Could Trump’s “dumb southerner” comment hurt Republicans in the midterm elections. As Gabriel Pogrund sets the stage in “Southern senators bristle at Trump’s ‘dumb Southerner’ insult” in The Washington Post:
Southern Republican senators defended Jeff Sessions after an explosive new book by Bob Woodward recounted how President Donald Trump called his attorney general a “dumb Southerner” and mocked his accent.
In the forthcoming chronicle of Trump’s White House, “Fear,” Woodward writes that the president privately called Sessions a “traitor,” saying: “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner . . . He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”
The remarks are said to have come during a conversation between Trump and his former staff secretary Rob Porter about Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russian investigation. They represent the most withering insults the president has directed at his attorney general in months of largely one-sided sniping.
Of course Trump denies ever having said any such thing. But Bob Woodward’s credibility is not so easily dismissed, and the follow-up diss about Alabama sounds a lot like Trump’s put-down style.
Trump is not literally on the ballot in November, although quite a few Senators and congressional Republicans have proudly accepted his support in GOP primaries. Let them now squirm a bit when asked by reporters about his “dumb southerner” remark.
Meanwhile some southern Republicans have responded, as quoted by Pogrund:
“I’m a Southerner, people can judge my intellect, my IQ, by my product and what I produce rather than what somebody else says,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in an interview…”We’re a pretty smart bunch. We lost the Civil War, but I think we’re winning the economic war since then . . . I’m not gonna get into name calling because I don’t think you should be allowed to call names – including the president,” he added.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who served alongside Sessions during his 20 years as senator for Alabama, said: “Well, I’m sure I’ve got that accent, wouldn’t you think?”…He pointed out that Trump himself relied on Southern voters during the 2016 general election, warning: “I guess the president, he says what he thinks…
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., added to the chorus of disapproval, joking that Sessions was not a “dumb Southerner” but a “smart Southerner.” “Oh come on,” he said. “I’m a Southerner too. I think it’s not at all appropriate. It’s totally inappropriate.”
…Said Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on Tuesday: “I think we all know it’s likely he is going to terminate him after the midterms. In the interim I think it would be good if he stopped raving about Sessions. It’s unbecoming. Either do something or don’t, but these comments just continue to degrade our nation.”
Even Lindsay Graham weighed in with a timid scold that “It’s probably not helpful to characterize the region that way…” Yet, the election is two months away, and such gaffes may not have all that much of a shelf life — especially if southern voters are not reminded in the two months ahead.
But the opinions that really matter are those of southern swing voters in hot races in state legislatures, congressional districts, and statewide offices, particularly the marquee governorship races in Georgia and Florida and Beto O’Rourke’s bid for senate in Texas. It’s not hard to envision some creative Democratic ads reminding southern swing voters how they are perceived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.