Meanwhile, starting in the early Aughts, the shower-taking trope received a big boost from the liberal commentator Ed Schultz, who died last year. When Schultz was preparing to launch a talk show for the left-leaning Democracy Radio in 2003, he pledged “to represent the people who take a shower after work.” He repeated the line in a 2005 interview in The Nation, when his national presence was on the rise. When Schultz launched The Ed Show on MSNBC in 2009, he told the audience on his first show, “I’m going to be the guy who represents people who take a shower after work.” And throughout his tenure at the network, he would often introduce a segment with a blue-collar theme by saying, “Here’s a story for the folks who take a shower after work.” In Schultz’s oft-repeated formulation, the people who showered before work were left as an unspoken contrast.
It would take another couple of years before politicians started embracing the “shower” sentiment as a populist flourish. In a 2010 speech on the Senate floor about income-tax rates, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota expressed concern for “the people who get up and go to work and then have to shower after work, because they’ve got dirt under their fingernails”—not the most succinct phrasing, but appropriate for the rambling senatorial style. Like Dorgan, most of the officials who have relied on the “shower” trope have been moderate Democrats from midwestern and Plains states, such as Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly both used it (though unsuccessfully) in their 2018 Senate campaigns. The New York Times recently quoted David Betras, a local Democratic Party leader who had stepped down from his post in northeastern Ohio, as saying the party had “lost its voice to speak to people that shower after work and not before work.”
But Ryan, another Ohioan taking issue with his party, has been the one to turn the “shower” line into a political standby. He first tried it out in cable-news appearances after the 2016 general election, when he launched a bid to replace Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader. The phrase appealed to Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, who said, “I like that line, ‘Take showers after work.’ That’s well put, Congressman.” CNN’s S. E. Cupp was even more impressed, telling Ryan on her show last June that it was “one of the best lines I’ve ever heard in politics.”
Some of the commentators watching Tuesday’s debate, however, weren’t so kind. Charlotte Clymer, a press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign who was live-tweeting the debate, reacted in real time: “Tim Ryan... good lord, what is that line?” On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert lampooned Ryan’s “weird way of connecting with the common man,” suggesting CNN’s countdown clock for the second presidential debate today was actually “how long Tim Ryan is going to spend fantasizing about your after-work shower.” After all of that rhetorical heavy lifting, the “shower” line may need to be replaced with a demographic description that isn’t so overworked.