Who will the next villain be?

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Goodbye, Harry Reid. Hello, New Punching Bag.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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How hard will it be for Republicans to find another Harry Reid to kick around? After all, "Fire Harry Reid" was a rallying cry of the 2014 election cycle. 

As Slate’s Betsy Woodruff says

In the post-Reid era, Republicans will have to hope the universe gives them comparably energizing foes. And that could be a tall order.

True, the Nevada Democrat, who announced he won't run for re-election next year, has been a partisan Senate majority and minority leader, and a tough fighter. And he probably has had more than his share of verbal miscues.

But the demonization of Reid mainly shows how replaceable he will be – and how replaceable all political targets are – given the way the media and partisan politics work right now.

What’s special about Reid is his position. Republicans are eager to run against the Senate and House Democratic leadership, and they do that by attacking specific people. It's unlikely these electoral slogans make a large difference to voters, but they might make it easier to fire up volunteers and raise money when they single out individuals -- as opposed to blaming Democrats or “liberals” in general.

So when Reid is gone, and when Nancy Pelosi decides to leave the House, Republicans will move on to the next Democratic leaders. 

Consider how the Republicans design their attacks in the widely repeated claims that Reid was an “obstructionist” because he supposedly blocked hundreds of House-passed bills from Senate consideration. This argument was total nonsense: Nothing nefarious, or even mildly unusual, was afoot. The Senate doesn't take up a lot of House bills (just as the House can ignore Senate measures) when it knows the legislation is going nowhere. Few if any of those hundreds of bills had the support of the Senate majority,  let alone the 60 votes to overcome filibusters. 

Yet thousands of Republicans were worked up over Reid and that mundane statistic about House bills, just as they will get riled up by something the next Democratic Senate leader does, real or imagined.

There’s nothing partisan here. Democrats demonize, too, as anyone watching MSNBC or reading liberal web sites can see, even if they are somewhat less likely to go after congressional leaders in particular.

The Republican attacks on Reid should at least suggest some caution to those who believe Republicans only target black men (Barack Obama, Eric Holder) and women (Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton).  Chuck Schumer or any other new Democratic Senate leader will know otherwise.  

  1. Granted, to the extent the Democratic Party is coded as “black” for many bigots, one can argue that demonization of all Democratic Party politicians can be seen through a racially tinted lens. On the other hand, it absolutely isn't the case that all opposition to Democrats can be reduced to bigotry.

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net