After Donald Trump implied Ted Cruz’s wife was ugly and accused his father of helping to kill President John F. Kennedy, Cruz still worked the phones for him. Trump humiliated “liddle” Marco Rubio, who endorsed Trump anyway. Trump implied Ben Carson was a child molester, and then appointed him to his cabinet. Trump ran a campaign in which he exhorted audiences to call for Hillary Clinton’s imprisonment, and she showed up to his inauguration. Trump rose to prominence by questioning whether the first black president was even American, and won the opportunity to destroy a huge part of that president’s legacy.
All of that made former First Lady Michelle Obama’s memorable line about going high when the other side goes low seem dangerously naive. Trump belittled, humiliated, threatened, and smeared his opponents (and sometimes his supporters) nearly every day since the beginning of his candidacy for president. His opponents appealed to precedent, to norms, to comity, and to decency. Today, Trump sits in the White House.
So when Republican Senator John McCain returned from a diagnosis of brain cancer for the debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act, the warm embrace that Democrats offered their colleague seemed like yet another example of their party fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of politics and power. McCain entered the chamber to applause, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey rushed to embrace him. McCain excoriated partisanship in the Senate, and then backed a procedural motion on a bill that had been hidden from the public, crafted in secret, and created without Democratic input. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut was widely mocked for opining that McCain’s speech was more important than his vote. Republicans were practicing Muay Thai, while Democrats were still doing Tae Bo.