House Select Committee must not give the Republican Party a free pass

In six presentations in June, the House Select Committee on January 6 made a clear, compelling, and convincing argument that Donald Trump: 1) continued to claim he had won the 2020 presidential election after members of his administration, including then-Attorney General Bill Barr, repeatedly informed him that there was no evidence of widespread fraud; 2) told Vice President Mike Pence to use the powers he did not have under the US Constitution to reject the Electoral College results and ridiculed him when he refused to do so; 3) pressures lawmakers in battleground states to overturn previously certified election results; 4) instructed Justice Department officials to send official communications to battleground states that they were investigating credible allegations of voter fraud and planned to fire them when they refused; 5) harassed state election officials to find the votes he needed to win; 6) falsely accused local election officials of tampering with ballot papers, exposing them to death threats; 7) approved a plan to send fake electoral college lists to the National Archives, Congress, and Vice President Pence; 8) ordered the lifting of security measures for his rally at the Ellipse after officials discovered that members of the crowd had weapons and bulletproof vests because “nobody intended to kill him to hurt” ; and 9) after urging his supporters to “fight like hell”, did nothing to stop the insurgency, despite pleas from his family members, ardent supporters of Congress and the media, when the crowd made burst into the Capitol to “Stop the Robbery” and “Hang Mike Pence.”

The Select Committee revelations, including the conduct of 60 percent of Americans to believe was fair and impartial, are likely to increase Americans’ growing disillusionment with Trump. At the start of the hearings, 55 percent Americans didn’t want him to run again; 58% of Republicans support their party more than the former president. Only 26% of those first-party Republicans would definitely or probably vote for Trump if he ran again. In mid-June, 79% of Americans (including nearly half of Republicans) agreed Trump was involved in a sweeping effort to nullify the election.

Nonetheless, if the Committee continues to focus, almost exclusively, on Trump’s immoral, unconstitutional, and likely illegal attempts to retain 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 outright election deniers in 2022 and 2024.

Consider the praise from committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) piled up on Vice President Pence: “He withstood the pressure. He knew it was illegal. We are lucky for the courage of Mike Pence on January 6th. Our democracy came dangerously close to disaster. This courage put him in great danger.

Thompson did not mention that in November and December 2020, Pence did not concede, or even acknowledge that Joe Biden had won the election. Pence has not publicly stated that he has no constitutional authority to refuse to certify Electoral College tallies. To date, he has not said the fraud allegations were baseless.

And so far, the Committee has spent very little time examining the clear and present danger to our democracy posed by a Republican Party controlled by Holocaust deniers:

In February 2022, the Republican National Committee officially declared that the January 6 protesters were engaged in “legitimate political discourse”. The RNC censured Reps. 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 affirmed that Joe Biden “was not rightfully elected by the people of the United States”. The platform also affirmed Texas’ right to secede from the United States and called on the state legislature to approve a referendum to determine whether the state “should reaffirm its status as an independent nation.”

Determined to rewrite the rules and replace umpires, Republican Holocaust deniers now occupy or seek to to occupy local, state and federal government offices with authority over elections. In June, Otero County, NM commissioners 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 all is well. Commissioner Couy Griffin, founder of “Cowboys for Trump”, who was found guilty of trespassing on the grounds of the US Capitol on January 6, said: “I’m not going to be a rubber stamp.”

In 2020, Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano, who is now the GOP nominee for governor, recommended send a list of pro-Trump voters to Congress. He then introduced legislation to eliminate mail-in voting and remove authority over elections from the Secretary of State of Pennsylvania (currently a Democrat). Mastriano used campaign funds to charter buses to bring 135 people to Washington, DC for the Jan. 6 rally. He condemned the Justice Department for “oppressing innocent protesters”. He wants to force all Pennsylvanians to re-register to vote, a violation of the law.

Responsible not only for analyzing what went wrong, but also for recommendations that will “strengthen the security and resilience of the United States and American institutions,” the House Select Committee must find other ways to demonstrate that these institutions will neither be secure nor resilient if Republican Holocaust deniers and their cowardly enablers control the voter access, election administration and the machinery of government in state capitals and in Washington DC – and that the defense of democratic institutions, which it is now clear are more fragile than most of us realize. ever imagined, should be the priority 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 19th century.”

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