Republicans need a leader without Trump’s 2020 obsession
It’s understandable that Democrats would want to constantly revisit Jan. 6 — to invoke it, investigate it and sacralize it even.
It’s a mystery, at least from a certain level of abstraction, why Republicans would want to have anything to do with that day or want to fixate on the 2020 election.
The party is on the cusp of a midterm triumph, has enormous openings on the economy and education thanks to Biden administration stumbles and left-wing overreach, is making inroads among Hispanic voters and has a well-stocked political bench that Democrats should envy.
Yet the GOP is stuck litigating the past almost entirely because its putative leader in Mar-a-Lago is incapable of admitting error or defeat and will never stop trying to excuse and explain away his infamous conduct after November 2020.
You can argue that Jan. 6 wasn’t an insurrection; that the composition of the committee is unfair and lacks the adversarial element that has always been presumed to be central to the workings of such bodies; that the revelations or supposed revelations from the committee are being overhyped; and that Trump, whatever his failings, didn’t commit crimes and shouldn’t be charged with one.
In fact, I agree with every one of those propositions. But none of them makes Jan. 6 any better or makes it good.
It’s not quite true, as is often said, that every election is about the future. Republicans waved the bloody shirt of the Civil War for years. Democrats ran against Herbert Hoover for as long as they could. Republicans still talk about Jimmy Carter.
In all these instances, though, a party made a focal point of a low and embarrassing moment for the other side, not its own.
Revisionist historians and writers might pop up to defend the legacy of a Hoover or Carter or argue that they’d been misrepresented or unfairly maligned. Still, the parties moved on and focused on making new memories.
This is what Trump doesn’t want to allow Republicans to do. With his knack for blunt-force marketing (Fake News, Russia Hoax), he believes he can deflect any attack and redefine the terms of debate to his liking. And he’s not wrong. He’s brought much of his party along with him in his insistence that 2020 was stolen.
His attitude toward Jan. 6 hasn’t gotten more defensive with time but more fulsome. In a recent statement, he called it “the greatest movement in the history of the country to Make America Great Again.” His 12-page memo in response to the initial hearings doubled down on his fantastical case against the election, as if to confirm every harsh thing former Attorney General Bill Barr said about him.
Trump is acting on an entirely personal and selfish priority. There’s no principle at stake in embracing the Jan. 6 mob or advancing 2020 conspiracy theories.
It’s possible to defend free speech and assembly, obviously, without defending a breach of the US Capitol. It’s possible to support tightening up the security around voting without believing massive fraud changed the result in 2020.
If Trump is the Republican candidate again in 2024, even in the unlikely event that he wanted to memory hole Jan. 6, it wouldn’t happen. The Democrats would bring it up unrelentingly. Perhaps it wouldn’t work, but why would Republicans want to risk it or even deal with the complication?
Again, this is a vulnerability unique to Trump. No other prospective 2024 candidate would have to excuse Jan. 6 and parrot the most outlandish claims about the 2020 election, not Ron DeSantis, not Mike Pence, not Tom Cotton, not Nikki Haley. If none of these candidates would sound like Liz Cheney, none would be inextricably linked to bonkers events four years prior, either.
They’d be free of the 2020 albatross and of any obligation to defend the indefensible, leaving the obsession with Jan. 6 to congressional Democrats — and Donald J. Trump.