U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (C) speaks about medical marijuana during a news conference as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L) and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (R) and Morgan's mother Kate Hintz (2nd R) look on during a news conference on Capitol Hill, March 10, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Senator drops f-bombs during speech
00:43 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Douglas Heye is a CNN political commentator and former deputy chief of staff to then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

Story highlights

Douglas Heye: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's recent use of f-bombs showcases a new trend

Democrats trying to use Trump's own tactics against him may come across as phony

CNN  — 

“I try very hard not to swear at home,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, told The Hill in 2014.

Three years and a Donald Trump presidential campaign later, the senator is less constrained about dropping so-called “f-bombs” in private or in public. Speaking to the Personal Democracy Forum last week, Gillibrand used the word twice. Last month in a New York Magazine interview, the senator dropped three f-bombs.

Douglas Heye

She’s not alone. Earlier this year, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, in a speech in which children were not just present but actually on stage, attacked President Trump as someone who “doesn’t give a s*** about healthcare,” while also saying “your g**damn right,” Trump is a liar.

Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democratic Congressman challenging Sen. Ted Cruz accused Cruz of “sure as s*** not serving” his constituents. And Kamala Harris, the California Democratic senator, reportedly also used the f-word at a public event in San Francisco.

If this language is something of a new normal among Democratic politicians, their reactions represent a new normal, as well. In the past, politicians typically apologized for such language.

In part, that may be because past instances were mistakes, where a politician said the wrong thing while speaking passionately on an issue or opponent.

In today’s Trump-changed political environment, this language is no mistake; it is intentional, calculated “spontaneity” designed to draw headlines and demonstrate outrage to similarly minded activists and donors – using some of Trump’s methodology to show their strong resistance to him.

After the titillating “sugar rush” these Democrats get from the sensationalism of using naughty words, there does not appear to be any substance behind it aside from projecting some sort of “authenticity” for speaking in the same way voters angry at Washington do. Democratic politicians using this language not only run the risk of distracting from their anti-Trump message, but may wind up looking like they’re trying too hard, a phoniness voters can spot a mile away.

Meanwhile, not only are apologies few and far between, but Democrats defend and promote the language. Gillibrand tweeted out a video of her remarks, while joking about contributing to a swear jar. The Democratic National Committee has not only doubled-down on Perez’s blue remarks, but seeks to profit off them by selling “Democrats give a s*** about people” t-shirt. (Yes, the Obama campaign similarly sold Obamacare as a “BFD,” but Vice President Joe Biden’s remark was as much of a gaffe as it was a rarity).

Just eight months ago, one of Hillary Clinton’s most prominent closing ads warned that “Our children are listening,” as the ad played a greatest hits of Trump’s off-color comments, while former first lady Michelle Obama repeated time and again on the campaign trail, “When they go low, we go high.”

These were key messages Democrats used to ingrain into voters’ minds that Trump was too callous and profane to serve as president.

Now? More and more Democrats appear to be in a non-stop limbo contest of words, knowing the lower they go, the more headlines and clicks they can get.

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    To be sure, Democrats will continue to decry Trump’s politics and personality – and will continue using one of the tactics Trump employed during the campaign – using four-letter words to evoke outrage from supporters and gain media coverage.

    If anything, the number of Democrats following the example of their party leaders and potential 2020 candidates using this, and possibly other Trump tactics, will only increase.

    That Trump’s campaign and presidency has forever altered the Republican Party is seen as a given. Less discussed is how the Trump-era has already affected how Democrats campaign and how they are trying to use Trump’s own tactics against him.