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It appears that the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) censure of Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), along with its declaration that the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was “legitimate political discourse,” has created a problem for Republican lawmakers as they try to position the party for the midterms and the 2024 election. Coming as the statement did, just after former President Trump said that Pence had the power to “overturn the election” and, that if reelected, Trump would pardon those who attacked the Capitol, it has put the Republican Party openly on the side of overturning our democracy.
Trump loyalists have been insisting that the rioters were “political prisoners,” and clearly the RNC was speaking for them. This wing of the party got a boost this evening when, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, the libertarian whose wealth Forbes estimates to be about $2.6 billion, announced that he is stepping down from the board of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, to focus on electing Trump-aligned candidates in 2022. Thiel famously wrote in 2009 that he “no longer believe[s] that freedom and democracy are compatible,” and deplored “the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women” after 1920.
It also got a boost today when the Supreme Court halted a lower court’s order saying that a redistricting map in Alabama violated the Voting Rights Act by getting rid of a Black majority district. Alabama’s population is 27 percent Black, which should translate to 2 congressional seats, but by the practice of “packing and cracking”—that is, packing large numbers of Black voters into one district and spreading them thinly across all the others—only one district will likely have a shot at electing a Black representative. The vote for letting the new maps stand was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the liberals against the new right-wing majority, in control thanks to the three justices added by Trump.
But the backlash against the RNC’s statement suggests that most Americans see the deadly attack on our democracy for what it was, and Republican lawmakers are now trying to deflect from the RNC’s statement.
RNC chair Ronna McDaniel said that media quotes from the resolution are a “lie” and says the committee did not mean it to be taken as it has been. But other Republicans seemed to understand that the RNC has firmly dragged the Republican Party into Trump’s war on our democracy.
National Review called the statement “both morally repellent and politically self-destructive,” and worried that “it will be used against hundreds of elected Republicans who were not consulted in its drafting and do not endorse its sentiment.” If indeed the RNC simply misworded their statement, the editors said, “its wording is political malpractice of the highest order coming from people whose entire job is politics.”
Sunday, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who seems to entertain hopes for 2024, said on ABC’s This Week that “January 6 was a riot incited by Donald Trump in an effort to intimidate Mike Pence and Congress into doing exactly what he said in his own words—overturn the election.”
But others, like Senator Todd Young (R-IN), seem to be trying to split the baby. Young told Christiane Amanpour that those saying the attack was legitimate political discourse are “a fringe group,” although the RNC is quite literally the official machinery of the Republican Party. Young is up for reelection in 2022. He is also from Indiana, as is former Vice President Mike Pence, who seems to be positioning himself to take over the party as Trump’s legal woes knock him out of the running for 2024.
On Friday, Pence told the Federalist Society that Trump was “wrong” to say that he, Pence, had the power to overturn the election. But he did not say that Biden won the election fairly. Then, on Sunday, Pence’s former Chief of Staff Marc Short, seemed to try to let Trump off the hook for his pressure on Pence, telling Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that the former president “had many bad advisers who were basically snake oil salesmen giving him really random and novel ideas as to what the vice president could do.”
They seem to be trying to keep Trump’s voters while easing the former president himself offstage, hoping that voters will forget that the Republican leadership stood by Trump until he openly talked of overturning the election.
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chair of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, seems unlikely to stand by as the country moves on, as the National Review editors indicated they were hoping. As he said in his closing at Trump’s first impeachment trial: “history will not be kind to Donald Trump. If you find that the House has proved its case, and still vote to acquit, your name will be tied to his with a cord of steel and for all of history.”
The other big news of the past day is that it turns out that Trump and his team mishandled presidential records, suggesting that we will never get the full story of what happened in that White House.
By law, presidential records and federal records belong to the U.S. government. An administration must preserve every piece of official business. Some of the documents that the Trump team delivered to the January 6 committee had been ripped up and taped back together, some were in pieces, and some, apparently, were shredded and destroyed. Legal commentator Asha Rangappa noted that Trump’s impeachments mean that such shredding could have amounted to an obstruction of justice.
Today we learned that the National Archives and Records Administration had to retrieve 15 boxes of material from Trump’s Florida residence Mar-a-Lago, including correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the letter that former president Barack Obama left for Trump (which would have brought a pretty penny if it were sold). Trump aides say they are trying to determine what other records need to be returned.
Former Republican Kurt Bardella noted, “if this had happened during a Democratic Administration while Republicans were in the majority, I guarantee you [the Oversight Committee] would be launching a massive investigation into this and writing subpoenas right now to any and every W[hite] H[ouse] official that was involved in this.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the story to raise money for her progressive organization, Onward Together. She linked to the story as she urged people to “take a sip from your new mug as you read the news.” With the tweet was the picture of a mug with her image and the caption “But Her Emails.”
House January 6 committee member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) says that the committee is planning to hold public hearings in April or May. They have been slowed down by the reluctance of the Trump team to cooperate.
Heather Cox Richardson is a Professor of History at Boston College. This post originally appeared on her Substack, Letters from an American.