The supposed civil war within the Republican Party is over. The neo-Confederates have won.
Just three weeks ago, congressional GOP leaders set out to reclaim their party from President Donald Trump and his violent supporters. Trump had frequently emboldened white supremacists and domestic terrorists, but never more visibly than when he recruited and incited those who sacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 — and then did nothing for hours as they rampaged, hunting for lawmakers, in hopes of overturning the election.
From that deadly spree emerged a glimmer of hope that Republicans would, finally, distance themselves from Trump. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said Trump “bears responsibility” for the “attack on Congress by mob rioters” and for failing to “immediately denounce the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said that the violent attackers were “fed lies” and were “provoked by the president.” He let it be known that he might vote to convict Trump after an impeachment trial.
Yet just three weeks after feebly trying to quit Trump, they have relapsed. It’s as though Abraham Lincoln had offered the Union’s unconditional surrender after the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter.
Thanks to the cowardice of McCarthy and the perfidy of McConnell, the GOP now comprises two relatively harmonious factions: those who actively sabotage democracy, and those who tacitly condone the sabotage. Trump is gone; Trumpism reigns.
McCarthy recanted his original attempt to hold Trump to account. He never introduced the censure resolution he had said would be “prudent.” Now he says that, while Trump bore “some responsibility,” so did “everybody across this country.” On Thursday, McCarthy made the pilgrimage to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound to kiss the ring of the defeated president. They posed, maskless, for a photo, and McCarthy boasted that Trump is “committed to helping elect Republicans.”
Worse, McCarthy decided to embrace Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a QAnon adherent and anti-Semite who, CNN uncovered this week, had “liked” social media comments recommending “a bullet to the head” of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and proposing that FBI agents should be executed for helping the fictional “deep state.”
McCarthy’s spokesman said the GOP leader would “have a conversation with the congresswoman.” Apparently he did — and McCarthy decided to reward Greene by giving her the seat she desired on the House Education Committee. That’s a plum assignment for a woman who claimed the Parkland and Sandy Hook school shootings were hoaxes and the grieving parents actors.
Pelosi justifiably called McCarthy’s rewarding of Greene “absolutely appalling” and said she’d seek more security for lawmakers — especially because “the enemy is within the House of Representatives.”
“Enemy” is the right word. Somebody who wants to see you assassinated isn’t merely your opponent.
In the Senate, McConnell has done just as much damage over three weeks, but with trademark deceit in place of McCarthyite cowardice. After his initial criticism of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, McConnell blocked the impeachment trial from starting in the Senate before Trump left office. And on Tuesday, he voted (with 44 other Republicans) in favor of dismissing the trial as unconstitutional because — wait for it — Trump is already out of office.
Maybe McConnell was sincere in his initial criticism of Trump, then decided it was in his best interest not to purge Trump and his violent followers from the party. Whatever his motive, the result is the same. The five brave Republican senators who voted to proceed with the trial — Ben Sasse (Neb.), Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) — and the 10 Republicans in the House, including Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Liz Cheney (Wyo.), are now pariahs.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a Trump-worshiping street brawler, went to Wyoming this week to campaign against Cheney on the steps of the state Capitol. Kinzinger acknowledges his vote “could very well be terminal to my career.”
Other Republicans are falling to their knees to beg Trump’s forgiveness. Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, originally said Trump’s “actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history." Now she says: “Give the man a break.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) said after the failed coup that Trump can “count me out. Enough is enough.” Now, he’s back to coaching Trump and reassuring him that “there’s no appetite on our side for this trial.”
If anything, it’s even worse at lower levels in the party. The Texas Republican Party has been promoting its new slogan in recent days, “We are the Storm” — an echo of the QAnon term for when Trump’s enemies will face mass executions.
Arizona’s Republican Party, which asked whether Trump supporters were ready to die to overturn Trump’s defeat, just censured the state’s sitting Republican governor, Doug Ducey, for certifying President Biden’s win in the state.
This is not mere madness — it is madness with consequences. A republic cannot prosper when one side uses the threat of political violence as a means to power. A stable country cannot long survive with the threat of assassination constantly hanging over its leaders.
Members of Congress wrote to House leaders Thursday pleading for more personal security for themselves and their families. “Members now regularly face threats,” they wrote. “The increased level of threats has overwhelmed the Capitol Police Threat Assessment Section.”
More revealing than what was said was who said it: Of the 32 lawmakers who signed the letter, 31 were Democrats. The lone Republican signatory, Fred Upton (Mich.), was one of the brave few who voted to impeach Trump. Trump and his supporters are determined to make those who crossed the former president pay — with their jobs, if not with their lives.
The Department of Homeland Security warned on Wednesday that “ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.” The Capitol attack, DHS said, may embolden them “to target elected officials and government facilities.”
This isn’t abstract. In a legal filing this week, the FBI disclosed that one such violent extremist, a Trump supporter, was found with five pipe bombs, 49 firearms, 15,000 rounds of ammunition, and bomb-making material. Authorities believe he was targeting California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), Twitter, Facebook and “Democratic targets” to make sure Trump stayed in office.
Is it any wonder the threat of violence has become a constant presence in our political life? We see death threats against state elections officials, state and local health officials, and, of course, journalists. People plotted to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease doctor, has been under Secret Service protection since March because of threats to him, his wife and his children. He described to the New York Times this week opening a letter filled with powder, requiring a hazmat crew to spray him down.
This week, a man claiming “Biden did not win” was arrested for threatening Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and his family. The Justice Department, meanwhile, revealed new charges against one of those who attacked the Capitol over his threat to “assassinate” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and for saying that the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot one of the invaders “deserves to die.”
Earlier this month, the FBI arrested a Georgia man over his plans for “putting a bullet in” Pelosi’s head. A New Hampshire man was arrested for threatening to kill six members of Congress, saying, “Donald Trump is your president. If you don’t get behind him, we’re going to hang you until you die.” And an Illinois man was arrested for his vow to “kill any motherf-----g Democrat” that attempts to enter the White House. And federal authorities have brought cases against 164 people from 39 states and D.C. involved in the Capitol attack, according to George Washington University’s tally.
Republicans think they’ll save their political hides by capitulating to Trump. But, inevitably, that also means capitulating to his violent supporters. And democracy can’t function at the point of a gun.
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