What They Said Back Then
More Best of Morning Shots: A January 6 Flashback
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol on Thursday recommended that Congress consider barring former president Donald Trump from ever holding public office again as a result of his role inciting that day’s insurrection.
It seems unlikely that the new GOP House will mark the second anniversary of the Insurrection by taking that advice. So we thought a retrospective was in order. Again.
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“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — William Faulkner
No, Donald Trump will not be holding a press conference on the one-year anniversary of his January 6 Insurrection. But the historical revisionism and truth-mauling will, of course, continue, as the GOP desperately tries to memory-hole what happened a year ago.
Trump’s presidency ended in disgrace and disarray. Aides and cabinet members resigned. In the 24 hours after the Insurrection, he was abandoned by one ally after another. As Mona Charen writes in today’s Bulwark, “January 6th should have been the point of no return, the pivot point at which even the most blinkered sugarcoaters of Trumpism recoiled in disgust from what they had wrought.”
But it wasn’t. Instead we were subjected to a parade of mind-bending rationalizations, reversals, silence, and surrenders. The GOP and its media allies continue to dodge, deflect, and minimize the enormity of the event; and they have convinced much of their base to either look the other way, or actually applaud the assault on our seat of government.
Still, it’s worthwhile, I think, to recall what they said at the time. So, before the GOP and its right-wing media chorus ret-con 1/6, here’s the historical record. Feel free to bookmark, print out, and share.
Flashback to An Insurrection
January 6, 2021. Let’s start with the day’s worst pundit take.
On the morning of Jan. 6, HUGH HEWITT predicted on MEGYN KELLY’s podcast that DONALD TRUMP’s final weeks in office would be much ado about little, and a peaceful transfer of power would just happen. He told Kelly, who agreed, “I would just say to everybody: It will be fine. Everything’s going to be fine.”
On again, off-again Trump critic/Trump supporter Erick Erickson:
As Mona writes today, Erickson’s position has… evolved.
“It was a bad day,” he tweeted,” but it doesn’t outweigh crime, inflation, COVID, school closures, etc. for voters.” A day later, responding to those who dug up his January 6 tweet demanding that we “shoot the protesters, waive the rules, impeach!” Erickson was at pains to emphasize that he isn’t now minimizing what happened at the Capitol, but merely responding to a “press corps obsessed with it as the worst thing ever.”
And, as we are now learning, even Trump’s uber-turd-polisher Sean Hannity was horrified by the craziness emanating from the White House. On December 31, 2020, he texted Mark Meadows: “We can’t lose the entire WH counsels office. I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told.” The night before the riot, he texted that he was “very worried about the next 48 hours”
Trump’s former Defense Secretary James Mattis, delivered a full-throated indictment:
"His use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice," he added. "Our Constitution and our Republic will overcome this stain and We the People will come together again in our never-ending effort to form a more perfect Union, while Mr. Trump will deservedly be left a man without a country."
Trump’s own loyalists turned against him.
Former Attorney General William Barr says President Donald Trump’s conduct as a violent mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol was a “betrayal of his office and supporters.”
Cabinet members bailed. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao resigned abruptly.
“I had planned on serving through the end of your term in office," she wrote. "But after yesterday’s events at the U.S. Capitol, I will resign as U.S. Secretary of Transportation, effective Monday, January 11, 2021 to provide a short period of transition.”
She was even more direct on Twitter, calling Jan. 6 “traumatic and entirely avoidable” saying it “deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also resigned the day after the assault on the Capitol and wrote to Trump, “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.”
Former WH COS Mick Mulvaney, who had been serving as a special envoy to Northern Ireland, also resigned.
[F]ollowing the Jan. 6 riots he announced during a live interview on CNBC he was stepping down. “I called [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo last night to let him know I was resigning from that. I can’t do it. I can’t stay,” Mulvaney told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” Mulvaney said Trump was “not the same as he was eight months ago.”
Back then, even right-wing think tanks were appalled. Kay C. James, who was then the president of the Heritage Foundation put out a scathing statement:
Like many Americans, I watched in disbelief Wednesday as an angry mob stormed our U.S. Capitol. As members of Congress gathered to certify the electoral votes of the presidential election, a band of criminals decided to take matters into their own hands. As this horrible act is investigated, it will be determined exactly who they were, and they must be held accountable…
Violence should not be used as a tool to bring about change, and those who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
James’s successor at Heritage is striking a very different note. On December 13, he issued a statement accusing the January 6 committee of “abusing its congressional authority with its latest attack on former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. This committee is comprised of politicians who are carrying out a partisan fishing expedition intent on destroying the reputations of public servants in the Trump administration.”
Back then, one of the nation’s most prominent business organizations, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) urged Mike Pence to consider removing Trump via the 25th Amendment. The group’s statement was remarkable:
The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power, and any elected leader defending him is violating their oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy. Anyone indulging conspiracy theories to raise campaign dollars is complicit.
Vice President Pence, who was evacuated from the Capitol, should seriously consider working with the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to preserve democracy.
In any case this week has probably finished him as a serious political figure. He has cost Republicans the House, the White House, and now the Senate. Worse, he has betrayed his loyal supporters by lying to them about the election and the ability of Congress and Mr. Pence to overturn it. He has refused to accept the basic bargain of democracy, which is to accept the result, win or lose.
It is best for everyone, himself included, if he goes away quietly.
By November, though, the WSJ published this piece, snarking that “The idea that the Capitol rioters threatened the American republic is a fantasy.”
But all of this was simply prelude to the collapse of the GOP. By now, it may seem an old story, but it’s still worth remembering.
There was a brief moment when even Lindsey Graham has reached his limit of sycophancy.
We have, of course, saved the best for last.
In the days after the attack, Trump’s culpability was so clear that even GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy saw it.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters,” McCarthy said on the House floor. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump."
McCarthy’s public comments, which echo what he told his caucus earlier this week, came as he denounced the effort to impeach Trump for the second time.
You know what happened next:
And then there was Mitch McConnell. Lest we forget, McConnell delivered a genuinely extraordinary speech about Trump and 1/6. Fatefully, he stopped short of supporting impeachment, but what he said back then is worth quoting at length.
"January 6th was a disgrace.
"American citizens attacked their own government. They used terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of democratic business they did not like.
"Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the Vice President.
"They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth — because he was angry he'd lost an election.
"Former President Trump's actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty.
"The House accused the former President of, quote, 'incitement.' That is a specific term from the criminal law.
"Let me put that to the side for one moment and reiterate something I said weeks ago: There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.
"The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President.
"And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.
"The issue is not only the President's intemperate language on January 6th.
"It is not just his endorsement of remarks in which an associate urged 'trial by combat.'
"It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe; the increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election that was being stolen in some secret coup by our now-President.
"I defended the President's right to bring any complaints to our legal system. The legal system spoke. The Electoral College spoke. As I stood up and said clearly at the time, the election was settled.
"But that reality just opened a new chapter of even wilder and more unfounded claims.
"The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things.
"Sadly, many politicians sometimes make overheated comments or use metaphors that unhinged listeners might take literally.
"This was different.
"This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters' decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.
"The unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began.
"Whatever our ex-President claims he thought might happen that day... whatever reaction he says he meant to produce... by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world.
"A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him.
"It was obvious that only President Trump could end this.
"Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the Administration.
"But the President did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn't take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed, and order restored.
"Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!
"Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger... even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters... the President sent a further tweet attacking his Vice President.
"Predictably and foreseeably under the circumstances, members of the mob seemed to interpret this as further inspiration to lawlessness and violence.
"Later, even when the President did halfheartedly begin calling for peace, he did not call right away for the riot to end. He did not tell the mob to depart until even later.
"And even then, with police officers bleeding and broken glass covering Capitol floors, he kept repeating election lies and praising the criminals.
"In recent weeks, our ex-President's associates have tried to use the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect him as a kind of human shield against criticism.
"Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters.
"That is an absurd deflection.
"74 million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Several hundred rioters did.
"And 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it.
"One person did.
Putting the Jan. 6th Committee Report in the Context of America’s Democratic Story
In the 1940s, all of us in the Ottawa, Kansas, public schools took a class called Civics. It was about living in a democracy, participating in public affairs, reading the papers, and paying attention. It was basic yet profound. It is difficult to find a public school system in our nation now that has a mandatory civics class. Young Americans find it possible, even easy, to transition into adult life with little knowledge of how and why our nation has our form of government, what Congress does and does not do, how our democracy is supposed to work, and the dangers of eroding it.