Saying Trump ‘Provoked’ the Capitol Riot With ‘Lies,’ Mitch McConnell Tries To Distance His Party From a Dangerous Demagogue
Confirming his decisive break with Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) yesterday said the “violent criminals who tried to stop Congress from doing our duty” by invading the Capitol on January 6 were “fed lies” and “provoked by the president and other powerful people.” That characterization, which McConnell offered in a speech on the Senate floor, jibes with the charges in the article of impeachment against Trump that the House of Representatives approved a week after the riot. It therefore suggests that McConnell is open to convicting Trump in the Senate, which would be a strong signal to his fellow Republicans.
The House noted that Trump “repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials.” Trump reiterated those false claims in the speech he delivered to thousands of angry followers, who had gathered in D.C. at his behest to “stop the steal,” shortly before a joint session of Congress was scheduled to affirm President Joe Biden’s election victory. “We won this election, and we won it by a landslide,” Trump said. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Given the context, the article of impeachment says, Trump’s comments “encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol.”
McConnell, who in private reportedly has said he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses, has now publicly endorsed the main thrust of the House’s charges. His reasons for doing so are both personal and political. McConnell—who even before the riot condemned the effort to stop Biden from taking office based on “sweeping conspiracy theories” that sowed doubt about the election “without evidence”—clearly was shaken by the violent invasion of his own workplace. More important, he has decided that the Republican Party’s continued viability depends on separating itself from the dangerous demagogue whose whims have defined its agenda for the last four years.
There are sound reasons for believing that, even aside from the proposition that a political party should stand for something other than a cult of personality. Trump’s domination of the GOP resulted in Democratic control of both the White House and the Senate. The New York Times reports that “McConnell’s allies say he has grown increasingly concerned that if party leaders do not intervene, the president’s campaign to discredit his own defeat could do lasting damage both to democracy and to Republicans’ political fortunes, driving them into a permanent minority in Washington.”
The loss of the Senate was directly attributable to Trump’s fantasy of a stolen presidential election, which he promoted instead of focusing on winning the crucial January 5 runoffs in Georgia. Worse, Trump’s general w
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