WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is portrayed as wearing clown makeup. Democratic congressional candidates — including an Air Force combat veteran — are labeled “socialist losers” or anti-Semites. Others have been singled out as Lyin’ Lucy McBath, Fake Nurse Lauren Underwood, Little Max Rose, and China Dan McCready.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, with the blessing of House Republican leaders, has adopted a no-holds-barred strategy to win back the House majority next year, borrowing heavily from President Trump’s playbook in deploying such taunts and name-calling. After losing 40 seats and the House majority in November, Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the committee’s new chairman, and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, decided that their messaging needed to be “ruthless.”
The offensive hinges largely on the relatively facile notion that by tagging all House Democrats as socialists, anti-Semites, or far-left extremists, they will be able to alienate swing-state voters. On Tuesday night, after the House voted to condemn as racist Trump’s attacks on four congresswomen, the campaign arm’s communications team deluged reporters’ inboxes with message after message calling vulnerable Democratic lawmakers “deranged.”
Their tactics have discomforted some Republicans and highlighted the struggle in the party over how much to lean into the tenor of politics forged by their leader.
“To devolve into childish name-calling usually doesn’t win the argument. I think we can do better,” said Tom Rooney, a former five-term Republican representative from Florida. “Maybe this is what the donors to the NRCC want to hear nowadays. Maybe name-calling raises money, and that’s what we’ve become.”
For the communications arm of the committee, that has translated into circulating photographs depicting Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as a clown and barraging reporters with statements reminding them of the nicknames with which they refer to Democratic lawmakers and candidates. Some are just referred to as “socialist losers.” Others have been given their own bespoke tags.
Representative Underwood, Democrat of Illinois, is “Fake Nurse Lauren.” (Underwood, who earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Michigan and worked as a research nurse, never worked specifically with patients.) Representative Collin C. Peterson, Democrat of Minnesota, is “Cranky Collin.”
Representative McBath, who represents Georgia’s Sixth District, has become a particular target for the committee. During the campaign, she said she briefly moved to Tennessee to help her husband work through family issues, then switched her residency back to Georgia. Claiming that she is not a resident of Georgia, the committee sent a gift basket to the Tennessee home of her husband. Fox News, obtaining a copy of the signature, wrote an article featuring a comment from the House Republican campaign arm that reiterated that McBath is a resident of Tennessee. But a close look at the signature showed that her mother-in-law — “M McBath” — signed for the package — a fact mocked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Committee officials show no sign of tempering their attacks.
“We make no apologies for aggressively calling out the anti-Semitic racists in the socialist Democratic Party totally consumed by their hatred of President Trump and America,” Chris Pack, communications director of the campaign arm, said in a statement.
McCarthy, too, stood firm behind the strategy. He praised Emmer’s “strong tactical sense and impressive work ethic” in a statement.
“As a conference, we are united behind his vision to campaign on offense — and expand the map by outworking, out-recruiting and exposing the corrupt, inept new Democrat Socialist Party,” McCarthy said.
Republican campaign operatives backing the strategy argued that aggressive tactics were necessary to rouse the interests of sleepy and shrunken local press corps. Adopting the mantra that “all news is good news,” the committee appears to believe that even if reporters choose instead to write about its bare-knuckled tactics, they are at least reiterating the nicknames and points that House Republicans hope will reach voters.
“If that’s what it takes to get a story,” said Mike Shields, who joined the National Republican Congressional Committee as director of its independent expenditure program in 2009 and helped Republicans win a 63-seat gain. “There needs to be a shift in mindset to be in the majority. It’s better than getting no coverage at all.” But the unrestrained use of nicknames also has provoked public outcry. After the committee issued a statement in early June mocking the stature of Representative Rose, a moderate Democrat from New York, who stands at 5 feet, 6 inches, even some Republicans came to his defense.
“Instead of working on bipartisan issues, Little Max Rose is content passing socialist bills” for “giggles,” Michael McAdams, a spokesman for the committee, wrote in an official release that used an epithet before giggles. “Playtime is over, Max.”
Members already displeased with what they felt were needlessly aggressive personal attacks felt the committee had crossed a line by taunting a veteran: Rose served in the Army for almost five years and was wounded in Afghanistan, earning a Purple Heart. Representative Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin, called it a “stupid tactic and a counterproductive tag.”
“I hope the lesson the NRCC draws from that is to not do it again,” Gallagher said.