Is “the right” really the question, or is it a question of responding right? After being called illegitimate by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Sean Spicer tells CBS This Morning, Donald Trump had every right to respond to the accusation, as Trump did on Twitter. Lewis is an “icon” on civil rights, but if he’s not civil in politics, then he should expect a response in kind:
“I think John Lewis is an icon in both civil and voting rights,” he said. “That’s why I think his comments were disappointing. John Lewis, more than anybody, understands the need to enfranchise people, to get them out to vote and when he makes a comment about the illegitimacy of an election and the illegitimacy of the president, I think that really undermines the work that John Lewis has done because he’s been such a champion and a hero of voting rights and working to get more people to vote.”
Spicer added, “The president-elect has a right, as he’s done over and over again, of fighting back and making sure that he shows that he’s not going to sit back and take attacks without responding.”
“Was that necessary?” Charlie Rose asks, and that’s the real question here — for both men. I agree with Spicer about Trump’s right to respond, but that didn’t make the response right, and certainly didn’t make it effective. I also agree with Spicer’s decision to defend it in this manner too, however little it will help. Much of the media coverage yesterday cast this as an attack by Trump on a “civil-rights icon,” as Spicer put it, but in reality it was a counterattack to an opposition figure making an attack that ten weeks ago Lewis and his party thought was the ne plus ultra of superbad for America. At least Rose gets that sequence correct in his question to Spicer. Just because someone is a legitimate hero — as Lewis certainly was in the civil-rights movement — doesn’t mean they’re always right, and certainly doesn’t mean people can’t counter attacks and criticize them as part of engaging in the public sphere.
On the other hand, this looks like a pure trap by the Democrats, one into which Trump blithely walked. They know that Trump can’t help but respond with personal-tinged attacks when he’s criticized in public, so they put their civil-rights icon on stage to attack Trump’s illegitimacy on the weekend before Martin Luther King Day. All that’s missing is Admiral Akbar spotting the Imperial forces swarming around the Death Star — and yet Trump didn’t see it coming. Instead of pointing out the continuing Democratic hypocrisy on election and legitimacy, Trump attacked Lewis personally. Voila! Democrats got the media narrative they wanted coming into MLK Day, and the media got the excuse they needed to put Team Trump on the defensive.
Joe Manchin seems to be emerging as the voice of reason in the post-election period. In his appearance on Face The Nation, the Senator from West Virginia said both men need to work on their people skills in order to work on the people’s business over the next four years. He criticized Lewis in the manner that Trump should have used, pointing out that all of the Democratic stone-throwing over the election is giving Russia exactly what they wanted in the first place:
“I’ve got the utmost respect for Congressman Lewis. He’s an icon, if you will,” Manchin told CBS’ John Dickerson. “I just think that was uncalled for. I just wish that rhetoric would tone down from both back and forth.”
Lewis had said last week he doesn’t view Trump as a “legitimate” president, nor does he look forward to working with the president-elect once he enters office.
The “bickering going on back and forth” between Lewis and Trump makes the U.S. look weaker to its allies, Manchin said.
“We’re bigger than this, and we’re going to show them we’re not going to change and not going to alter how we work and function as Congress, as a government and the United States of America,” he added, describing such bickering as “non-productive.”