Feb. 10, 2021
At Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday, several Democrats highlighted a tweet that the former president sent the day before the attack on the Capitol, blasting GOP senators as too feckless to help him overturn the election.
“I hope the Democrats, and even more importantly, the weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party, are looking at the thousands of people pouring into D.C.,” Trump wrote, referring to supporters already arriving to disrupt Congress’s counting of electoral votes.
As the Democrats noted, Trump regularly pressured the GOP “Surrender Caucus” to help steal the election. Yet, in so doing, they portrayed Republicans largely as passive targets of his rage — without mentioning the extensive work Republicans actually did do to help him overturn the outcome.
Similarly, at another point, Democrats hammered Trump for cheering on Texas supporters who menacingly surrounded then-candidate Joe Biden’s campaign vehicles on a highway. Left unsaid was that some Republicans listening as jurors — such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) — also cheered them on.
The moments captured an important tension at the heart of Trump’s impeachment trial. Democrats have made a strategic decision that if they refrain from implicating the GOP in Trump’s misdeeds, then some Republican senators might be more gettable as votes to convict Trump.
Whether they are saying so or not, the case the House managers are making most definitely does implicate much of the Republican Party. At every stage in all the corruption and misconduct the Democrats are documenting, Trump enjoyed essential support and even active enabling from the overwhelming majority of influential figures within his party.
An essential component of the Democratic case against Trump is that his assault on democracy began months before Jan. 6. As the managers graphically detailed on Wednesday, through much of the 2020 campaign, Trump lied that Democrats were in the process of stealing the election and that, if he lost, it would be an inherently illegitimate outcome.
This effort accelerated after the election, as Democrats also detailed. He filed frivolous lawsuits, spread bizarre conspiracy theories and even pressured election officials to corruptly change results in his favor. For weeks, he told his supportersthe election had been stolen from them, and urged them to descend on the Capitol to set things right, which culminated in the violent insurrection.
Democrats are now making a powerful case that all this added up to perhaps the most grave betrayal of the Constitution ever perpetrated by a U.S. president. But if that is so, you must also conclude that members of the Republican Party amounted to a mass of co-conspirators in that betrayal.
It doesn’t matter that Trump castigated them for not doing enough. They did do an extraordinary amount — through sins of commission and omission alike.
A big element of the story is that the GOP has had multiple chances to take what Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg describes as “off-ramps” from the party’s ongoing radicalization behind Trump.
Even as Trump spent months throughout the summer and fall clearly telegraphing his plot to use mail delays to try to invalidate millions of legal votes, few Republicans criticized this or told the public that such an effort would be unacceptable and resisted.
Then, when Biden did win, most of them wouldn’t even say explicitly that Biden won for many weeks. It wasn’t until six weeks after the election that Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) finally admitted Biden was the victor. He and other Republicans delayed for the cynical purpose of keeping GOP voters energized for the Senate runoff elections in Georgia.
On top of that, large swaths of the GOP supported a lawsuit designed to invalidatemillions of votes based on fictions to pave the way for state legislators to send separate electors, swinging the election to Trump. A few GOP senators pointed out that this was a direct assault on democracy and self-rule. But only a few.
And then, even after the attack, more than 130 House Republicans voted to invalidate Biden electors, carrying forward Trump’s effort to overturn the election and keep himself in power illegitimately.
It doesn’t even end there. Since then, large swaths of the party voted to stand by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) despite her endorsement of executing Democrats. They did so, at least in part, as a show of solidarity to Trump, a show of solidarity to one of the most visible proponents of the stolen-election mythology and of the use of political violence as a necessary means for defeating the political opposition, openly understood as the enemy.
Throughout this saga, Republicans gave Trump’s effort to overturn the election critical ballast. They may have momentarily distanced themselves from one statement or another, but they continued to communicate their fundamental support for him and many of his most corrupt designs. And this is largely MIA at Trump’s trial.
Democrats may or may not be making the strategically correct decision in refraining from telling this tale. But either way, a reckoning with the arguably bigger and potentially more consequential story — ongoing GOP radicalization — has been postponed. And it isn’t going away.