The GOP’s post-1/6 playbook is clear — and it’s dangerous
History repeats itself, or so they say. But this isn’t quite accurate. It would be more precise to say that we allow history to repeat.
We all witnessed the horror that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. We now understand the insurrection as part of a larger, well-coordinated effort to overturn the will of the people, an effort that continues to this day. And we recognize that, unless we face the realities and ramifications of that day, Jan. 6 will repeat itself again and again.
Yet, in the wake of Jan. 6 and in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, a dangerous playbook is being deployed by the leaders of the MAGA-dominated Republican Party. Their message is clear: It’s time to move on.
The playbook is a three-step dance. First, dismiss insurrections and white supremacists as a few bad apples on the fringe of the Republican Party. “It doesn’t look like an armed insurrection when you have people that breach the Capitol — and I don’t condone it — but they’re staying within the rope lines in the Rotunda,” offered Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
Democrats “want to try to besmirch, smear, demean all conservatives in the name of a handful of people who did the wrong thing on Jan. 6,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.).
Or as Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) put it, “If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”
Next, minimize the insurrection by pointing to the apparent strength of American institutions. “The shock of January 6 was that the guardrails collapsed for a brief moment in time after holding for years on end,” writes Ben Shapiro in his new book, “The Authoritarian Moment: How the Left Weaponized America’s Institutions Against Dissent.” “And then the guardrails were re-erected, including by some of Trump’s erstwhile allies.”
This argument misses some key details. First, the insurrection was a coordinated effort planned months in advance, and the guardrails were already weakened by a concerted misinformation campaign led by the former president. Also missing from this revisionist narrative: Just hours after the insurrectionists were cleared from the Capitol compound — while a staff of mostly Black and Brown men and women were still sweeping away the broken glass and removing the graffiti — six Republican senators and 121 House Republicans supported an objection to Arizona’s electoral votes. They did so despite the violence that had just emerged from this lie, the lie they continued to promote, that the election had been stolen.
The final step is to deflect. House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) wanted to discuss “all kinds of political violence.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — who led the charge among Senate election objectors and raised a fist in solidarity with the crowd on the morning of the insurrection — has blamed Housr Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), suggesting falsely that she turned down requests for National Guard support before the insurrection.
And Shapiro shifts focus from American institutions holding to what he sees as the much greater threat of the illiberal left.
The playbook is riddled with holes. It doesn’t allow for conversation about the Arizona objection, the obstruction of the work of the Jan. 6 select committee, or the fact that Senate Republicans blocked the initial proposal for a bipartisan, independent Jan. 6 commission modeled on the 9/11 commission. The playbook doesn’t discuss the impact of the 63 lawsuits contesting election processes waged by former President Trump’s campaign across the country, ignores the countless conservative elected officials who still refuse to name Joe Biden as the rightfully elected president, and fails to mention the bogus Arizona vote audit — and the ones that follow. It skirts the subject of the 33 laws enacted in 19 states that would restrict voting access and empower partisans to overturn the will of the people.
Conservative leaders have adopted this strategy because it allows them to move on from Jan. 6 without ever having to truly acknowledge and reckon with what happened on Jan. 6. They also use it because it’s good politics for them. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows that 66 percent of Republicans don’t view the storming of the Capitol as an attack on the government and 74 percent say that enough is already known about that day. Republican leaders have said it’s time to move on, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and their supporters are doing just that.
Responding appropriately to the 2020 election and Jan. 6 insurrection is an imperative for our democracy. We must give serious consideration to the Freedom to Vote Act, a good-faith voting rights compromise led by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). We must update the Electoral Count Act to avoid uncertainty and future constitutional crises. We must grapple with disinformation on social media platforms and within our political processes, finding a way to elevate fact over fiction. And finally, we need conservatives like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger who are brave enough not to look away or deflect, who will face the crisis in their party head on.
The next presidential election isn’t so far away, and efforts to undermine our democracy are only ramping up. We cannot downplay, deflect and dismiss these threats to our democracy and our national security. If we do, history may repeat itself on Jan. 6, 2025.
Jamie Neikrie is a legislative affairs associate with Issue One, the leading crosspartisan political reform group in DC.