Republican leadership in the House of Representatives kicked off the efforts to undermine the hearing early on Tuesday, with a bizarre press conference that involved Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York playing the your-fault-for-wearing-a-short-skirt card against Rep. Nancy Pelosi, accusing the San Francisco Democrat of bearing “responsibility as Speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on January 6th.”
Pelosi, of course, was actually one of the primary targets of the insurrectionists, who were braying for her blood and ransacking her office in a frenzy of misogynistic loathing for one of the highest-ranking woman in the federal government.
But once the hearing itself got underway, the evidence presented exposed the GOP’s gambit as the pathetic grasping that it was.
Metropolitan police officer Daniel Hodges — the victim of a vicious assault as rioters attempted to crush him in a door that day — reminded observers that there “were over 9,000 of the terrorists out there with an unknown number of firearms.” It’s a joke to argue, as Republicans are, that some minor tweaking of Capitol security was going to overcome what Capitol Police officer Aquilino Gonell memorably described as “a medieval battlefield.”
After the powerful hearing, the deflections from Republican leaders got even dumber.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio both pretended to reporters that they were too busy to watch the hearing, the Washington Post reported, and Stefanik refused to say if she watched it. She somehow still had opinions about the thing she won’t say she watched. Stefanik went on Fox News to complain that the hearing is about “trying to shame over 70 million Americans who were standing up for constitutional and election integrity,” which is, of course, Republicans’ code for Trump’s Big Lie.
The shamelessness of Stefanik is breathtaking. She’s defending conspiracy theories meant to bolster the belief that Trump is entitled to stay president despite losing an election, but doesn’t have the courage to come right out and admit it, hiding instead behind voters who supposedly believe those conspiracy theories. Words like “integrity,” in Stefanik’s mouth, simply mean the opposite of their commonly held definition in American English. Stefanik and other Republican leaders continue to make apologies for the Big Lie and minimize the insurrection, but like cowards, they are pretending this somehow isn’t the moral equivalent of supporting Trump’s efforts to overturn the election or the violence that resulted from it. This is really one of those rare moments in life where there’s no nuanced middle ground. Continuing to support Trump means supporting fascist insurrection, and no rhetorical games played by Republicans can change that.
Still, the dumb games go on, and not just with Republican leadership.
On Fox News, the networks’ top primetime hosts rolled out more sleazy rhetorical techniques to signal support for Trump’s Big Lie and the insurrection, all without having the courage to come right out and say what they meant bluntly. Instead, they mostly mocked the police officers who testified. Tucker Carlson sneeringly suggested the officers were exaggerating the trauma of January 6, while Laura Ingraham called the hearing “performance art.” They’re counting on viewers not watching the hearing in the first place. If they had, they would have heard that one of the police officers suffered a heart attack and traumatic brain injury, another had an emotional breakdown, another was seen on video being crushed in a door, and another provided photos of his extensive injuries from that day.
The most overtly fascist fringe of the Republican party is, it must be said, gliding closer to coming right out and saying they think that January 6 was a good thing.
As Zachary Petrizzo of Salon reported Tuesday, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, Matt Gaetz, R-Fl, Louie Gohmert, R-Tx., and Paul Gosar, R-Az., attempted to hold a press conference as counterprogramming to the hearing, in which arrested insurrectionists were portrayed as “political prisoners.” The presser fell apart, however, when protesters made a mockery of the situation. But while these folks are generally treated as a “fringe” of the party, it’s important to remember they are on exactly the same page as Trump himself. And he has been spouting the same talking points painting the insurrectionists as the good guys.
But even Trump is too much of a coward to come right out and say that he thinks violent insurrection is good. Instead, he’s been in full gaslighting mode for months, denying that the riot was even a riot, instead saying, “it was zero threat” and that the insurrectionists were “hugging and kissing the police and the guards.” For his part, officer Gonell directly retorted during the hearing Tuesday, “I’m still recovering from those ‘hugs and kisses’ that day that he claimed that so many rioters, terrorists, were assaulting us with.”
Trump’s attempted coup failed. But Republicans in state governments across the country are lining up to make sure, next time he tries to steal an election, he succeeds. What’s going on here is not mysterious. All these Republicans are betting that Trump will soon ascend to the dictatorial powers he aspires to, and they want a piece of the pie when that happens. But, until the day comes that a newly inaugurated Trump is declaring January 6 a federal holiday of the glorious revolution, they continue to fear that it’s bad politics to just come out in favor of fascist insurrections. So here we are, in a sea of gaslighting and deflection and victim-blaming. Because Republicans aren’t just villains — they’re cowards.