I spent a good portion of last year writing about Congressman Rodney Davis. Whether it was healthcare, taxes, preventing gun violence, or the general avoidance of his constituents, I feel like the overarching message I’ve been trying to get across is that Rep. Davis does a decent job of hiding what an atrocious representative he actually is by remaining (for the most part) publicly inoffensive and relying on the apathy/inattentiveness of your average voter to fly under the radar.
It’s always felt like an uphill battle. I have very few kind things to say about Davis, but he is good at appearing competent to the casual observer. The things he says make sense if you don’t think about them, and he’s rarely challenged on his positions by the larger media outlets, making it really easy to have an inaccurate picture of the type of politician Rodney Davis really is. However, over the past several days I’ve been shocked to find that help has arrived, and it’s coming from the unlikeliest of sources: Rep. Davis himself.
In a series of recent interviews, Davis responded to questions about his support for the President and his reasons for doing so with what can only be described as honesty. Now, that newfound (and frankly, surprising) honesty makes Davis look like a gutless sycophant whose only motivation is staying in power...but it’s honesty all the same, and I can’t say I’m not appreciative.
There’s a lot to unpack in these interviews, and I’d encourage you to read them in their entirety. For brevity's sake, I’ll focus on a few of the more eye-opening responses. For starters, Rep. Davis makes it clear that he doesn’t think Trump’s recent “my button is bigger than yours” tweet is all that big of a deal. ICYMI, here’s the tweet in question:
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
Now, it shouldn’t have to be said, and at risk of insulting the intelligence of those following along, its important that we take a moment and appreciate the fact that this tweet came from the President of the United States of America. The commander-in-chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known, and the leader of the free world. If you’re a relatively intelligent human being living on the planet earth in the year 2018, that’s incredibly troubling.
If, however, you’re Rodney Davis, then it’s just a tweet, and Trump isn’t the President he’s just some wacky guy that does things his own way. No, really, that’s how he tried to defend it:
“The president is always going to be different. He’s the first president in our lifetime who has come directly from the private sector. No government, no military experience. There was not a bigger distinction between presidential candidates in our lifetime (in the 2016 election). And the American people chose someone from the private sector. They wanted different. Well, they got different….But there are so many people who are enraged by the fact that President Trump does things differently that instead of rooting for the success of America, and looking at the successes we’ve had, they want to focus on Twitter habits. At some point, when is a tweet a tweet?”
As someone who didn’t believe the bar could get much lower, the stupidity of this response surprised even me. I could understand if one of Trump’s kids gave this sort of answer, or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, or one of the other bootlickers Trump trots out to defend the indefensible things he does and says. Instead, the defense of a historically disliked President’s antagonistic dick-measuring tweet directed at the despotic leader of a nuclear-armed country came from a supposedly “moderate” Republican, in an election year, in a swing district.
It’s ok to be confused by the strategy here. I certainly was. Initially, I assumed that the reason Davis thinks it’s “just” twitter is that his own inability to responsibly use the platform resulted in his staff taking those privileges away from him after a string of embarrassing tweets early last year. Of course, given my well-established low opinion of Davis, I also said to myself: “Davis is an unprincipled opportunist that will do anything to stay in power, of course he defended it” but obviously I didn’t actually expect him to come out and say that. Then he did, in an interview with Tom Kacich over at the NG:
"I see people in the rural counties I serve — Christian, Macoupin, Montgomery, Jersey, Greene, Calhoun, Macon — a lot of areas where people will come up me at a restaurant or grocery stores or when I'm out at events and say, 'Hey, keep working with the president. Keep up the good job’...They like him."
"It's not a coincidence that Mitt Romney won my district by 800 votes, which was less than a percentage point, and Donald Trump won my district by 5 points, and tens of thousands of votes. That's where my district has actually gotten more Republican."
The admission that his defense of Trump has less to do with an actual belief that the things Trump does/says should be defended, and more to do with the fact that he thinks he’ll get re-elected if he defends them is a staggeringly cynical position to take. It’s also remarkably unsurprising if you’re someone that’s spent a good deal of time actually paying attention to the things Davis does and says. It took a while, but we finally have an explanation for the pathetically weak criticism Davis struggled to make regarding Trump’s response to the Charlottesville riots, and why none of the disqualifying things Trump says or does seem to phase Davis all that much, or have any influence on his near-perfect record of voting for Trump’s agenda (a fact he bristled at when confronted in the WGLT interview, much to my delight). He thinks he’ll get re-elected if he supports Trump. That statement summarizes the beginning and end of Davis' thought process. To those paying attention, we’ve known for some time that facts, evidence, principles, or basic human decency seem to be curiously absent from Davis’ decision-making. Only now do we have confirmation from Davis that they’re not missing by accident.
If you read the interviews in their entirety (please do so if you have the time), you’ll know that there’s a lot I’ve had to omit here. I feel like I could write another article entirely about the embarrassing admission that Davis believes Trump’s incoherent rants and grade-school insults constitute a “strong” stance towards North Korea or the fact that those rants/insults aren’t labeled as “vitriolic rhetoric” despite Davis’ constant pearl-clutching over the issue. In general though, his responses in these interviews signal a shift in his public persona and strategy. He’s always been a mewling apologist for the President but has been just vague enough in his statements to have plausible deniability. Davis’ moderate/bipartisan credentials have always been undeserved/suspect to all but the most casual observer, but with his newly unapologetic support of this President, Davis has finally laid bare his true nature and motivations.
It’s refreshing, in a way. It’s nice to have this stuff out in the open now, and though what’s out in the open is the self-serving and appallingly cynical nature of our Congressman, it’s something worth celebrating. I’m not sure Davis is correct about his prospects in 2018 with this strategy, but I think it’s one that will for better or worse give us a much more realistic picture of our representative in Congress.
Photo credit: CHARLIE SCHLENKER / WGLT