At the Prospect today, Paul Waldman asks political junkies a hardy perennial question that is especially pertinent in these days of polarization: what it is about particular politicians that inspires one’s hate, not just disdain?

It’s often not a matter of ideology. Harry Reid, for example, is not an especially progressive Democrat by most standards. But conservatives really, really hate him. Waldman explains why:

Unlike Nancy Pelosi, who generates contempt from the right mostly for who she is (a San Francisco liberal, a woman with power), with Reid it’s about what he does, specifically his propensity for saying things about conservatives that are over the top. Most liberals look at Reid and see him as an extremely skilled legislative leader, even if they cringe a bit when his statements go too far. For instance, it’s possible to criticize the Koch brothers without saying they “are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine”; things like that seem designed to just drive Republicans nuts. As Simon Malloy says, “Harry Reid is a troll. He’s an effective majority leader and he knows how to work within the sticky labyrinth of official DC to get things done, but he’s also a troll. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a trait that lends itself to excess.”

Waldman goes on to wonder if the potential GOP presidential field has any hate-worthy folks sure to enrage progressives:

So take a look at the potential GOP candidates for 2016. Which ones have the potential to really make you crazy with loathing? The only one who comes across as really sinister is Scott Walker, and that’s because of things he did. Rick Perry hits the anti-intellectualism that raises liberal hackles. Ted Cruz is acknowledged by pretty much everyone he’s ever encountered to be a smarmy jerk. Something tells me Bobby Jindal has some appalling behavior in him, but that’s just a guess. The idea of Rand Paul as president may be alarming, but he doesn’t push the emotional buttons. Rick Santorum? He’s got the extremism, but he’s kind of a joke. Jeb Bush? Please. Chris Christie? Now hold on—there’s a guy you could grow to hate.

I dunno. As a Christian, I try pretty hard not to hate anybody. But there are definitely those–usually, though not always, on the right side of the fence–that fill me with regular fear and loathing. I used to say it was a matter of instinctively knowing which Republicans regarded you as wrong but entitled to an opinion, and which ones you just knew would be perfectly happy helping run an authoritarian one-party state. And that’s a matter of attitude as much as ideology (Mitch McConnell strikes me as someone who’d have no problems with a situation where his critics could be jailed).

There are a few pols that just strike me as bad people. Waldman mentions Scott Walker. As regular readers know, I have special issues with Bobby Jindal, whose arrogance and cynicism are revealed by the especially casual way in which he flip-flops and panders and generally under-utilizes his formidable intellectual gifts. I feel bad for feeling that way about certain pols, since I don’t actually know most of them. But they do have a way of reinforcing my prejudices.

But what I’m realizing lately is that there is a whole band of conservatives who bug and scare me: the self-styled “constitutional conservatives.” If you listen to what they are saying all the time, they assert that the policies they favor are the only legitimate policies under our constitutional system, now and forever. Some go further by enshrining the original Constitution (filled out by the Declaration of Independence) as part of the woof and weave of the universe via divine (and/or natural) law. In any event, even if they are the nicest people on earth, they are implicitly in the one-party-authoritarian-state camp; they don’t just want to beat progressives (and moderates) politically, they want to define us right out of existence. Talk about epistemic closure!

I welcome those of you still reading PA late on a Friday afternoon to tell us about the pols you especially loathe, and why.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.