JANUARY 6, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wednesday started with a rump group of House and Senate Republicans preparing to object to the Electoral College results to demonstrate their utter fealty. It ended with many of those same Republicans retreating from their deeply held beliefs about election fraud, tails between their legs.
It only took a violent seizure of the US Capitol building by violent rioters — the first time the Capitol had been breached since 1814 during the War of 1812 — to change their minds.
“I did think that today changed things drastically,” Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, one of the 13 senators who had signaled he would object to the results, said in the wake of the storming of the Capitol. “Yeah, whatever point you made before that should suffice. Get this ugly day behind us.”
“Obviously the commission we have asked for is not going to happen at this point,” said Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, another previous backer of the Electoral College objection. “I understand that. And we are headed tonight toward the certification of Joe Biden as president of the United States.”
Ditto Montana Sen. Steve Daines. And Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler. And Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. And likely many of the other Republicans who started Wednesday so gung-ho on challenging the results.
What the rapid change of heart indicates is that there never — really — was much of a principle at stake here for the Republicans who objected to the Electoral College results. It was solely a political calculation — a way of appealing to Trump (and his base of voters) while not really having to worry about the election being overturned.
Even before the rioters stormed the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had sniffed out the ploy. “I will not pretend such a vote would be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing,” he said on the Senate floor in a not-so-subtle attack on his colleagues backing Trump’s attempts to overturn an election without any proof of wrongdoing.
This was a political stunt. Except that the thousands of Donald Trump backers who, at the urging of the President took their unhappiness into the Capitol itself, didn’t know that. They believed that the election really was rigged and stolen. Because Trump and his complicit media told them so — and the vast majority of Republicans sat on their hands (and held their tongues) for fear of angering the President.
It should not take an open insurrection in the heart of our government for these Republican elected officials to realize that their words (or silence) have an impact that goes well beyond their own narrow political interests. That words matter. And that humoring Trump and his election fantasies have real-world consequences. And, as we saw on Wednesday, dangerous ones.
Republicans who needed to see the Capitol seized by insurrectionists to realize what their actions had wrought should not be applauded or congratulated. The writing has been on the wall for a very long time. They just chose to put their heads in the sand.