(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) The NFL-protest controversy is playing out politically in unpredictable ways, with at least one embattled Democrat and at least one embattled Republican taking stances popular with their “base” voters rather than trying to straddle any sort of middle line.
Bruce Rauner, the Republican governor of otherwise heavily Democratic Illinois, blasted the players in no uncertain terms – even though he also is a part-owner of an NFL team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I strongly disagree with those who disrespect our flag and our anthem,” Rauner said in a statement to the newspaper Politico. “To me they are disrespecting the foundations of our country, the veterans who risked their lives for our democracy, and the men and women who fight every day and make the ultimate sacrifice to defend our liberties.”
As Politico then explained, this was an uncharacteristically bold stance come from “the most vulnerable governor in the country” who finds himself “in an unusually precarious spot as both governor and part-owner of an NFL team.”
It could well be that Rauner was speaking out of personal conviction, but the media always looks for political motives – and, sure enough, Politico reported/speculated that “his strong response on the NFL firestorm could aid his efforts to connect with more conservative voters who are already questioning Rauner’s Republican credentials.”
In a sort of mirror-image display, Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, facing a tough re-election campaign next year in Republican-heavy Indiana, worried less about offending moderate patriots than he did about his own liberal party activists. Before hedging his bets a little, he harshly criticized the president for instigating the controversy.
Donnelly said Monday Trump’s comments “are dividing Americans instead of bringing them together.”
He added: “While I would choose to stand for the national anthem with my hand over my heart, I know that by and large these are men who care about and are involved in their communities.”
Donnelly’s defense of the players drew the attention of Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, who is vying to take Donnelly’s Senate seat in 2018. Rokita issued a release blasting the senator for “demonstrating once again that despite all his rhetoric, he is with Washington liberal elites, not Hoosiers…. Liberals and media elites politicize sports like they politicize everything else to demonize anyone who rejects their radical agenda. They hold up the disrespectful actions of athletes and celebrities as something heroic and deride anyone who disagrees. Joe Donnelly’s liberal friends are dividing Americans, not Donald Trump.”
Another Republican congressman vying for Donnelly’s seat, Luke Messer, likewise Tweeted: “Stand for the national anthem. @realDonaldTrump is right. Athletes should stand and honor our great country.”
Three other Republican House members from Indiana, Trey Hollingsworth, Susan Brooks, and Jim Banks, also sided with Trump over the players.
On the Left, though, several Congressional Black Caucus members weren’t just siding with the players, but actually “taking a knee” in solidarity with them. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas actually kneeled down on the House floor, saying she wanted to place “racism under my knee.” She said that Trump’s words themselves amounted to “racism. You cannot deny it.”
Democrat Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who is white, also kneeled.
Black Reps. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and John Lewis of Georgia also outspokenly supported the players, and Rep. Al Green of Texas even threatened to force a vote on opening an impeachment inquiry against Trump for his comments.
Still, there are politicians in Washington who, like politicians are known to do, are ducking for cover. When Republican West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey, who is running for the Senate next year against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, challenged Manchin to take a stand on the Trump/NFL controversy, Manchin did not respond. It remains to be seen if taking no stand is seen as staying wisely above the fray, or instead is seen as a cowardly way to avoid a necessary arena.