Although Americans are sharply divided on impeaching President Donald Trump and on penalizing Congressional Republicans who helped him try to overturn the election, most of us are united against using violence to settle political disagreements.
We watched with horror on Jan. 6 as a pro-Trump mob invaded the Capitol, used our flag as a weapon against police officers, called for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence, and threatened to kill members of Congress or take them hostage.
We are embarrassed by the need to deploy the National Guard to protect our national and state capitals. We are alarmed by death threats against public officials and by the Department of Homeland Security’s warning that Jan. 6 likely emboldened violent domestic extremists to strike again.
These things may be common elsewhere in the world, but we do not want them to become normal here. Unfortunately, unless we hold Trump and Congressional Republicans accountable, the worst may be yet to come.
The goal of those who stormed the Capitol was to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory and to keep Trump in office for at least another four years. As the U.S. Senate’s Republican leader conceded, the rioters’ fervor grew out of Trump’s repeated lie that the presidential election was “stolen” from him.
Trump claims to have won in a landslide, but he actually is the one who tried to “steal” the election. Biden won the nationwide popular vote by more than seven million (51.3% to 46.8%) and the Electoral College vote by 306-232. Both Republican and Democratic judges rejected dozens of challenges to these results.
Interestingly, two of the sharpest rebukes of Trump came from a conservative Republican federal district court judge in Williamsport and from a Trump-appointed federal appellate court judge (whose opinion upheld the district court’s decision).
Because of judges like these two and some courageous Republican officials in Georgia, Arizona and Michigan, Trump’s effort to “steal” the election did not succeed.
However, without a widespread and unequivocal rejection of Trump’s tactics, Republicans will be hard-pressed to stop a Democratic president from trying something similar in the future.
Even if the GOP had won all of its post-election challenges to our state Supreme Court’s interpretations of Pennsylvania election law, Trump would not have overcome Biden’s 80,000-vote margin in Pennsylvania. Trump’s only path to victory was to throw out the state’s mail-in ballots.
Significantly, Republicans had the majority in both houses when the state legislature passed Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting law in 2019. Furthermore, although the two Republican justices on the state Supreme Court opined that the law might violate our state Constitution, these two Republicans agreed with the five Democratic justices that it was too late to raise that issue with regard to ballots cast in 2020.
In sum, the state Supreme Court concluded unanimously that it would be unfair to throw out millions of mail-in ballots cast by voters who relied on assurances from government officials that mail-in voting was legal.
Despite the fact that the GOP’s challenge to our state’s mail-in voting law did not prevail in either the state courts or the federal courts, eight of Pennsylvania’s nine Republican congressmen objected on Jan. 6 to the certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory.
These eight had been in the Capitol complex during the invasion, but they nevertheless joined 130 other House Republicans in embracing Trump’s lie that the election had been “stolen” from him.
The defense of many House Republicans is that they objected because their constituents wanted answers about voting irregularities. However, that excuse ignores the fact that the doubts about the validity of the election results were planted in their constituents’ minds by Trump and his allies.
Many Congressional Republicans have calculated that they cannot win reelection without the votes and grassroots activism of the white supremacists and QAnon conspiracy theorists who have taken over numerous state and county Republican committees across the country.
As a result, these elected officials are steadfast in their loyalty to the former president, even though they know that Trump’s efforts to “steal” the election at least set a dangerous precedent and possibly violated criminal laws.
Because of the fear that grips Congressional Republicans, the survival of our democracy will depend on rank-and-file Republicans.
The question is whether Republican voters will continue to support candidates who defend extremism or whether enough of them will temporarily shift their allegiance to the Democrats or a third party as a clear message for the GOP to clean up its act.