– Six months after their leader attempted to overturn an election he lost by more than 7 million votes
have settled on a message about the Jan. 6 riot at the United States
? What insurrection?
With notable exceptions, the Republican Party
has pushed the idea that the unprecedented attempt to overthrow American democracy
was really no big deal
, from calls to let bygones be bygones to punishing dissidents who dare to criticize former President Donald Trump
for instigating that day's attack
to literally describing the mob as no different from everyday "tourists."
And, if recent polling is correct, they appear to be succeeding. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, 41% of Americans believe the Jan. 6 riot received “too much attention,” compared to 50% who do not. This figure is driven by 68% of Republicans, but includes more than a third of independents and a quarter of Democrats
According to Laurence Tribe, a Harvard
law professor who believes the country narrowly avoided a constitutional crisis on January 6
, many Americans would rather not think about that day.
“It’s human nature
to suppress terrible forebodings that don’t quite materialize,” he explained, adding that the barrage of Trump-inspired crises during his presidency likely laid the groundwork. “The cascade of terrible events and near-misses over the past four years has desensitized people
, if not completely anesthetized them.”
Republicans, according to Hans Noel, a political science
professor at Georgetown University
, are also actively interested in wishing January 6 away.
, particularly those who get their news
from other conservatives, will come to downplay the attack,” Noel said. “Some of this is just believing it’s not a big deal. Some of it is not wanting to talk about uncomfortable facts
as they emerge. But here’s the main thing: The partisan messaging on this has been to downplay it for Republicans, Trump supporters
, and others on the right.
Whatever the cause, the process of memory-holing that day reflects Trump's continued success at inventing an outrageous lie and then browbeating Republican leaders into believing it.
Leader Kevin McCarthy
, for example, stated on the House floor on Jan. 13 that Trump “bears
responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress
by mob rioters.” Within weeks, he had gone to visit Trump at his Palm Beach resort and posed for a photo with him. And now, at the six-month mark of the mob assault
, he is attacking those few GOP House members, such as Wyoming
’s Liz Cheney
, who refuse to budge.
McCarthy's office did not respond to Stardia's inquiries. On Thursday, he said of Cheney's acceptance of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
's appointment to serve on a select committee
to investigate Jan. 6: "Maybe she's closer to her than us." He had previously warned Republicans who would serve on that panel that their committee assignments would be revoked.
“If most Americans have forgotten about Jan. 6, it is due in part to the GOP’s tenacious efforts to downplay it,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a history professor at New York
University. “For a party whose brand is law enforcement
, Jan. 6′s murderous rage against Capitol Police
could turn voters
off. So they deny the violence, Trump turned it into ‘hugs
and kisses,’ and block any investigative efforts.
It Can't Happen Here, but It Nearly Did
The audacity with which Trump attempted to overturn the November election worked in Republicans' favor.
In the 232-year history of presidential elections
, there have been 16 incumbents who attempted but failed to win a second term, beginning with John Adams in 1800, with Trump being the first to attempt to overthrow democracy itself in order to retain power.
“In terms of the demise of their democracy, Americans are still somewhat unconvinced that ‘it can happen here,’” said Ben-Ghiat, an authoritarian expert.
Though there was no legal way for Trump to overturn Democrat Joe Biden
's victory after the Electoral College
formally completed its tally on Dec. 14, Trump was not interested in legalities. Instead, Trump spent weeks, according to Trump administration
officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, pressuring his vice president to simply reject enough electoral votes from states Biden had won to overturn Biden's victory.
And, while Pence lacked the constitutional authority to do what Trump demanded, nothing stopped him from doing so anyway, causing unimaginable chaos in the country, potentially including armed conflict in the streets.
“Very few people understood what would have happened and where we would have been as a nation if the vice president had not certified the Electoral College vote,” said J. Michael Luttig, a former federal appellate judge
appointed by President George H.W. Bush
That lack of comprehension aided Republicans, whose greatest success has been to obscure Jan. 6's uniqueness in American history
by lumping it in with other violence, such as the vandalism
and looting that accompanied protests
last summer over the police killing of George Floyd
and other Black
In fact, while mayhem at protests is typically carried out on the outskirts by criminals and opportunists, the assault on the Capitol was organized by Trump's most ardent supporters and encouraged by Trump himself, who told his supporters to gather in Washington, D.C.
, on that specific day and staged a rally asking them to "march" on the building minutes before the Electoral College tally began.
“We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country,” Trump declared at the rally.
After his mob began assaulting police officers defending the building and breaking doors and windows to gain entry, Trump did nothing for hours. Instead, at 2:24 p.m., with his vice president and his staff and family
in hiding, Trump attacked Pence on Twitter
, telling his followers that Pence “didn’t have the courage” to overturn the election as Trump had desired.
His supporters reacted angrily, searching the building for him and chanting, "Hang Mike Pence
Outside, a gallows was already in place.
Front-runner for Insurgent-in-Chief in 2024
Six months later, Trump's actions in the weeks leading up to and on January 6th seem almost insignificant, despite the fact that they triggered a record-setting second impeachment
“You’re one of President Trump’s TOP supporters, so we wanted to make sure that you had a chance to sign his Official Birthday Card,” the Republican National Committee
wrote to its email list on June 14.
Trump resumed his rallies last month, this time in Ohio
, ostensibly to support a former White House
aide running against one of the 10 GOP House members who voted to impeach Trump, but he repeated the same lies about the election that sparked the Jan. 6 insurgency.
He has recently begun openly defending the violent mob he incited to attack the Capitol. “By the way, who shot Ashli Babbitt? Who shot Ashli Babbitt? Who?” he asked at a rally in Florida
on Saturday, referring to the woman who was fatally shot by Capitol Police as she attempted to climb through a broken window into an anteroom from which House members were being evacuated.
“And how come so many people are still in jail
over Jan. 6 when nobody paid a price for the fire
and carnage and death
that occurred in Democrat-run cities throughout our country, including Antifa and BLM?” he asked the crowd.
Moreover, despite criminal investigations into his business
practices in New York and his attempt to coerce Georgia
election officials, Trump is the Republican Party's preferred candidate for 2024, with the majority of Republicans now believing that Biden's election was illegitimate.
“So skeptical are Americans now about what passes the lips of a politician that nothing is believed,” said Rick Tyler, a top aide to Texas
Sen. Ted Cruz
’s 2016 bid for the Republican nomination. “Efforts to examine Jan. 6 are viewed entirely through a political lens where understanding what happened is secondary to political objectives.
However, Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine
and co-author of the forthcoming book
“At War With Government: How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust From Goldwater to Trump,” said the polarization between the parties is not symmetrical and that conservatives have actively worked to sow distrust of institutions in recent decades.
And the denial of a reality that everyone could see on live television
is cause for concern, according to former President Barack Obama
, who spoke last week at the American Library
“The guardrails I thought were in place around many of our democratic
institutions really depend on the two parties agreeing to those ground rules, and... one of them right now doesn’t seem as committed to them as previous generations, which worries me,” Obama said.