The one question GOP senators must be asked
Journalists should demand a simple yes or no answer from every Republican senator who acquits Trump.
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In the immediate hours following the Jan 6th insurrection, and in the weeks since, GOP senators have offered a variety of reactions to the terrible day, including their horror and shock at seeing violence against the Capitol.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida called it the “saddest day in America” and a “national embarrassment.” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said the event was “despicable” and “tragic.” And Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who, like Cruz, fueled the attack by leading the charge to overturn the 2020 election — with Hawley even infamously raising a fist to the gathering thugs on his way into the Capitol on that day — said “violence is never warranted” and “the violence must end.”
But these particular statements and other reactions from many Republican senators and House members focused on the event itself and the actions that took place. None of these senators nor others has said they do not want the votes of the individuals who carried out the insurrection and the votes of those who agree with them and their cause.
It’s a simple question: Do you want the votes of these people who stormed the Capitol and the people who support their cause?
All three of these senators are possible presidential contenders and certainly are trying as hard as they can to pander to Donald Trump’s base nationally as well as his base in their own states. Rubio is up for a re-election for his Senate seat in 2022 and surely wants the Trump base in Florida, and other senators up in 2022 are courting that base in their states.
And that’s why the question is so important — and one they would be loathe to answer.
Naturally, if they believe the storming of the Capitol was so terrible they should be condemning the individuals involved, and all those who support them and their cause. They should answer if asked that they unequivocally do not want their support or votes. The closest Cruz came was in calling the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol “terrorists” and “criminals,” and Hawley said they should be “prosecuted.” That might seem like a condemnation but it’s far from broad, and both men promoted the Big Lie that helped fuel the action of the insurrectionists.
The weekend before the attack Cruz told supporters who wanted to overturn the election, speaking specifically about January 6th, that “we will defend the United States of America,” and “we will not go quietly into the night.”
Ted Cruz @tedcruzDevastating. Heidi and I are lifting up in prayer the family of the U.S. Capitol Police officer who tragically lost his life keeping us safe. He was a true hero. Yesterday's terrorist attack was a horrific assault on our democracy. Every terrorist needs to be fully prosecuted. https://t.co/OMH1C1tc5v
Again, he and others have condemned the “assault” and “the violence” but they haven’t named the groups involved and condemned them specifically — like the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, and the OathKeepers, several of whose leaders have been indicted in the attack, including on conspiracy to obstruct Congress. These groups are an influential and active part of the Trump base, promote white supremacy and engage in violence.
More than that, the groups promoted the Big Lie of massive election fraud propagated by Trump and they have organized Trump supporters around it. A much larger swath of Trump’s base — a majority as large as 70% of Republicans according several polls — believes what these groups believe about the election and “fraud,” though it’s all false.
These groups also found solidarity on January 6th with QAnon cultists, who promote violence and dangerous lies, and whose leaders were among those who were prominent at the insurrection. One recent poll showed that a majority of Republican voters believe some or all of of the QAnon conspiracy, which positions Trump as a crusader against Satan-worshipping sex-traffickers among Democratic leaders, and who was supposed to stay in power past January 20th via armed conflict and mass arrests.
Many of the Republican senators who are likely to vote against convicting Trump are falling back on the weak argument that convicting a president after he’s left office is unconstitutional, though this has been shown by a broad range of scholars to be wrong and the Senate itself ruled, during the trial, that impeaching Trump is constitutional.
Those senators, almost all of whom offered vague condemnation of violence regarding January 6th, don’t want to speak about about Trump and his actions to incite the crowd because they don’t want to offend his supporters — including those voters who support the aims of the Capitol attacks and are involved in the very groups that organized it.
Rubio, in his first response to the event on January 6th, after saying the assault was a “national embarrassment,” referred to vague “heated rhetoric” and “wild conspiracy theories” in our politics, which seemed to be trying to partly blame Democrats for what the insurrectionists did.
He went on to say he’s been hearing from people “on my side of the political aisle who are very upset.” Then he claimed:
They’re angry that the news media and social media censored news stories that were harmful to Joe Biden and they did it right before the vote. They’re angry state officials mutilated their own election laws. And the result is that they have serious doubts about the integrity of the election. And so they want us to fight. They want us to stand with President Trump.
It’s hard to believe he said those words after the insurrection. This was not only a further promotion of the Big Lie but it was pandering to the insurrectionists and their supporters, attempting to understand their anger and, by default, excuse the violence and the attack on the Capitol.
That of course is outrageous and unacceptable. And now that the House impeachment managers have done a stunning job of showing the extent of the danger to former Vice President Mike Pence — who was perhaps minutes away from being harmed or killed — the pressure is further on senators like Rubio, and the media must grill them.
Democrats wisely emphasized the threat to Pence, revealing how Trump further promoted the violence against Pence by tweeting an attack on him while the insurrection was underway — knowing Pence was in danger — tweets that were read on a bullhorn by the assaulters as they were storming the building and looking for Pence in order to execute him.
After they vote to acquit Trump, GOP senators will go home and be expected to continue to promote the Big Lie — the lie that fueled the violence, including against the vice president of their own party, who was almost killed.
So they must in fact be asked if they reject the votes of those who Trump incited to violence, and the votes of all those who support their cause — and made to give a yes or no answer. They must be asked about the specific groups, from Proud Boys to the Oath Keepers, and all who follow them, who organize rallies in support of Trump and other GOP politicians. They must be asked if they reject the votes of these groups that promote the Big Lie.
It shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer.