Republicans shirk responsibility for Trump’s lawless mob

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Lucky for Sen. Ron Johnson Wisconsin doesn’t start with an “A.”

Our state’s senior senator was spared the infamy of a floor speech like the one Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz) was giving, repeating the GOP’s false claims about voter fraud and a stolen election, when the angry mob of Trump supporters broke through the Capitol’s doors and windows and began their rampage. 

By the time the rioters were done desecrating the building, leaving four people dead and a permanent stain on our democracy, Johnson had abandoned his plans to object to the Electoral College vote ratifying Joe Biden’s victory.

Gosar was not so lucky. He was rudely interrupted by shouts from the balcony and, after fruitlessly calling for order, abandoned his speech and ran for cover from the violent mob he was, up until that very moment, helping to incite. 

Sen. Ted Cruz also has reason to regret he had time to give his whole ignominious, dishonest floor speech demanding that the certification of the presidential election be stopped. Cruz suggested that Congress should look to history for a model — in the corrupt deal-making of the Congress of 1876, which pulled the last troops out of the South and ended Reconstruction. That was just before the modern ragtag rebel forces with their Confederate flags burst down the doors.

What was Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) thinking as he offered a fist pump to the angry crowd outside the Capitol with their guns, “F- Biden” and “Pelosi is Satan” signs? The ambitious Hawley, graduate of Stanford and Yale Law School and a man on the move in the U.S. Senate, staked his political career on his bold, populist stand for Trump, calculating that it wouldn’t cost him anything because, as Sen. Mitch McConnell put it in his floor speech, Republicans who objected to the election could afford to make “a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing.

Not so harmless, as it turns out.

That photo of Hawley with his fist raised is indelible.

In the end, out of 14 senators who said they were going to object to the Arizona election results, only six stayed the course: Cruz and Hawley were joined by Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss), Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). Johnson — who signed a letter with 10 other Republicans saying they would reject electors from swing states — bailed out. So did Sen. Kelly Loeffler, fresh from her defeat in Georgia. The riot in the Capitol, she said on the floor, was too much: “When I arrived in Washington this morning, I fully intended to object to the certification of the electoral votes. However, the events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider, and I cannot now, in good conscience, object.”

Among the members who suffered no such stroke of conscience were Wisconsin’s recently elected Republican Reps. Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald, who joined the objectors. Tiffany remained proudly consistent, determined to vote against certifying Wisconsin’s electoral votes. Fitzgerald kept his plans to object to himself and, as Henry Redman reports, was the slowest member of Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation to respond to the violence in the Capitol, keeping mum throughout the riot and finally tweeting his thanks to law enforcement hours after the Capitol was breached and after the crowd was driven out. When members returned to the House chamber, he went ahead and cast his vote against certifying Arizona’s Electoral College vote.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) changed his tune on Wednesday in an impassioned floor speech calling for accepting the election results. He even pointed out that the 1876 compromise was not a great model and had opened the door to Jim Crow.

Too bad Graham spent months pumping up Trump’s false accusations of fraud and tried to strong-arm state officials in Georgia into changing election results to make Trump the winner. Graham gets no credit for his late conversion.

THE MORNING NEWSLETTER
Subscribe now.

In Wisconsin, the strongest Republican voice of outrage against the riots was Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay), who said “This is insane, I’ve not seen anything like this since I deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008. This is America and this is what’s happening right now. The president needs to call it off. Call it off; it’s over. The objectors need to stop meddling with the primal forces of our democracy. There’s a cost. They think they’re just having a protest debate and they can get away with it because it’s not actually going to overturn the election.”

That’s great. But here’s what Rep. Gallagher had to say in a statement joined by six Republican colleagues just a few days ago: “We, like most Americans, are outraged at the significant abuses in our election system resulting from the reckless adoption of mail-in ballots and the lack of safeguards maintained to guarantee that only legitimate votes are cast and counted.”

“The people cannot trust a system that refuses to guarantee that only legal votes are cast to select its leaders, Gallagher and company added. 

Trump voters took the Republicans at their word. The late defectors didn’t see the light until someone was shot dead in the Capitol, and rioters had posted photos of themselves hanging from the balconies and defacing members’ offices. 

Now, the more decorous are turning up their noses at this rabble. But we mustn’t let them off the hook. They deliberately stoked this “insurrection” by enabling their sociopathic president and his lies. They shamelessly played to Trump’s base, cynically stoking its racism, hate and paranoia to advance their own political careers. Now they want to distance themselves from the consequences. 

After the Capitol lockdown, Johnson denied that he and Trump bore any responsibility whatsoever for the violent mob stirred up by their ceaseless rhetoric about a stolen election. In an interview with TMJ4, Johnson denounced the violence and then quickly switched back to his same old talking points: “This is an unstable state of affairs in our country, where you have a large percentage of the American population who are not viewing this as legitimate.”

Johnson himself helped create that instability. The results are tragic.

Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.