The idea of Republicans embracing Trump because of the insurgency is uncomfortable with the growing popularity of conspiracy theories and denial of what happened on January 6. But although these are not reconcilable, they do not need to be reconciled. As Thomas Edsall recently wrote, many people who adhere to conspiracy theories believe in multiple and incompatible theories. Therefore, someone could believe that the election had been stolen, that the riot was fair, and also that the antifa was responsible for fomenting violence.
The idea that the antifa was the source of the insurgency, which Trump’s lawyers flirted with in Senate hearings, serves another purpose. The invocation of the antifa is an effort to convince voters who have supported or sympathized with Trump that, as bad as it is, the other side is more of a threat, against which he is protecting his supporters. (Lawyers for former presidents have pointed out that a self-proclaimed liberal activist was arrested and indicted for the events on Capitol Hill; this person does not appear to be a member of any antifa groups, and his presence does not show that he organized them. )
Not all Republicans are ready to accept or even defend the insurgency. Seven Republican senators voted to condemn Trump. (Many now face censorship from GOP groups at home.) Others, like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have tried to have it both ways, denigrating Trump’s conduct but voting against the conviction. for a constitutional technicality (rather unconvincing).
But the careers of politicians depend on the ability to see where party voters are. The senior senator from South Carolina is a good case. His Trump embrace caused dozens of what happened to Lindsey Graham? surveys, but Graham has a good nose for Republican voters. When it seemed GOP voters wanted a stiff-headed statesman, he emulated John McCain. When Trump took over, he became a sycophantic funder of Trump.
The loss of Trump did not sever the link. Graham aided Trumps with the election robbery effort, placing an appeal to Georgia’s Secretary of State in which Graham allegedly pressured him to help overturn the election. Graham emerged as an advocate for the president during last week’s impeachment trial and is now warning Republicans will impeach Vice President Kamala Harris for backing the Black Lives Matter protests if they take a majority. (It doesn’t matter that the BLM / January 6 analogy is absurd, or its implication that Republicans are powerless to stop themselves from taking action they deem wrong.)
While this type of positioning can help Republicans in primary elections and won’t hurt them in Red states like South Carolina, it’s likely bad for the GOP in Shifting States and in national elections. Being forced to choose between a militant base and a larger horrified population places politicians in an untenable situation. Trump twice lost the popular vote for the presidency, and under him the GOP lost control of the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Nonetheless, the imperative to appeal to the rank and file Republican voters gives us Rep. Jim Jordan insisting that culture cancellation is the most important issue facing the country, even though barely half the country heard of the concept.
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