Ben Roback is Vice President of Public Affairs at Sard Verbinnen & Co.
Republicans ran from Donald Trump on January 6th 2021. A year later, they are back in the palm of his hand.
Have Democrats spent the last week “unfairly politicising” the protests/domestic terrorist attack/ violent insurrection [delete as appropriate] of January 6th 2021?
Congressional Republicans appear to think so. When the White House and Congressional leaders organised one-year commemorative events, most avoided them entirely.
The two notable exceptions came from the same family – Rep. Liz Cheney, who has become a lone firebrand in her opposition to Donald Trump on the right, and former Vice President Dick Cheney (her father).
The most stringent supporters of Trump don’t just believe that the anniversary is being “unfairly politicised”: they think describing the events of that day as anything other than a lawful protest against a stolen election is gross misrepresentation bordering on character assassination.
Never mind that the Justice Department is in the middle of the biggest investigation in the FBI’s history, and that 700 people have been arrested for their roles in the attack so far.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson determined: “Of all the things that January 6th was, it was definitely not a violent terrorist attack. It wasn’t an insurrection. Was it a riot? Sure. It was not a violent terrorist attack. Sorry”. That’s that settled then.
Is it really a surprise that Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and the entire Democratic Party have sought to remind America of what happened on a freezing January last year? No.
And is it any different to how Republicans on Capitol Hill used their majorities on House and Senate Select Committees to initiate a near-constant stream of hearings into the 2012 Benghazi attacks when Hillary Clinton was emerging as the likely Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 2016? Also, no.
Fifty-nine per cent of voters think that Trump is “at least somewhat responsible” for the events leading to an attack on the Capitol, and five deaths. Democrats thinking ahead to the 2024 presidential election want to remind as many voters as possible of his role last year.
Republicans distanced themselves from Trump at the time, but grow closer by the day.
By and large, Republicans have been on a journey of discovery during the 365 days between January 6th 2021 and 2022. Trump has been the prevailing wind to which they have had to adjust their sails. He lost his grip last January having effectively presided over the attacks – but has firmly regained it since.
Polling data supports this. Morning Consult polling on the one-year anniversary of the Capitol attack concludes succinctly: “There is no lasting stain on the Republican brand”. Toxic during the days immediately following the attack, Donald Trump now holds the GOP in the palm of his hand once more.
Although it’s somewhat simplistic to do so, split the Republicans Party into a three groups for ease.
Of course there are the hardcore Trump fans such as Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who will bdefend the former president as though their lives depended on it. The two hosted a press conference on January 6th, reciting claims of a stolen election, and dismissing the attacks as anything beyond legitimate protest. Their ongoing support for the president is absolute.
Republicans hopeful of mounting an unlikely bid for the party’s nomination in the 2024 presidential election either trod a fine line on January 6th this year, or stayed silent entirely. Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Governor, blamed Democrats for making hay out of the anniversary, saying: “This is their Christmas, January 6th.” Mike Pence, whose name rioters chanted after the word “hang”, did not issue any kind of statement.
Most interesting are the Republicans who lined up to distance themselves from the then president in the days and weeks that immediately followed the Capitol riots – but have since changed their tune.
Mitch McConnell’s initial denunciation was unequivocal: “There’s no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it.”
A year later, the Senate Minority was absent from Washington because he was attending the funeral of a former Senator, Johnny Isakson. His view has shifted: “It has been stunning to see some Washington Democrats try to exploit this anniversary to advance partisan policy goals that long predated this event”.
Ted Cruz has performed the most spectacular volte-face. Cruz is a polarising politician, but he is a serious and intelligent Republican who commands significantly more respect than he has ever received from the wing of the party whose validation he desperately seeks.
On January 7th, Cruz described the attack at the Capitol as “a despicable act of terrorism and a shocking assault on our democratic system”. Last week, he doubled down: “a violent terrorist attack”. Only 24 hours later, a soporific Senator Cruz sat before Tucker Carlson, tail between his legs, as he apologised for his choice of “sloppy, frankly dumb” words.
Mitch McConnell. Ted Cruz. These are senior and serious Conservatives who have never sat comfortably with the political direction Donald Trump continues to take the Republican Party, let alone the manner in which he does it. They can boast of 46 combined years’ experience in the Senate.
But with the benefit of that experience, both are canny enough to understand the direction in which their party is heading. Thirty four per cent of registered voters and 65 per cent of Republicans polled now believe the Republican Party is “heading in the right direction -, a remarkable turnaround in the year since the outgoing Republican president seemingly effectively presided over the Capitol riot.
Whether in the United States or here at home, politics exists in a bias bubble. Surrounded by 24-hour media, rolling news tickers and a constant flash of ‘breaking news’ updates, events blur from one to the next. News moves fast.
Democrats are more likely (seven in 10) to think of January 6th 2021 as a seismic event than independents (three in 10). That represents a major challenge for Biden and the Democrats, who want to portray Trump as the architect of the January 6th 2021 Capitol attack, in order to keep him out of the White House in 2024.