“I think President Obama should keep his mouth shut,” McConnell said at a live stream of the Trump campaign about former president’s criticism of how President Donald Trump handled the coronavirus pandemic. “I think it’s rather classless, frankly, to criticize an administration that comes after you. You have shot you. You have been there for eight years. I think the tradition that Bush formed – not criticizing the president who came after you – is a tradition the good one. “
See. There are many problems with what McConnell said. Let’s explore them.
First – and most important – because we are on the topic of political tradition, it has long been a tradition that the current president does not personally attack people who came before him.
Naturally, Obama talked about how he inherited the harsh economy from George W. Bush. But he did not personally pursue Bush in any way.
Compare it with the way Trump talks about Obama. For starters, Trump is currently in the middle accusing the former president of leading a large-scale conspiracy aiming to bring down President Trump before it even starts. The proof for that claim? Not much! Trump also stated that Obama did not abandon plans for how to deal with a potential pandemic – a claim that McConnell repeated on Monday, and, also, That is not true. Trump has made Obama weak, ineffective, corrupt.
Second, Obama made this comment – he said Trump’s response to the pandemic was “a truly chaotic disaster” – not in public but through personal calls with former staff members and his administration.
Yes, of course, Obama is aware that his comments might leak. But still it’s an important difference. As a former president, he could easily sit down for interviews with whatever network he wanted to offer a scathing criticism about how Trump handled the coronavirus crisis. Damn, he could also discuss the fact that the current president accused him of organizing an illegal coup! Obama did not do all that. He gave an honest view of Trump’s handling of the corona virus – a view that was more or less shared by the majority of Americans in a new CNN poll, by the way – to friends and staff.
Third, McConnell, who has long been in politics, should know better than telling the first black president to keep his mouth shut. Even if McConnell doesn’t mean anything with it, it doesn’t look good.
Broadly speaking, what McConnell is doing here is what Trump and his party have done over the past three years: Destroying every presidential norm that might be happy while also demanding that political opponents abide by the same norms. I have lost count of the number of times Trump revealed false surprises in the language used by one of his rivals even when he cursed and accused them without thinking twice. Or demanding that someone be fired for making a mistake or making a false claim even when he made a mistake literally thousands of misstatements and fakes during his tenure.
In short: What Trump, McConnell and other Republican members want is for Democrats to play by long-established rules even when the President boldly violates the same rules. It’s like playing basketball and demanding that the referee only fouls on one side – and then insist that this is the only fair way to do things.
That’s all, well, a little more. You cannot throw mud and then get angry when it is slightly slung back to you. McConnell, of all people, knows this. Or at least you should.