In the wake of the Donald Trump-incited riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6, supporters of the former president deployed the usual two-step playbook when Trump makes an indefensible blunder. First, they hid. CNN’s Jake Tapper told viewers last week, “We invited every single Republican senator to join us this morning. Every one of them declined or failed to respond.” This week, they emerged for the second step: Deflect, and protect Trump from having to suffer any consequences.

“It’s a moot point” whether Trump committed an impeachable offense, argued Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “For right now, I think there are other things that we’d rather be working on instead.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sounded a similar note on “Fox News Sunday,” even as he acknowledged Trump bears “responsibility for some of what happened” at the Capitol. “I think the trial is stupid. I think it’s counterproductive,” Rubio said. “We already have a flaming fire in this country, and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire.”

To extend Rubio’s analogy, though, discarding the House’s impeachment article now is like saying the person who helped set the fire shouldn’t face consequences because his friends might be upset. And after several days of Republicans dismissing President Biden’s first actions as being of the “radical left,” as Rubio did on Friday, it’s unconvincing to turn around and feign interest in working with the new White House.

But as weak as Rubio and Rounds’s arguments were, no one deflected more flagrantly than Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on ABC’s “This Week.” Host George Stephanopoulos began by asking, “This election was not stolen, do you accept that fact?” Paul refused. “We never had any presentation in court where we actually looked at the evidence,” he said. “Most of the cases were thrown out for lack of standing, which is a procedural way of not actually hearing the question.”

At this point, Stephanopoulos could have pointed that even Paul said “most,” not all — that time and again Trump’s team was unable to prove his case on the merits. He could have observed that as a states’ rights supporter, Paul should have agreed with several of the dismissals, as when the Supreme Court rejected Texas’s bizarre bid to challenge other states’ election results. Or he could have asked Paul how he expects a congressional investigation to assuage GOP voters who still believe in massive “Obamagate” and Benghazi scandals despite years of Republican-led investigations to the contrary. Instead, Stephanopoulos mostly just re-asked the question incredulously for several minutes; he and Paul all but shouted over each other continuously before the interview ended.

It’s unclear what value ABC viewers got out of Paul’s distortions. But Paul achieved what he wanted: clips to show Trump supporters he’s fighting the liberal media on behalf of the man he once called a “fake conservative.” Rubio got to demonstrate his loyalty to Trump, as well — particularly important for the Florida senator given rumors that he may face Ivanka Trump in a 2022 primary. (“You sound like you’re in campaign form,” observed Fox News host Chris Wallace.) With the former president making noises about going after his GOP critics or even starting a third party, Rubio, Paul and Rounds once again put loyalty to Trump over helping the country move forward.

The irony is that it’s not impeachment that keeps the country from moving on after Jan. 6; it’s Trump himself, and the unavoidable hangover from his egregious behavior. We’re just days removed from an attempted coup that struck at the country’s very foundations. Yet while law enforcement officials have arrested dozens of the perpetrators, the ground remains fertile for another attempt because one of our two parties remains captured by the man who incited the attack. So long as Trump maintains his dangerous grip, this country will struggle to move forward.

Post Senior Producer Kate Woodsome talks to Americans who voted for Trump, or simply don't feel like denouncing him, about why they feel wrongly scorned. (The Washington Post)

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