A mass shooting that left at least four people dead – at this point, the total death toll is unclear – at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday could hurt Republicans at the polls in 10 days.
Though it’s unlikely that the shooting will do much to further energize the state’s Democrats or push voters who were considering staying home on November to suddenly run out and vote blue, it could push voters with less investment in either political party to vote, and that’s likely not good news for Republicans, said Rebovich Institute Director Micah Rasmussen.
“Polarization has not done well for us this week,” Rasmussen said. “If that’s the conclusion that a non-partisan voter reaches, then they are likely to be looking for a change from whatever we’re doing now, which is not working. You’d expect that to work against the party in power.”
The Pittsburgh shooting follows a week that was largely consumed by the discovery of at least 13 bombs sent to critics and political opponents of President Donald Trump, including one sent to U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Trump made few efforts to conceal his frustration with the attempted assassinations, publicly worrying on Twitter that they were hurting Republican momentum ahead of the year’s primaries.
“Since his loyalists tend to take their cues pretty closely from whatever he’s saying, it seems likely that they might feel that it’s hurting them at this point,” Rasmussen said of the terror attacks. And later, “You could argue ‘does it fire you up or does it make you more motivated?’ I think if you feel that you’re losing, it tends to take some of the winds out of your sails.”
Trump has condemned the shooting, saying it was anti-Semitic in nature, and has so far avoided directly bringing politics into the conversation over the mass shooting, as he did with the bombings.
But, he has raised policy issues in the immediate aftermath that could damage his party’s performance on election day.
Aboard Air Force One, Trump told reporters that the incident could have been stopped had there been an armed guard at the synagogue, saying that current gun laws had little to do with the incident.
“If you’re inclined to think that the right tone isn’t being struck, if you’re inclined to think there’s not enough appeal to our common denominator and what we share in common and our resolve to get past this and to move past this together and to not divide, I think that’s not going to accrue well for the party in power,” Rasmussen said.
It’s worth pointing out that New Jersey Republicans haven’t followed Trump’s lead in their responses to the shooting.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and Assemblyman Jay Webber, who is running for the 11th congressional district’s House seat, both issued condemning the attack and offering condolences to those affected.
“”I’m shocked and deeply saddened by the news of a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh,” Webber said. “Reports that this violence was targeted intentionally at the Jewish community, a group that has faced persecution and atrocities throughout history, only enhance the abhorrent nature of this crime.”
Trump’s policy message might work elsewhere, but it’s unlikely to be well-received in New Jersey, Rasmussen said.
Those statements, unlike those made by Trump, do nothing to break the first rule of responding to tragedies like the shooting, which Rasmussen said is to not politicize such events.
But, Trump isn’t alone in breaking that rule, and Democrats and left-leaning groups must be watchful to avoid bringing politics into the discussion.
They’d also be well advised to avoid toeing the line, as a statement from the Women’s March did.
“We are mourning with the victims, survivors, and families of all impacted by today’s horrifying shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Make no mistake: this is an act of terror intentionally targeting our Jewish family,” the group said. “After a week of violence – from attempted assassinations of the leadership of the Democratic party, Trump critics, and news organizations to the racist murder of two Black people in a Kentucky grocery store – it is more clear than ever that hatred and bigotry in this country is escalating.”