The Republican Party has a problem with political violence: it doesn’t know if it’s for or against.
In the early days after a mob loyal to former President Trump stormed the Capitol on January 6 in an attempt to block Congress from certifying President Biden’s election, GOP leaders delivered a response sane and unified: there is no place in our constitutional system for this kind of violence.
Since January, however, some prominent Republicans have backed down – offering an apology to insurgents who sought to overthrow the election by extrajudicial means.
Representative Andrew S. Clyde from Georgia compared forced entry to the Capitol to “a normal sightseeing visit.” Arizona Representative Paul Gosar complained last month that the FBI was “harassing peaceful patriots” while investigating the events. Republicans voted against awarding Capitol Police a medal for attempting to defend the building; several said they were opposed to the riot being labeled an “insurgency”.
Last week, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also defended the protesters. “The vast majority of the crowd, they were in a jovial mood,” he said last week. “They weren’t violent.
And retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser, recently told an audience that a Myanmar-like coup “should happen here.” He later denied saying this, but it was captured on videotape.
These are not good signs for the Republican Party.
These comments do not reflect the sentiments of every Republican. Senatorial Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Parliamentary Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield both condemned the January 6 riot.
But a significant portion of the party’s most ardent supporters aren’t so sure, and they exemplify the GOP’s dilemma. At a time when the party needs every vote it can muster, it cannot risk alienating its staunch supporters, even if they embrace violence.
In a survey conducted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute after the January riot, 56% of Republicans agreed that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so quickly that we may have to use force to save it.”
In the same poll, 79% of Republicans said they still had a favorable opinion of Trump – and 36% said they were “very supportive”.
This consensus has made GOP politicians fearful of crossing paths with Trump or questioning the actions of his most zealous supporters, including the January 6 revolutionaries.
Republican officials in Georgia and Arizona, where Trump is still agitating to overturn election results, say their families have been physically threatened by supporters of the former president.
When the House voted to impeach Trump in January, Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) Told CNN: “There were members who told me they were afraid for their own safety – fear, in some cases, for their life.
The result, according to Daniel Drezner, a political scientist at Tufts University, is a GOP that has started to resemble Lebanese Hezbollah, “a political party that also has an armed wing to coerce other political actors with violence.”
“The comparison is stronger now than before,” Drezner told me last week. “Republicans who wanted to impeach Trump have been marginalized and states parties seem more and more secessionist with each passing day. “
The drive of right-wing extremists to resort to violence did not begin on January 6 – and Trump has long sounded like he was cheering them on.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year, for example, he urged his supporters to “free” their states from Democratic governors. Trump supporters in Michigan responded by storming the state Capitol, and six were subsequently charged with suspicion of conspiracy to kidnap and assassinate Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Before January 6, Trump summoned his loyalists to Washington (“Will be savage!” He promised) and told them, “If you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country. His supporters said he did not mean that the word “fight” would incite real combat.
At this point, some readers may ask: but what about Democrats? Don’t they also have violent bangs?
Not really. The antifa movement, which the conservatives cite as an example of leftist violence, is not part of the Democratic Party; its activists do not wave Biden flags, do not show up at Biden rallies, or, in most cases, do not support Biden at all. And while Republicans have attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) for urging protesters to “become more confrontational,” that comparison doesn’t hold up either; Whatever Waters means by those words, she is not her party’s two-time presidential candidate and exiled leader.
This is the Republican Party’s problem, and Republicans must solve it.
They are trying to get around a fundamental problem: their candidate lost a presidential election, but he not only refuses to accept the verdict of the voters; he wants his party to “fight” to bring him back to power.
They want to overcome the embarrassment of January 6 – but that cannot happen until they have settled their internal debate: are they a party that tolerates extra-constitutional violence or not?
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.