House Select Committee must not give the Republican Party a free pass
In six presentations in June, the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 made a clear, compelling, and convincing case that Donald Trump: 1) continued to claim he won the 2020 presidential election after members of his administration, including then-Attorney General Bill Barr, repeatedly informed him there was no evidence of widespread fraud; 2) told Vice President Mike Pence to use powers he did not have under the U.S. Constitution to reject Electoral College results and ridiculed him when he refused to do so; 3) pressured legislators in battleground states to overturn already certified election returns; 4) instructed Department of Justice officials to send official communications to battleground states stating they were investigating credible claims of election fraud and planned to fire them when they refused; 5) badgered state election officials to find the votes he needed to win; 6) falsely accused local election workers of tampering with ballots, exposing them to death threats; 7) endorsed a scheme to send fake Electoral College slates to the National Archives, Congress, and Vice President Pence; 8) ordered security precautions for his rally at the Ellipse lifted after officials discovered that members of the crowd had weapons and body armor because ‘no one intended to harm him;’ and 9) after exhorting his supporters to “fight like hell,” did nothing to stop the insurrection, despite pleas from members of his family, ardent supporters in Congress and the media, when the mob broke into the Capitol to “Stop the Steal” and “hang Mike Pence.”
The revelations of the Select Committee, whose conduct 60 percent of Americans believe has been fair and impartial, are likely to increase Americans’ growing disillusionment with Trump. As the hearings began, 55 percent of Americans did not want him to run again; 58 percent of Republicans support their party more than the former president. Only 26 percent of these party-first Republicans would definitely or probably vote for Trump if he ran again. In mid-June, 79 percent of Americans (including almost half of Republicans) agreed that Trump was involved in a wide-ranging effort to overturn the election.
Nonetheless, if the Committee continues to focus, almost exclusively, on Trump’s immoral, unconstitutional, and probably illegal attempts to hold on to power, it will do the GOP a favor. In effect, the Committee will give voters a free pass to vote for Republican candidates who are not out-and-out election deniers in 2022 and 2024.
Consider the praise Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has heaped on Vice President Pence: “He resisted the pressure. He knew it was illegal. We are fortunate for Mike Pence’s courage on Jan. 6. Our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe. That courage put him in tremendous danger.”
Thompson did not mention that in November and December 2020 Pence didn’t concede, or even acknowledge that Joe Biden had won the election. Pence did not declare in public that he had no constitutional authority to refuse to certify Electoral College tallies. To this day, he has not said that allegations of fraud are groundless.
And thus far, the Committee has spent very little time examining the clear and present danger to our democracy posed by a Republican Party controlled by election deniers:
In February 2022, the Republican National Committee officially declared that Jan. 6 protesters were engaged in “legitimate political discourse.” The RNC censured Representatives Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) for participating in the Select Committee’s “persecution of ordinary citizens.”
In June 2022, the Texas GOP Committee Platform asserted that Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected by the people of the United States.” The platform also affirmed the right of Texas to secede from the United States and called on the state legislature to endorse a referendum to determine whether the state “should reassert its status as an independent nation.”
Determined to rewrite the rules and replace the referees, Republican election deniers now occupy or seek to occupy local, state, and federal government offices with authority over elections. In June, the commissioners of Otero County, N.M., voted 3-0 against certifying the results of the June primary there. Citing unfounded concerns about Dominion voting machines, Commissioner Vicki Marquardt, said, “In my heart, I don’t know if it’s all right.” Commissioner Couy Griffin, founder of “Cowboys for Trump,” who has been convicted of trespassing on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, declared, “I’m not going to be a rubber stamp.”
In 2020, Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano, who is now the GOP candidate for governor, advocated sending a slate of pro-Trump electors to Congress. He subsequently introduced legislation to eliminate mail-in voting and remove authority over elections from Pennsylvania’s (currently Democratic) Secretary of State. Mastriano used campaign funds to charter buses to bring 135 people to Washington, D.C. for the Jan. 6 rally. He has condemned the Department of Justice for “oppressing innocent” protestors. He wants to compel all Pennsylvanians to re-register to vote, a violation of the law.
Tasked not only to analyze what went wrong but also to make recommendations that “will strengthen the security and resilience of the United States and American institutions,” the House Select Committee must find more ways to demonstrate that these institutions will be neither secure nor resilient if Republican election deniers and their craven enablers control voter access, election administration and the machinery of government in state capitols and Washington D.C. — and that defending democratic institutions, which, it is now clear, are more fragile than most of us ever imagined, should be uppermost in the hearts and minds of all Americans when they cast their ballots.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”