Republicans, however, realize such a statement would suggest that the incendiary language from President Donald Trump and his enablers led to the violent insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. They certainly do not want that association to take hold, so only 37 percent of Republican respondents concede the glaringly obvious point that fighting words matter, compared with 79 percent of Democrats.
When it comes to the former president specifically, PRRI reports, “More than six in ten Americans (64%) now say that Trump has encouraged white supremacist groups, compared to 57% in September 2020.” Twenty-five percent of Republicans say the same, up from 18 percent in September. How many times have we heard Trump’s call to march on the Capitol? His lies about a stolen election? Apparently most of his followers prefer to forget.
Even more bizarrely, only 35 percent of Republicans are willing to hold white supremacists — the ones who paraded through the Capitol with Confederate flags, wearing “Camp Auschwitz” shirts and threatening to murder then-Vice President Mike Pence — responsible for the attack. Do they really imagine these were disguised antifa forces? In the real world, 62 percent said white supremacists shoulder a lot of the blame for the attack (22 percent say they are a little bit to blame).
The vast majority of Republicans prefer to live in a world of denial, even at the price of refusing to hold the instigator of a domestic terrorist attack responsible. The party’s base, at this point, is as delusional as Republican “leaders” who refuse to convict Trump for instigating the assault and who treat conspiracy-monger Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) as a member in good standing.
As to the latter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday channeled the outrage of many Americans during her weekly news conference. Asked whether she was concerned that Greene was appointed to the House Education and Labor Committee, Pelosi responded: “Assigning her to the Education Committee when she has mocked the killing of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when she has mocked the killing of teenagers in high school at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — what could they be thinking? Or is ‘thinking’ too generous a word for what they might be doing? It’s absolutely appalling, and I think the focus has to be on the Republican leadership of this House of Representatives for the disregard they have for the death of those children.” Democrats should follow Pelosi’s lead in denouncing the Republicans’ indulgence of dangerous demagogues.
Democrats should not mince words. Republicans, after attempting to fulfill the wishes of the mob they cultivated to overthrow the election, are now coddling white supremacists and want to “move on” from the murder of a law enforcement officer. Their conduct is indefensible; their language suggests they have abandoned their oaths and their fidelity to democratic, peaceful governance. Republican officials, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who went to Mar-a-Lago on Thursday to kiss the ring of the disgraced former president — have spread insane conspiracy theories and rationalized racism and even violence. The mob applauds and demands more.
The notion that we should seek to “understand” the MAGA crowd and avoid “divisive” rhetoric was misguided from the start. Let’s keep several unpleasant realities in mind.
First, the number of “normal” Republicans willing to live in the real world and embrace their responsibilities is frightfully small. Poll after poll shows a high percentage of Republicans still clinging to the nonsensical MAGA lies. Expecting a sliver of the party to reform from within is a bad bet, no matter how honorable Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) might be.
Second, since it seems a large portion of the Republican Party will remain unhinged for the foreseeable future, the urgency of preserving a national front coalition (far left through center right) to defend democracy should not be minimized. Never Trumper Mona Charen persuasively defends her vote for President Biden despite serious policy disagreements: “I have never been happier with a vote. . . . It’s because we just came within a whisker of losing our democracy, and this presidency is a chance to rebuild it.” She added: “Matters like the Keystone pipeline and even the Mexico City policy are trifles by comparison.”
Third, we need to pay attention to what Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams did to flip her state. She didn’t disconnect Georgia from right-wing media. She did not persuade Newt Gingrich to stop lying about a stolen election. She changed the electorate with painstaking, on-the-ground organizing of voters (African Americans, the rural poor, suburbanites, Asian Americans, etc.) whose interests are served by a functional government. Her approach is delightfully simple: Out-organize and out-vote the opposition. Democrats must duplicate that work throughout the country.
The political insanity that has gripped one party is not going away soon. As the PRRI poll suggests, a small share of the MAGA set may fall away, but most are sticking with their cult. Since weaning them off right-wing propaganda and white-grievance politics is a long-term proposition, the rest of us need to keep Republicans away from the levers of power. That means Democrats need to be as candid as Pelosi and as hard-working as Abrams.