Republican politicians can’t duck the implications of Jan. 6

Voters deserve leaders who aren’t afraid of the truth

Donald Trump has spent the past year trying to rewrite the history of the Jan. 6, 2021, siege on the U.S. Capitol. He’s forcing Republican politicians and their media allies to choose between the expedient option — defending or ignoring Trump — and the patriotic one — denouncing him.

Earlier this week, Trump canceled a promised news conference at his Mar-a-Lago home, which would have marked the one-year anniversary of the riots, after a small handful of GOP senators said it was time to move on. But the critics didn’t fully rein him in: Trump used his cancellation announcement to say he instead would hold a rally in Arizona on Jan. 15 to “discuss many of those important topics,” including ones the “Lame Stream Media” refuses to report. There, he’ll likely repeat charges that the 2020 election was stolen, and claim that any actual “insurrection” took place on Election Day, when he was “fraudulently” denied a second term.

How much longer will the majority of Republican politicians stoke Trump’s ego by sitting quietly by as he spews lies and innuendo about fraud and theft and “witch hunts”? Trump’s Big Lie — that Joe Biden lost the election — is easy to reject, if only prominent Republicans would do it. Such an admission could slow the calls among party radicals to continue trashing public trust in peaceful democratic processes.

CBS News debunked several major conspiracies a week after the Capitol was sacked. Dominion Voting System machines didn’t switch votes from Trump to Biden; Sharpie markers didn’t invalidate votes in Arizona; ballots weren’t “found” or “thrown out” by election workers in several states; poll watchers weren’t denied access to witness vote counting; thousands of votes weren’t cast by dead people and tallied; nor did thousands cast multiple ballots that were all counted. Even less-credible conspiracies pushed by Trump’s legal team — fake ballots were transported from North Korea to Maine! Chinese hackers broke into election office computer systems to change votes! — continue to circulate. The former president may repeat them.

What Trump says, though, is less important than how other Republicans respond to it. Republicans shouldn’t be allowed to ignore or amplify the Big Lie merely to boost their credentials with unhinged activists.

While most defeated presidents stay out of party primary contests, Trump has thrown his influence behind more than 40 candidates running in 2022, many of them vowing to keep the conspiracies alive. Some swear they’d use their power to reverse election results if Republicans lose. Democrats likely stand a better chance of taking control of a 50-50 Senate if Trump-friendly GOP neophytes defeat mainstream Republicans in primaries; even so, the former president is eager to test that thesis.

For instance, Trump has endorsed a little-known primary challenger to popular incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Murkowski won re-election in 2010 as a write-in candidate and was one of seven senators to vote for conviction in Trump’s 2021 impeachment. She’s likely to win this fall, despite Trump’s opposition. But the money GOP Trumpists shovel toward a futile Alaska race can’t be spent defending competitive seats with mainstream candidates.

In purple North Carolina, Trump endorsed back-bench Rep. Ted Budd (R) over former Gov. Pat McCrory (R) in the open U.S. Senate race. Budd voted to decertify the 2020 election results; McCrory said he would have certified them. And in Georgia, with Trump’s blessing, former Sen. David Perdue (R) is challenging incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) re-election bid. Perdue said he wouldn’t have certified the 2020 election results; Kemp defended the integrity of the Georgia outcome, where Biden prevailed. For this, Trump says Kemp has to go.

Fortunately, some cracks in the GOP armor are showing.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for one, is changing his tune. McConnell voted to acquit Trump in both impeachment trials. He scotched the notion of a joint, bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riots. But just before Christmas, McConnell defended the Democrat-created House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. “I think the fact-finding is interesting; we’re all going to be watching it,” McConnell told The Washington Post. “It was a horrendous event, and I think what they are seeking to find out is something the public needs to know.”

Likewise, Rep. Tom Rice (R-Ga.) supported Trump’s second impeachment but voted to decertify Biden’s election. Rice recently told the U.K.’s Independent newspaper he regrets his certification vote. Learning Trump “did nothing” while the Capitol was under siege changed Rice’s mind.

This may not signal a groundswell of sanity among Washington Republicans. After all, 139 House members and eight senators voted to overturn President Biden’s election. Few have recanted. But it’s a start.

Fox News, OANN, and Newsmax, meanwhile, aren’t going to change their tunes unless they’re legally compelled to do so. Their viewers apparently crave disinformation that confirms their worldviews. An October NPR/PBS/Marist poll of registered voters found that 68 percent of Republicans surveyed agreed with Trump’s claims the election was stolen.

Power — and the lust to regain it once you’ve lost it — is a potent drug. Non-Trumpist media outlets and public watchdogs can start dispelling the lies by demanding Republican elected officials and candidates directly answer one question: Did Joe Biden win the 2020 election? And dodgy answers like “he’s in the White House” or “I have concerns about election fraud” shouldn’t be accepted. Biden got 81 million votes in 2020. Trump received 7 million fewer. Biden won 27 states (and the District of Columbia) and 306 electoral votes. Trump got 232.

Trump supporters and other Republicans may dispute those facts. Some may be incapable of accepting the truth. But Trump-supporting and Trump-agnostic Republicans alike should pledge they’ll abide by the legitimate certification of future elections. Get them on the record. Push them to denounce far-flung plots, like the plan hatched by Trump insiders to have Vice President Pence delay the recording of electoral votes, hoping GOP-led state legislatures would submit bogus slates of electors to Congress. 

A political party willing to ignore, minimize, or gaslight Trump’s actions surrounding Jan. 6 is unworthy of holding power, no matter where it stands on other issues. 

Voters deserve political leaders who aren’t afraid of the truth, even when facts undermine their personal ambitions. The future of the republic may depend on it.

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