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Mark Z. Barabak is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
There’s a rot at the core of the Republican Party, and neither the party nor the country will heal until it’s excised.
The latest evidence of that malignancy comes in a New York Times report about the Jan. 6 insurrection and how GOP congressional leaders responded in the immediate aftermath. The shock and revulsion reflected in their words and deeds presents a stark contrast with today’s party line, which essentially amounts to move along, nothing here to see.
The article, published Thursday, reported that House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and his Senate counterpart, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, told associates they believed President Donald Trump was responsible for inciting the attack on the Capitol. It also said the two vowed to drive him from politics.
“I’ve had it with this guy,” McCarthy reportedly told a group of Republican leaders, saying he would advise Trump that he was going to be impeached and should resign. The article said McCarthy even considered ways to invoke the 25th Amendment, forcing Trump’s removal, before concluding that was not viable.
Pity. It seems that only after weighing political calculations and parsing self-interests did McCarthy and McConnell back away from saying and doing the right thing.
McCarthy flatly denied the New York Times’ account.
“Totally false and wrong,” the California Republican said. McConnell did not comment.
But there is ample evidence, starting with McCarthy’s own statement on the House floor, to document his timidity, his change of heart and his scurrying, after condemning the president, to place himself back beneath Trump’s thumb.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” McCarthy said, bluntly and without equivocation, days after the riot. But within weeks — after the anti-Trump backlash that McCarthy and others had braced for failed to materialize — he was back at Mar-a-Lago on bended knee.
McConnell, who delivered a scorching floor speech calling the former president “morally responsible” for the attack on Congress, subsequently stated he would support Trump if he becomes the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee.
Time and distance may have dulled recollections, so it’s worth remembering what happened on Jan. 6, 2021.
An unlawful mob spun up by Trump’s incessant and irresponsible lies resorted to violence in an unsuccessful effort to frighten Congress into overturning the clear-cut result of the November 2020 election.
You may not like the fact Joe Biden won, or the result of any election, for that matter. You can disagree with one or all of a party’s policy positions.
However, under our system of government, those differences are resolved through elections. That, more than anything, undergirds our democracy. The voluntary, peaceful transfer of power is all.
That’s what came under assault on Jan. 6 and why McConnell and McCarthy, among so many others, reflexively recoiled. The visceral horror they felt at those events and the shocked disgust they directed at the riot’s orchestrator, the president of the United States, was telling.
Their evident change of heart is also telling.
McConnell, who has repeatedly proven himself as politically shrewd as he is ruthless, suggested it came down — as always — to maintaining his possession of power.
“I didn’t get to be leader by voting with five people in the conference,” the Times quoted him as saying, by way of explaining why there was no standing on principle to remove Trump if it meant separating himself from the majority of Senate Republicans.
McCarthy’s motivation is just as plain. He wants to become speaker of the House. His chances rest not just on a robust November turnout by a unified Republican Party but, more importantly, staying in the good graces of the Trump acolytes whose votes he’ll need to become leader if, as seems likely, the GOP takes control in January.
The fact that politicians say one thing and do another is hardly revelatory.
What is repugnant about the evident deceit of McCarthy, McConnell and many others in Trump’s thrall is that they obviously know better than to believe the lies he keeps spreading. (Some acknowledge as much in private.)
They see the damage he has done, and continues to do, with his persistent devaluation of truth and campaigning to undercut future elections. Time and again, Trump has shown that his interests begin and end with himself.
Even if McCarthy and McConnell backed off, Republicans should follow through on the actions they reportedly prescribed when Jan. 6 was still raw, seeing to it Trump is forever kept away from elected office.
Power at any cost is a steep price to pay and it’s bankrupting the GOP. It’s also hurting our country.