The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Many Republican candidates haven’t commented on the Pelosi attack

Republicans seem not to see any benefit in standing with Nancy Pelosi and her husband — even now

A police car blocks the street near the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her husband, Paul Pelosi, in San Francisco on Friday. (Eric Risberg/AP)
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Paul Pelosi, 82, was confronted by a man in his San Francisco home last week in the middle of the night. According to a federal indictment, the man wanted to hold Pelosi’s wife, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), hostage so that he could ask her questions. If she “lied,” the suspect in the crime told law enforcement (according to the indictment), he would break her kneecaps with the hammer he’d brought. Instead he allegedly ended up using the hammer to strike Paul Pelosi in the head. Paul Pelosi remains hospitalized.

It seems likely that had this happened 20 years ago, there would have been a universal response from both sides of the political aisle: This is a horror, and the Pelosis are in our thoughts and prayers. Perhaps there wouldn’t have been; perhaps even then an attack inextricably linked to politics would have yielded a response itself rooted in partisanship. But it’s hard to believe that the response would have looked like the one that actually followed the Pelosi attack.

For the most part, Republican candidates in close midterm elections haven’t brought up the attack at all. This is probably a reflection of a sense on the right that the attack was somehow not a big deal or is being overblown. It is probably also rooted in ambivalence about something horrible befalling one of the right’s most frequent targets of condemnation. But in a moment where Americans are worried about democracy and the erosion of political comity, the silence echoes loudly.

In the sliding scale of the political moment, though, silence was often better than the alternative.

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Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake didn’t offer any comment on the Pelosi attack, on her Twitter account or on her campaign website (which, like several other candidates, offers little more than a fundraising option). But she did address the attack at an event Monday.

As a joke.

The moderator and some in the crowd laughed with appreciation — an indication that at least some of the silence about the Pelosi attack was accompanied by a shrug.

Among those not offering thoughts on the attack on Twitter or their campaign websites are the Republicans running alongside Lake in Arizona: U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters and Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem.

In Pennsylvania, right-wing gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano has been similarly silent. Mehmet Oz, running in a close race for the Senate, did share thoughts about the attack.

Oz is hoping to appeal to voters in Pennsylvania as relatively moderate. His statement may be a reflection of that effort and the state’s politics, extending a hand across the partisan divide.

That said, none of the leading Republican candidates in also-purple Georgia have released statements about the Pelosi attack, neither on Twitter nor on their campaign websites. Incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger have all refrained from commenting. It’s particularly noteworthy that Raffensperger hasn’t, given his office’s energetic denunciations of threats after the 2020 election when Donald Trump and his allies were threatening his staff and election officials.

Don Bolduc, running for the U.S. Senate in purple-state New Hampshire, released a statement on Twitter.

So did the incumbent senators in Utah and Wisconsin.

This is probably in part a function of their positions; each has known and (to some extent) worked with Pelosi legislatively for years. That may also explain why Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), running for governor in New York, commented on the attack during an interview (albeit in a specifically political context).

“Whether it’s the targeting of pro-life pregnancy centers, it’s the targeting of Supreme Court justices, whether regardless of what branch of government you are, what your party is, what your ideology is,” Zeldin said, “there’s just no room for any of this type of violence or even threats of violence as part of the process.”

Of course, Zeldin’s comment may also reflect that he wants to win election in a heavily blue state.

Other than that, statements about the attack from Republican candidates are few and far between. Govs. Greg Abbott (Tex.) and Mike DeWine (Ohio) haven’t commented on Twitter or on their campaign websites. Neither have Tim Michels and Tudor Dixon, the gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota and Michigan, respectively. Senate candidates J.D. Vance in Ohio and Adam Laxalt in Nevada have also been mum.

Then there’s Donald Trump.

The former president’s first comments on the attack were sympathetic — although he tried to loop it into a broader attack on how Democrats handle crime.

“With Paul Pelosi, that’s a terrible thing, with all of them it’s a terrible thing,” Trump said in a radio interview. “Look at what’s happened to San Francisco generally. Look at what’s happening in Chicago. It was far worse than Afghanistan.”

This was an early response in the conservative media: that the attack bolstered the right’s narrative about crime. That Republican candidates didn’t rush to elevate this argument, though, helps reinforce the idea that this argument was not offered in the best possible faith.

On Tuesday, Trump pivoted — elevating a debunked conspiracy theory about the attack.

“I’m not a fan of Nancy Pelosi,” he said in an interview, “but what’s going on there is sad. Very sad.”

He then made a joke about Paul Pelosi’s recent involvement in a car accident.