Oct 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

A heightened threat

Image of Speaker Pelosi's husband, Paul Pelosi

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The in-home attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband by a hammer-wielding man shouting, "Where's Nancy?" thrusts post-Jan. 6 fears about political violence and American democracy back into the light days before the midterm elections.

Why it matters: Violence and threats of violence are affecting political figures in both parties. See: Lee Zeldin (R), Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). But all of the polling offers this year's candidates a different imperative: Focus on the economy if you want to win elections.

  • President Biden and Democrats, watching a red wave encroach, shifted their closing message to emphasize their efforts to create manufacturing jobs, reduce prescription drug costs and prevent Republicans from cutting Social Security or Medicare. That's left former President Obama to carry much of the party's democracy-is-on-the-ballot message.

Details: There's a lot we still don't know about the attack. The Associated Press reported that the suspect, David DePape, appeared to have echoed QAnon conspiracies, made racist online posts, questioned the 2020 election outcome and defended former President Trump.

What we're watching: President Biden, speaking Friday night in Philadelphia, called the attack "despicable" and said there's too much political violence and hate. "Enough is enough is enough," Biden said. "Every person of good conscience needs to clarify and unambiguously stand up against the violence in our politics, regardless of what your politics are."

  • Vice President Kamala Harris said that "anyone who professes to be a leader, I think, has to really understand the meaning and the impact of their words and their posture on these things."
  • House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy did not issue a direct statement but said through a spokesperson that he had called Speaker Pelosi, was praying for Paul Pelosi's recovery and was "thankful they caught the assailant."
  • Trump had not issued a statement about the attack.

By the numbers: Polls show voters are most worried about inflation, gas prices, recession, jobs — and crime, but the kind tied to economic hardship not political targets.

  • 71% of voters in a New York Times/Siena College poll this month agreed democracy is at risk. But only 7% said that was the country's top problem.
  • Nearly four in 10 Republicans and one in four Democrats in last month's Axios-Ipsos Two Americas poll said they'd blame election fraud if their party doesn't win control of Congress in the midterms.

What we're watching: Whether the attack on Paul Pelosi has any impact on the midterm elections will become clear in about a week and a half.

  • The bigger governance question: Does the U.S. system have the will — or the ability — to contain rising political violence?
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