Republican senators now regret not doing more to contain Trump
Republican senators say they feel a sense of growing regret over not standing up to President Trump sooner — a day after a violent mob ransacked the Capitol building in one of the darkest and most humiliating days in U.S. history.
One Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss his conversations with GOP colleagues acknowledged GOP lawmakers should have served as a stronger check on the president over the past four years.
“We should have done more to push back, both against his rhetoric and some of the things he did legislatively,” said the lawmaker. “The mistake we made is that we always thought he was going to get better. We thought that once he got the nomination and then once he got a Cabinet, he was going to get better, he was going to be more presidential.”
Many Republicans are shell-shocked over the horrific scenes at the Capitol and seem to be trying to come to grips with their role in the disaster.
The mob that hit the Capitol was filled with people who believed Trump’s claims of a rigged election despite a lack of any serious evidence. It served as a symbol of the fact that many Americans are now moving through a reality no longer based on real facts — or the truth.
The GOP senator said he and his colleagues expected Trump would eventually accept the results of the election after courts ruled against his legal team’s challenges, which were resoundingly dismissed by Republican- and Democratic-appointed judges alike.
But Trump never did, and most Republicans — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — held back any sharp criticism.
This was largely because Republicans calculated they needed Trump to get out the vote in two runoff races to decide the Senate majority in Georgia.
Though Trump lost the presidential election, turnout was historic for both parties and Democrats had a disappointing election when it came to the races for the House and Senate. Republicans cut into the Democratic majority in the House in what was a surprise on election night, and Democrats failed to take the Senate after losing in Maine, North Carolina, Montana and other races.
Much of this was attributed to Trump bringing out his supporters, which led Republicans to put their hopes in him doing so again for the two Georgia races in January.
Republicans were worried Trump’s rhetoric was too focused on his unsubstantiated claims of fraud and feared it could backfire, but criticism of the president was muted — as it was for much of the last four years.
McConnell finally ripped the challenges by Trump and his allies of the election results in a floor speech Wednesday, shortly before the Senate was overtaken by thugs. It was also the day the Georgia gambit proved a failure and Democrats won control of the Senate.
“The Republican leadership explained repeatedly that we’d need Trump to help get votes out,” said the lawmaker, who added that colleagues worried the president would find a way to sabotage them in Georgia runoff races if they quickly acknowledged Joe Biden as president-elect or forcefully dismissed claims of widespread voter fraud.
But now there’s a sense among a growing number of GOP lawmakers that Trump may have inflicted long-term damage on their party, an anxiety heightened by the debacle of a pro-Trump mob storming and occupying the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday as Congress was meeting to finalize Biden’s election as the nation’s 46th president.
“There’s more concern about the long-term damage to the party than losing two Senate seats in Georgia,” the GOP senator said.
A second Republican senator who requested anonymity said Trump had inflicted serious damage on his party.
“Every time you think the president has done everything he could possibly do to fuck things up, then he comes out with a tweet, like the election was invalid and the one in Georgia would be invalid,” said the lawmaker, referring to Trump’s tweets Friday declaring the runoff elections to be “illegal and invalid.”
The feelings of remorse are only now being expressed privately after Republican senators spent much of the past four years dodging questions about Trump’s controversial tweets, statements and decisions.
While Republicans did chide Trump from time to time, such as when the president declined to condemn groups such as the Proud Boys, who were linked to Wednesday’s violence, they often did so without direct and forceful criticism.
There were exceptions though, such as when Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said Trump appeared “unsympathetic” after peaceful protesters were pepper sprayed in front of the White House in June so the president could pose with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said Trump had “tarnished” his legacy by not condemning Wednesday’s “debacle” at the Capitol.
Graham defended his support for Trump over the past four years as being driven by constituents at home who wanted him to work with the president.
“The reason I’ve been close to the president is I think he’s done tremendous things for this country. I think the judges he’s nominated have been outstanding choices,” he said.
But he said “it breaks my heart that my friend, a president of consequence, were to allow yesterday to happen, and it will be a major part of his presidency.”
“It was a self-inflicted wound, it was going too far,” he added.
Asked if he should have spoken out more when Trump crossed the line during his four years in office, Graham acknowledged he could have but also deflected blame on the media for not covering the president more fairly.
“I have spoken up,” he said. “All I can say is that I have shared my thoughts with the president. I have spoken up when I thought I should.”
“Could I have done better? Yes. The question: Could you have done better? Could those of you who cover the White House done better? You need to ask yourself that,” he told reporters.
Some Republican senators are now wringing their hands over the agonizing thought that had they shut down Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims in November, they might not have derailed Republican turnout in Georgia.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) on Wednesday said Trump’s rhetoric created a political headwind for Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), who both lost races that GOP senators had expected them to win.
“There were really mixed messages being sent, which is not helpful, because you had a lot of voters who were confused about whether or not their vote was going to matter,” he said.
“When your most effective argument is you’re going to be a check and balance against a Biden/Pelosi/Schumer agenda but you can’t acknowledge that Biden won, it puts you in a really difficult position,” he later explained.
Thune also said Trump’s veto of the annual defense bill, which passed overwhelmingly in both chambers, and his threat to veto a year-end coronavirus relief bill made it difficult for Loeffler and Perdue.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), an outspoken Trump critic and the only GOP senator to vote to convict him on an article of impeachment in February, on Wednesday accused Trump of inciting an insurrection and warned that Republicans such as Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Josh Hawley (Mo.), who are publicly sympathetic to the president’s claims of widespread voter fraud, are participating in “a dangerous gambit.”
He warned that “they will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history.”
In an essay for Deseret Magazine, Romney lamented public figures stoking divisiveness and anger to help themselves politically.
“Most disappointing of all, too many political figures have stoked these divisions,” he wrote.
Only six Republican senators ultimately voted to sustain an objection raised by Cruz to Arizona’s electoral slate on Wednesday after 13 Republicans signaled before the polls closed in Georgia Tuesday that they would support such an objection. Only seven GOP senators supported a second objection raised by Hawley to Pennsylvania’s election results.
The drop-off in support was a reflection of Trump’s plummeting political stock after the loss of the Senate majority and his response to the rioting in the Capitol.
Many Republicans are scrambling to distance themselves from Trump after he publicly pressured Vice President Pence to unilaterally attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election at a joint session of Congress on Wednesday and then kept silent after the pro-Trump mobbed swarmed the Capitol and Senate chamber, sending lawmakers to secure rooms while police locked down the campus.
When Trump finally did speak, he expressed affection and support for the rioters while reiterated debunked claims of widespread election fraud.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who has been a strong Trump ally during his first term, late on Wednesday said he does “think the president bears some responsibility” for the violence and chaos on Capitol Hill, which disrupted the Electoral College vote count.
“I do think the president bears some responsibility. Certainly, he bears responsibility for his own actions and his own words, and today in watching his speech, I have to admit I gasped,” Cramer said.
Cramer said Trump’s treatment of Pence was “unjustified, wrong and is really, really unfortunate.”
Trump declared in a tweet since deleted that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”
Repeating widely dismissed claims of voter fraud, Trump said Pence could have given “states a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), another staunch Trump ally, said he later spoke with Pence, whom he described as furious over the president’s treatment.
“I’ve known Mike Pence forever,” Inhofe told the Tulsa World. “I’ve never seen Pence as angry as he was today.”
Inhofe also said that Trump should have done more to stop the rioting.
“He’s only put out one statement that I’m aware of,” he said. “This was really a riot. He should have shown more disdain for the rioters. I don’t want to say he should have apologized — that’s not exactly accurate — but he should have expressed more disdain.”