In the debate over whether Democrats should go low against President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers or rise above partisan attacks, count former Attorney General Eric Holder as an advocate of getting into the gutter.
Holder, while campaigning in Georgia on Sunday, told an audience that he disagreed with former first lady Michelle Obama’s much touted mantra, “When they go low, we go high.”
“It is time for us as Democrats to be as tough as they are, to be as dedicated as they are, to be as committed as they are,” Holder said. “Michelle always says, Michelle Obama, I love her. She and my wife are really tight. Which always scares me and Barack. Michelle always says, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ No. No. When they go low, we kick them.”
The potential 2020 candidate added: “That’s what this new Democratic Party is about. We are proud as hell to be Democrats. We are willing to fight for the ideals of the Democratic Party. We are proud of our history, we are proud of our present and we are proud of the future that we can create for this country.”
“When I say we kick them, I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate, we don’t do anything illegal, but we have to be tough and we have to fight,” he said later.
Holder’s comments stand in stark contrast to much of what Obama, the former first lady, and Hillary Clinton, Democrats’$2 2016 presidential nominee, said during the campaign against Trump two years ago.
“With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us,” Obama said during her much-watched speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Clinton, facing Trump, a Republican candidate who openly mocked a disabled reporter, claimed a prisoner of war wasn’t a war hero because get got captured and was taped openly talking about sexually assaulting women, spoke at length about civility and the need for “love and kindness” during her 2016 campaign.
“America is stronger when we are all supporting one another,” Clinton often said.
Since 2016, though, Democrats have watched the Trump administration and grown angrier, with now a large contingent of the party advocating for a more adversarial and ruthless opposition to the President and Republicans.
Holder is not the first Democrat to use the former first lady’s comments as an example of what Democrats don’t need to do going forward.
Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels and another Democrat considering a 2020 run, told an audience in Iowa that he worries Democrats “have a tendency to bring nail clippers to a gunfight.”
“I believe that our party, the Democratic Party, must be a party that fights fire with fire,” he said. “When they go low, I say, we hit harder.”
Even Clinton, who just two years ago was calling for civility, has begun to call for more direct and forceful opposition to Republicans.
“You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” Clinton told CNN this week. “That’s why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”
Democrats, hungry to oust Trump in 2020, are expected to have a public debate over whether they nominate someone who offers a more civil contrast to Trump or someone who is ready and willing to brawl with the coarse President.
The desire to meet Trump with fury, however, has forced Democrats to walk back comments they made, too.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at an event in Florida earlier this year, said he would have “beat the hell out of” Trump if they were in high school over his crude comments about women.
A few weeks later, however, Biden walked the comments back and said he “shouldn’t have said what I said.”
“I don’t want to get down in the mosh pit with this guy,” Biden said of Trump.
And not all possible candidates have endorsed the idea that Democrats need to fight back ruthlessly.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, another possible 2020 candidate, told reporters in Iowa earlier this month that while he is “angry,” he doesn’t believe the response is more anger.
“The way you counter that is not by embodying the tactics of those people that you don’t want to see in office,” he said. “So, you know the President might try to divide people, I think we as Democrats should try to unite people.”
He added: “The President wants to demean people and degrade people. We are Americans. I think we should try to elevate people and celebrate people. We love all, we should love all Americans. But if the President wants to preach hate, we should be the party preaching love.”