LaRock, who said he marched to the Capitol with the crowd but stayed outside rather than assault it, also said he now has “greater appreciation” for people who demonstrated peacefully in Black Lives Matter protests last summer — only to see the movement tarnished when some engaged in violence.
“It’s very frustrating,” LaRock said, that the failed insurrection on Jan. 6 has similarly stained the conservative cause.
Despite those second thoughts, LaRock remains firmly defiant about the election and its aftermath. He refuses to accept that President-elect Joe Biden’s win was legitimate, even though Trump’s claims of massive fraud lack evidence and have been rejected by courts and then-Attorney General William P. Barr.
LaRock joined others in writing to Vice President Pence, asking him to reject Virginia’s electoral votes, after the state went for Biden over Trump by 54 percent to 44 percent. He believes antifa followers were “very possibly” among the leaders of those who assaulted the Capitol, claims also made by other Republicans without evidence and dismissed by the FBI.
LaRock’s stance is typical of most Republican elected officials in Virginia and Maryland. The perseverance of GOP politicians in questioning the election results threatens the core democratic principle that the people choose our leaders in a peaceful process, and the losers agree to try again next time.
“When you repeatedly lie to people and tell them that the election was rigged, that their vote didn’t count, that is an incredibly irresponsible and dangerous thing for an elected official to do,” Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said. “More than one Republican in Loudoun County has done that, but no one to the extent of Dave LaRock.”
Randall and Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) have asked the board to approve a resolution urging LaRock’s resignation from the legislature. Separately, in Richmond, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) stripped him and two other delegates of one committee assignment apiece for appealing to Pence to nullify Virginia’s electoral votes.
LaRock stirred further controversy with a fundraising appeal that called on Randall, who is African American, and the NAACP, which also criticized him, to focus more on needs of “the colored community.” Later he told WTOP that he regretted the remark, saying “I have been educated that it is not appropriate” to refer to Black people as “colored.”
LaRock is among the many GOP elected officials in the region who are bowing to Trump’s fantasy that the election was somehow significantly flawed. Four of the five GOP congressmen from Virginia and Maryland decline to acknowledge explicitly and publicly that Biden won in a legitimate contest. They are Reps. Ben Cline, Bob Good and H. Morgan Griffith of Virginia, and Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland.
The exception is Rep. Rob Wittman (Va.), whose spokesman said in an email that he accepted Biden’s win as valid. But Wittman joined the other four in voting against certifying electoral college results. They cited a strained legal argument that election law experts dismissed as a partisan smokescreen. Although the five decried the violence at the Capitol, they all opposed impeaching Trump for helping to incite it.
It was one thing for Republicans to waffle for weeks about the election result while the Trump campaign mounted dozens of court battles to try to overturn Biden’s win. It’s another now that the courts have ruled overwhelmingly in Biden’s favor, and state elections officials, including Republicans, have endorsed the outcome. Even GOP stalwarts including Barr and outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) have rejected Trump’s repeated assertions that the election was “rigged” and that he won in a “landslide.”
Some area Republicans have gone well beyond the congressmen in their rhetoric. Virginia Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-Chesterfield) has claimed the election was stolen and praised the “patriots” who stormed the Capitol. At least 10 Democratic state senators want to take the rare step of censuring her.
It seems likely that most of the Republican officeholders are simply saying what Trump’s loyal followers in the GOP base want to hear. The officials represent rural and outer suburban districts that Trump carried. They feel vulnerable to backlash if they don’t stick with the president.
“It’s hard to believe that they believe in their heart of hearts that the election was stolen,” said Mark J. Rozell, dean of George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. “They understand what they need to do to maintain their support within the party. The obvious question is, ‘What is elected office worth in relation to supporting constitutionalism, democracy [and] the integrity of our electoral system?’ ”
Rachel Bitecofer, a Virginia-based political scientist, said the grass roots would respond if the GOP elected officials showed more leadership. “What these Republicans need to understand is that public opinion flows from the top down,” said Bitecofer, who edits the Cycle, an online publication. “To some extent, they do have the potential to lead the Republican electorate. It’s not acceptable to say, ‘My voter base wants to end democracy, so I’m just going to go along for the ride.’ ”
The GOP election critics are relying mainly on a constitutional argument that courts or state executive authorities improperly changed voting rules in some states. The Republicans said legislatures alone should have made the decisions, even if the legislatures had granted authority earlier for making such changes.
Legal experts rejected that reasoning.
“This is not a legitimate objection,” said Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the University of California at Irvine. “The [critics’] idea that a state legislature has the power to come in after it has given the voters the power to choose presidential electors is wrong.”
Wendy R. Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, called the GOP position “a completely baseless argument, on multiple fronts.” She said the U.S. Constitution “has never been interpreted to grant exclusive authority to a state legislature to make policies related to elections to the exclusion of the rest of the state’s legal and political process.”
Weiser added that the GOP effort reflected “a years-long strategy, that escalated with this election, to not only sow doubt about the outcome of the election, but to try to thwart the process by throwing out legitimate ballots.”
Republican officials said they opposed impeaching Trump after the Capitol breach because it was “divisive” and they wanted the country to “heal.”
If they truly care about the republic’s health, they can start to restore it by endorsing the electoral process that is democracy’s heart.