How the GOP Became the Party of Insurrection
Three years after 1/6, the GOP reembraced the Big Lie out of cowardice and convenience
Three years ago, a mob of rioters, militia members, and political tourists violently stormed the United States Capitol for the express purpose of overturning the votes of 81 million Americans so that Donald Trump could remain in power. People lost their lives that day, and it’s frankly a miracle that more bloodshed did not occur.
In the aftermath, the insurrection seemed like the breaking point. Republican leaders — and voters — publicly blamed Trump for the violence and seemed prepared to abandon the departing President. It’s easy to forget that then-Speaker McCarthy was calling for Trump to be censured by Congress for his role in the insurrection. Here’s what he said on the House floor in January 2021:
The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump, accept his share of responsibility, quell the brewing unrest and ensure President elect Biden is able to successfully begin his term. The President’s immediate action also deserves congressional action, which is why I think a fact finding commission and a censure resolution would be prudent. Unfortunately, that is not where we are today.
Trump was banned from social media platforms and shunned by traditional media outlets, and it seemed as if he would spend the rest of his days in shameful exile, denied the attention he needs like fish need water.
Three years later, the Republican Party is now an insurrectionist party. Trump is stronger than ever and the undisputed leader. He is more popular among Republicans than during his presidency and leading Joe Biden in the polls — something that never happened during the 2020 cycle. Nearly every Republican of consequence has endorsed his presidential campaign; and even those yet to endorse him explicitly or implicitly, endorsed the idea that the 2020 election was stolen. The few Republicans who actively stood up to Trump have been drummed out of the primary.
According to the New York Times:
Mr. Trump has endorsements from nearly 100 members of the House of Representatives. The next closest candidate, Mr. DeSantis, who served in the House, has only five. Ms. Haley has one.
Standing by the Big Lie that led to January 6th is the price of admission into the GOP. You have to either believe the election was stolen or pretend to believe it. Apocalyptic rhetoric and kooky conspiracies are the norm. According to a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, 7 in 10 Republican voters believe the 2020 election was stolen and more than one-third believe the conspiracy theory that the FBI “organized and encouraged the attack on the U.S. Capitol.”
The process by which the Republican Party went from shunning Trump to embracing him and his authoritarian, anti-democratic rhetoric happened steadily and stunningly. Trump’s second rise to power is a metaphor for everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. Trump didn’t reclaim the Republican Party by force. Instead, party leaders handed it to him out of cynical convenience and pure cowardice.
1. Mitch McConnell Blinked
As far as Republicans go, Mitch McConnell has been on the low end of the obsequiousness scale when it comes to Trump. He clearly can’t stand the man; and on issues like Ukraine funding and the debt, he has resisted Trump’s pressure. But the person most responsible for the Republican Party becoming a Trumpist, insurrectionist party is Mitch McConnell. No one had a greater opportunity to stop Trump in his tracks.