Feature

How Republicans will try to evade responsibility for the storming of the Capitol

They're already tweeting their alibis

President Trump and his congressional allies in his attempt to reject the results of the 2020 presidential election are responsible for the chaos in the Capitol on Wednesday.

They are not solely responsible, for the rioters bear responsibility, too. But Wednesday's violence would not have happened without two months of delusion and deception from the president and self-serving enablement from members of Congress like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and dozens of others. Their behavior was not sufficient to produce this madness, but it was certainly necessary. The storming of the Capitol is the result of "humoring him." It is not the worst-case scenario, but it is bad, and lives may yet be lost as a result.

Complicit Republicans should be held responsible. I do not think they will be.

Their first line of defense has already been deployed: Statements denouncing violence are going up all over the place. "This is wrong and not who we are," says Donald Trump Jr. "Those storming the Capitol need to stop NOW," says Cruz. "The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now," says Vice President Mike Pence. "POTUS wants you to EXPRESS YOUR OPINION PEACEFULLY, We are the law and order party," says presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani, who had called for "trial by combat" several hours prior. "The violence must end," says Hawley, who raised a fist in solidarity with the demonstrators before the Capital was breached.

This is all very correct, Trump Jr.'s statement excluded. And all the Trumpy Republicans now issuing these denunciations will duly point to them for months to come. "I opposed it at the time!" they'll protest. "I would never support political violence. I would never undermine our hallowed system of representative government. I love America. I love our Constitution." You know the drill. They'll fall back on all those tropes, pointing over and over to the time stamps on their tweets. "I opposed it at the time!"

Sure, okay. Maybe these rejections of violence are even sincere (though phrasing from Ivanka Trump and Giuliani rather undercuts that case). But this is undeniably happening because these very Republicans played along with mass hysteria to benefit themselves. They indulged unfounded feelings and fostered confusion and, yes, undermined our system of representative government. The circumstances in Washington would be very different right now if, as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney infamously forecast in the Wall Street Journal, Trump had conceded graciously — or even if he hadn't, but the rest of the GOP had united against his lies. They did not, and no amount of tweeted critique of violence will change that history. They are right to condemn the violence, but they should also own their part in it. I'm not sure there's anything prosecutable in their behavior (I don't think incitement would be provable), but they should certainly suffer loss of office and reputation.

As pessimistic as I am about that prospect, I'm even more bearish on the chances of Trump himself taking responsibility. He reportedly resisted asking his supporters to go home — was he waiting to see if they'd somehow win? — and when he finally did so in a video message, he continued to reiterate the very election fraud lie that brought them out to the streets of Washington in the first place. It was not the statement of a man prepared to accept responsibility. Trump poured fuel and water on the fire in equal measure. "We love you," he told the rioters. "You're very special."

Calls are increasing, including in conservative corners, for Trump to be relieved of his duties via the 25th Amendment, or impeached and removed, or even prosecuted once he is out of office. That's all to the good — I say as someone who would have favored going after him (and indeed most presidents) for war crimes while he was still in office — but I'm not sure we should get our hopes up.

The Republican establishment and millions of normie Republicans would have to want this for it to happen. But if they say Trump is responsible, they open the door to similar consequences for other Republicans, like Cruz and Hawley, whom they'd like to keep in office. And if the last five years are any indication, given a choice between responsibility and power, they will choose power.

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