Here’s a puzzling development to ponder. Why is it that the Republicans most eager to join the Jan. 6 select committee are also among those most prone to sowing doubt about the legitimacy of the 2020 election, dabbling in crackpot conspiracy theories about political foes, and even endorsing political violence against them?

Why aren’t legions of more serious House Republicans clamoring to join this committee? After all, it’s a chance to demonstrate that the party has fully renounced any sympathies with the violent insurrectionist tendencies unleashed by Donald Trump. Why aren’t they leaping at this opportunity?

This question arises from a new Politico report on the private deliberations of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) over which Republicans to appoint to the committee. The key revelation: The Republicans who most want to serve are “the party’s firebrands, more practiced at crafting viral clips of verbal attacks than they are at making a sustained, credible case.”

And so, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have been among the leading lawmakers expressing private or public interest in joining the committee. Trump will want such appointments, and he’ll be watching carefully.

Meanwhile, more serious House Republicans are not particularly interested. As Politico puts it, “many are reluctant to take on a time-consuming probe they fear will cut into their time to shape legislation.” And there’s this:

One House Republican who said McCarthy recognizes the select committee calls for serious-minded appointees fretted over the low prospects of “any good at all” coming from the investigation.
“I mean, we’ve got three impeachment managers on the” Democratic side, this member said, sharing candid views on condition of anonymity.

Here you see the real problem laid bare. It isn’t just that some of the Democratic members of the committee — Reps. Adam Schiff and Zoe Lofgren, both of California, and Jamie Raskin of Maryland — already showed themselves as skilled impeachment managers against Trump.

It’s also that it won’t do the GOP much good if McCarthy assigns more serious Republicans. Why might this be?

Obviously, McCarthy might end up deciding it’s less bad to appoint a few more sober Republicans to the committee, rather than only appointing “firebrands.” He might conclude skillful GOP attorneys will obfuscate more effectively than, say, grandstanding about the illegitimacy of Trump’s loss might.

But here’s the bottom line: Being on this committee is a terrible position for more serious Republicans to take on. That’s because they’ll be on the wrong side of an argument that’s fundamentally unwinnable.

Indeed, what we’re likely to learn is how much worse the insurrection was — and how much more implicated the Republican Party was in it — than we originally thought.

What the committee will examine

Consider the directions the committee will take. Schiff told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace that it will examine whether Trump and the White House had “advance notice” that the more organized groups had concertedly planned the violent attack for the express purpose of overturning Trump’s loss.

Schiff also said the investigation would inevitably look at the role that some Republicans in Congress might have played in promoting the “Stop the Steal” rally, which led directly to the violence. The probe, Schiff said, might lead to “some of our colleagues.”

This will inevitably have to look at any conversations Trump might have had with Republican lawmakers during the attack, which could reveal his full insurrectionist intentions in a fresh way. We already know McCarthy frantically appealed to Trump to call off the insurrection: McCarthy himself is a central witness, and there’s likely to be more like this.

Schiff also noted that the committee would seek testimony from police officers who came under violent assault, to illustrate that the attack was an outgrowth of an ongoing “domestic terrorism threat.”

As you’ll recall, leading Republicans have already shunned the officers. What will be laid bare is that in siding with Trump’s efforts to sow doubt about and to overturn the election, Republicans sided with lawlessness against democracy and the rule of law. Any serious Republican will have real difficulty explaining this, let alone obfuscating it away.

The Fix’s Aaron Blake analyzes how some congressional Republicans have tried to spin and explain away the Jan. 6 Capitol attack in the months since. (JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

The insurrectionist spirit

But here’s the real crux of the matter: For the “firebrands,” none of this is an issue at all, because their entire goal is to comprehensively deny the reality of what happened, that is, to spin an alternate information universe that’s wholly disconnected from the event. That’s why those trafficking in conspiracy theories and hints of violence toward the opposition are more eager to serve.

Yes, they may superficially condemn the Jan. 6 attack. But their ultimate goal is to suggest that in some sense, there was and remains a core of righteousness to efforts to overturn the election, because Trump and his followers were and continue to be the victims of a crowning injustice.

This sentiment remains alive and well in the GOP in various ways, with some Republicans continuing to suggest the election was stolen and supporting sham efforts to “prove” it, and others playing down the seriousness of the effort to overturn it through violence.

McCarthy cannot appoint the “firebrands” without revealing this to be the case all over again. But appointing more sober Republicans will fail to blunt the seriousness of what we learn — while investing the committee’s whole endeavor with an aura of seriousness he cannot afford for it to have.