KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley blamed Democrats for a vitriolic political climate without offering any criticism of President Donald Trump during a Thursday debate with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.…
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley blamed Democrats for a vitriolic political climate without offering any criticism of President Donald Trump during a Thursday debate with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The debate hosted by KMBC-TV in Kansas City marked the final time the two squared off before the pivotal Nov. 6 election, when the Missouri race could be pivotal to party control of the U.S. Senate.
It came amid the discovery of crude pipe bombs targeting prominent Democratic politicians and CNN, raising the specter of election-season violence largely unknown in the U.S. and highlighting increasingly heated political rhetoric.
After the debate, Hawley called the crude mail bombs “awful” and condemned political violence on both sides. But he focused criticism during the debate on Democrats, particularly those in the Senate who he said launched a “smear campaign” against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh following allegations of sexual assault against him. He added that there are “mobs popping up” following the confirmation hearings.
“This has to stop,” Hawley said. “I’m willing to call out anybody who does it, but I think we’ve got to take responsibility where responsibility is due.”
Hawley mirrored wording used by Trump, who along with Senate Republicans has been warning about what he says would be Democratic “mob rule” if they win the elections.
Trump has embraced inflammatory and often personal attacks against his opponents. He repeatedly encouraged supporters to physically attack liberal protesters during his campaign, offering to pay for their legal bills. He regularly calls media outlets such as CNN “the enemy of the people.”
Hawley during the debate also criticized Clinton and former Attorney General Eric Holder, who were both targeted by explosive devices, saying they have encouraged “confrontation, if not violence.”
Holder said that when those on the opposite side of the aisle “go low,” Democrats should “kick ’em.” Clinton this month said: “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.”
McCaskill said both sides must “turn down the temperature” and said Hawley’s heavy emphasis on Democrats is part of the problem.
“He still didn’t call out anybody on the Republican side,” McCaskill said. “This is so ridiculous. There’s incredible incendiary rhetoric used by the president at his rallies from time to time. We all know that. I’m not blaming it all on him, but how can you actually get to this question without acknowledging it?”
When asked by a reporter after the debate whether Trump bears any responsibility, Hawley said there’s a “big difference” between voicing disagreement and encouraging people to “actually confront people, get them in their face, drive them out of public, kick them.”
“That’s language of confrontation and violence,” Hawley said. “There’s no place for it, whoever says it.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called it “disgraceful” to suggest the president bears any responsibility for the packages sent to his opponents. She told reporters Thursday there’s a big difference between “comments made and actions taken.”
Both candidates also used the debate to hammer on the overarching themes of their campaigns in the final weeks before the election.
McCaskill is touting herself as a moderate in a state Trump won by nearly 19 percentage points in 2016. Hawley sought to paint McCaskill as too liberal for a state that has trended red in recent elections.
Both candidates also said they support Trump taking whatever steps are necessary to secure the southern border as thousands of Central American migrants continue their caravan trek through Mexico toward it.