Speaking at the Values Voter Summit on Saturday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin alluded to Thomas Jefferson’s famous aphorism about the need to periodically water the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
Except in Bevin’s telling, the tyrant is Hillary Clinton:
Somebody asked me yesterday, I did an interview, and they said, “Do you think it’s possible, if Hillary Clinton were to win the election, do you think it’s possible that we’ll be able to survive? That we would ever be able to recover as a nation?”
And while there are people who have stood on this stage and said we would not, I would beg to differ. But I will tell you this: I do think it would be possible, but at what price? At what price? The roots of the tree of liberty are watered by what? The blood, of who? The tyrants to be sure, but who else? The patriots.
Whose blood will be shed? It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think that it might be their blood that is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something, that we through our apathy and our indifference have given away.
Daniel Desrochers of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Bevin later tried to clean up those remarks by saying we should construe them as being about military service in the war on terrorism.
“Today we have thousands of men and women in uniform fighting for us overseas and they need our full backing,” Bevin said in a statement. “We cannot be complacent about the determination of radical Islamic extremists to destroy our freedoms.”
The text of his actual speech, however, is completely at odds with that — he is very clearly talking about patriots winning back liberty from the tyranny of Democratic Party governance.
The specific political context is that Kentucky is a state where the national Democratic Party has become deeply unpopular (Mitt Romney won more than 60 percent of the vote) but that has one of the strongest state-level Democratic parties of any red state. Bevin succeeded a popular two-term Democratic governor, and even after the Democrats’ nationally disastrous 2014 midterms the party still holds a majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives, and two of the three down-ballot statewide elected officials are Democrats.
Consequently, basically anything that raises the salience of national partisan conflict in state-level Kentucky politics is a win for the Kentucky Republican Party.
The larger political context is the overall rise of what Alan Abramowitz calls “negative partisanship,” in which voters are feeling decreasing affection for the party they usually vote for but increasing alarm and dismay about the party they usually vote against. Bevin is arguing not that Clinton will implement some policies that he disagrees with and hopes will be reversed in a future election, but that Clinton will fundamentally imperil the viability of the American republic.
Of course, raising the specter of violent resistance to the Clinton regime only servers to further demonize the Republican Party and its supporters in the eyes of non-conservatives — further entrenching the cycle.