Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed to hang the violent assault on the Capitol directly around the neck of President Trump.

“The mob was fed lies,” he said. “They were provoked by the president.”

This is making big news. After all, McConnell (R-Ky.) is forthrightly declaring that Trump incited the assault, which many Republicans will not say. McConnell is knifing Trump in the back on the way out. What drama!

But let’s get real. While McConnell’s words have the aura of blunt truth-telling, what he just offered is, at bottom, an effort to distance the GOP from any culpability for the mob attack. It’s not a remotely serious effort to accept or own what really happened, let alone to learn from it or to address the pathologies that made it possible.

Here’s McConnell:

The last time the Senate convened, we had just reclaimed the Capitol from violent criminals who tried to stop Congress from doing our duty. The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like.
But we pressed on. We stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation — not even for one night. We certified the people’s choice for their 46th president. Tomorrow, Vice President-elect [Kamala D.] Harris and President-elect [Joe] Biden will be sworn in. We’ll have a safe and successful inaugural right here on the west front of the Capitol.

It’s often said that use of the passive voice is a dead giveaway, and it’s true here, as well. McConnell’s claim that “the mob was fed lies” elides the role that many members of the Senate and House GOP — and McConnell himself — played in this feeding.

Let’s not forget that McConnell refused to recognize Biden as the winner of the election for weeks, for purely instrumental purposes: Because he calculated that sustaining the fiction that Trump’s chances were still alive would energize the Trump base for the Senate runoff elections in Georgia.

It’s true that McConnell ultimately recognized Biden as the winner once the states certified the electors. It’s also true that at that point, McConnell called on senators not to object to the electors when Congress counted them on Jan. 6, which precipitated the assault on the Capitol at the direction of Trump, who called on the mob to disrupt that count.

But that was only after McConnell kept Trump’s lies about the election’s illegitimacy alive for as long as he conceivably could. What’s more, McConnell is also misleading the public about what happened after that point.

Remember, Georgia’s two GOP senators aggressively fed those same lies long after McConnell admitted to Biden’s victory. They continued backing the Texas lawsuit that would have invalidated millions of votes in four states based on fictions. And just before the runoff elections, incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) announced that she would object to Biden’s electors in Congress.

Indeed, Axios reports that Loeffler did this as part of an express deal with Trump in which he agreed to fire up the base on her behalf.

There is little doubt the two Georgia senators did all this in direct consultation with McConnell, whose majority depended on one or both winning reelection, which in turn depended on the Trump base remaining engaged.

And those lies are exactly what “provoked” the mob assault. So when McConnell claims “other powerful people” fed the mob those lies along with Trump, he’s talking about his own senators, as well as the huge pool of GOP lawmakers who backed the Texas lawsuit and signaled they’d join with Trump in contesting Biden’s electors in Congress.

To be clear, it’s important that McConnell has now declared forthrightly that Biden and Harris actually were “the people’s choice.” Not enough Republicans will say outright that the election’s outcome was legitimate.

But what McConnell offered here isn’t close to a real reckoning. That would require admitting that large swaths of the GOP tried to co-opt and harness Trump’s big lie about the election for the purely cynical purpose of keeping the GOP base energized (not to mention that many Republicans surely hoped Trump’s effort would actually succeed in overturning the election).

It would require admitting that this entailed keeping GOP voters in a state of delusion about Trump’s hopes of still prevailing for as long as Republicans thought they could get away with. It would require admitting that many elected Republicans facilitated the fomenting and unleashing of authoritarian currents inside the party that now have a majority of Republican poll respondents convinced that GOP leaders didn’t go far enough in trying to subvert the results.

By isolating Trump as the only actor who instigated the mob with “lies,” McConnell is trying to insulate the rest of his party from blame for its direct participation in sustaining them for so long. This is not blunt truth-telling. It’s evasion and buck-passing of the most craven and transparent kind.

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