Since President Trump took office, Republican representatives have been razzed in town halls all over the country. Given the climate, you’d think that U.S Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, might have prepared more than a type-heavy Power Point presentation for the crowd of more than 2,000 constituents. They gathered Saturday afternoon for his town hall at Richardson High School.
He did have some supporters there; I saw several “Make American Great Again” caps and “Repeal Obamacare” posters, along with the curious hand-scribbled “Arrest All Climate Change Believers” sign. But the majority were people with concerns about the new healthcare package, about 75 percent of which derives from the plan Sessions created. There were other passion points. Parents in Richardson who have worked for years to build up their school system are worried about vouchers creating reductions in public school funding. The mention of ‘the wall’ drew big groans, though Sessions got applause for saying it should not go through Big Bend National Park. Planned Parenthood supporters came en masse. Immigration policy was hot.
But for all the many and varied concerns, what struck me most was that the individuals in this misbehaving, heckling crowd were mostly first-timers. New to politics. Mild-mannered suburban folks. They were all ages, about equally male and female. They came from Richardson, Garland, Rowlett, East Dallas, and, to my surprise, even from the Park Cities. It was an auditorium of garden-variety white people in tee-shirts and Polos, except that they were carrying signs. Oh, and they also were completely out of control.
Congressman Sessions (whom I assume is a good man and emphasized his love of family and his concern for our veterans, among many other wonderful things) was remarkably poised in what was a political Rocky Horror Show. He admonished the crowd for not listening, but clearly they came to be heard. Sessions could have stopped the screaming and chanting if he had been willing to answer his constituents’ questions, but he could not, and would not. Yes, many of the answers would have been complicated and fraught with PR land mines and could not be explained in two sentences. But mostly, the congressman, like so many of his brethren, is simply incapable of answering a direct question. “Do you agree that President Trump should release his tax returns?”
Sessions retrieved some key phrases (“the president and vice president’s tax returns are being audited”) before trying to explain how Washington works. But then the crowd drowned him out with chants of “Yes or no? Yes or no?” All he had to say was “that would be my choice if I were in that position.” Or yes. Or no. Anything resembling an answer. But that is not the language he speaks. And when you obfuscate over and over, you have no chance of connecting with a crowd of the newly-marginalized.
Sessions is aware more than anyone that Hillary Clinton carried his district in November. Until Saturday, he probably thought that older, reliably Republican voters would carry him in the 2018 mid-term. I doubt today that he is feeling so secure.