and his wife are close with Michelle Obama and former president Barack Obama. “I love her,” Holder assured. “She and my wife are like really tight, which really scares me and Barack.”

Democrats as a party have struggled with just how much to adopt the kind of tactics employed by President Trump and Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Trump has regularly alluded to and even egged on potential violence at his rallies and encouraged crowds to chant that his political opponents should be “locked up.”

Democratic leaders earlier this year balked when Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) suggested that Democrats should effectively harass Trump administration officials in public. Clinton’s and Holder’s comments, though, suggest that even establishment Democrats are warming to a more confrontational approach. We’ll see whether they’re comfortable with the way Holder phrased it.

Update: Republicans are denouncing Holder’s comments. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel likened them to Clinton’s and Waters’s.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), meanwhile, pleaded with Democrats to think twice, citing his wife’s personal experience.