Too many Republicans, especially in the South, thirst to restore an intolerant past. Phil Berger gets this, and as he builds toward a possible governor’s run, he’s decided to capitalize on the force of their resentment.
Viciousness is hardly new to Berger. Years of rhetoric reveals a figure comfortable with the nastiest impulses of conservatism. But since Governor Cooper took office, the Senate leader has raised this vitriol to a new level. GOP strategist Carter Wrenn described it, rather modestly, by saying Berger “lights into Roy Cooper.” In fact, the Senator’s behavior mocks all notions of civility and goodwill.
This is deliberate: Berger knows his base, which craves a politics that’s heavy on anger. Taken off their pedestal, under siege, they thrill to abusive rhetoric. And their hero leaves no stone unturned. In his telling, trans people are predators, African-Americans “vote for a living,” and a rising liberalism immiserates rural life. Every suspicion is validated one by one.
Now this free-floating rage has found a focus: Rebel monuments. Part of Berger almost certainly welcomes this controversy. Challenging the loathed Cooper, he gets to pose as a defender of the white Southern legacy against cultural Jacobins. He basks in the fading glow of the Lost Cause, earning renown from the future Republican primary voters.
You can tell what I think of this strategy, morally. But that’s a separate issue from whether it will work. In Virginia, Corey Stewart came within 2% of his Party’s nomination on the strength of Confederate nostalgia. Berger’s broader pander to rage could get him even further.