- Top Republicans have rapidly shifted from blaming Trump for the Capitol attack to bashing Democrats for impeaching him over it.
- As the initial shock over the riot has faded, the tone from Republicans has changed dramatically.
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy went from saying Trump “bears responsibility” to “everybody” has some responsibility.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In the immediate aftermath of the violent insurrection at the US Capitol, top Republicans who’d been steadfast allies of President Donald Trump ripped into him for inciting the deadly attack. But just a few weeks later, they’re already singing a different tune as the Senate prepares for Trump’s impeachment trial.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack by mob rioters,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on January 13 during the House debate over Trump’s impeachment.
This reportedly infuriated Trump, even though McCarthy did not support impeaching him, and it didn’t take long for the House GOP leader to change his tone and shift blame.
Eight days after McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility,” he told reporters that Trump did not provoke the attack.
“I don’t believe he provoked it if you listen to what he said at the rally,” McCarthy said on January 21.
Later, an interview with Grey Television’s Greta Van Susteren that aired Sunday, McCarthy said “everybody across this country has some responsibility” for the Capitol attack.
The day after the attack, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said: “When it comes to accountability the president needs to understand that his actions were the problem not the solution.”
It took a little over a week for Graham to flip-flop. On January 17, the South Carolina Republican called on President Joe Biden to oppose Trump’s impeachment.
“If you do not stand up against the impeachment of President Trump after he leaves office, you are an incredibly weak figure in American history. President Trump is trying to heal the nation. Pursuing impeachment after he leaves the office will further divide the country,” Graham said on Fox News.
On January 20, Graham told Fox News he did not “agree” with GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s assertion that Trump provoked the violence at the US Capitol and said “show me the clip where [Trump] did that.”
Nikki Haley, who was Trump’s first US ambassador to the UN, in comments at an RNC meeting earlier this month excoriated Trump over the Capitol siege, per Politico.
“President Trump has not always chosen the right words,” Haley reportedly said. “He was wrong with his words in Charlottesville, and I told him so at the time. He was badly wrong with his words yesterday. And it wasn’t just his words. His actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.”
But fast-forward to Monday, and Haley appeared to be staunchly behind Trump and against impeachment.
“I don’t think there is a basis for impeachment,” Haley, who’s thought to have ambitions of running for president in 2024, told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham.
“They beat him up before he got into office. They are beating him up after he leaves office,” Haley added, portraying Trump as a victim. “I mean, at some point, I mean, give the man a break. I mean, move on.”
Nikki Haley: I don’t even think there’s a basis for impeachment… Now they’re going to turn around and bring about impeachment yet they say they’re for unity… I mean at some point I mean give the man a break. I mean move on… pic.twitter.com/IqnZrIDIY0
— Acyn (@Acyn) January 26, 2021
As the shock of the Capitol attack fades, so has GOP condemnation of Trump
There was a strong push from congressional lawmakers to rapidly hold Trump accountable in the wake of the Capitol attack, including from some Republicans, and for the impeachment process to occur swiftly.
The article of impeachment has been delivered to the Senate, but Trump’s trial has been delayed until February 9. With the trial pushed back, and the initial shock of the events of January 6 fading, a door has opened for Republicans to return to their previous, unwavering support of Trump.
Seventeen Senate Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats in the upper chamber to convict Trump, which could be followed by a vote (requiring a simple majority) to disqualify the former president from holding office in the future. With no Republicans publicly supporting conviction so far, it seems more and more unlikely enough Republicans will join Democrats to convict him.
And instead of attempting to defend Trump’s actions, many Republicans are going after the process and contending that it’s unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial after a president has left office.
“I believe post-presidential impeachments are blatantly unconstitutional,” Graham said in a recent tweet.
But there’s a historical precedent for doing so, and legal experts have dismissed the notion it’s unconstitutional.
“This argument is wrong as a matter of text, structure, historical practice and common sense,” Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote in a New York Times op-ed rejecting the GOP argument it’s too late to hold an impeachment trial. “And Mr. Trump is the poster child for why, even after he leaves office, such accountability is not just constitutionally permissible but necessary.”
“It’s ultimately Congress’s call â€” for former officers as much as current ones,” Vladeck said.
Republicans who supported Trump’s impeachment face backlash
The speech Trump delivered on January 6, in which he urged his supporters to “fight like hell” and march on the Capitol, quite clearly provoked the riot that ensued. Trump’s weekslong effort to overturn the election, and his baseless claims of mass voter fraud, had set the stage for the violence.
The president made a reference to “peacefully” demonstrating during his remarks that day, which a number of House Republicans zeroed in on in Trump’s defence, but it was a fleeting moment in an otherwise provocative, lie-filled speech that induced what’s been widely characterised as an attempted coup.
Ten Republicans voted to impeach Trump. It was the most bipartisan impeachment of a president in US history. They’re already facing primary challenges over the move and heavy criticism from the GOP in their home states. Trump’s allies in the House are pushing for GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the number three Republican in the lower chamber, to be ousted as House Republican Conference Chair over her vote to impeach.
Even after leaving the White House in disgrace after instigating a riot that threatened the safety of Congress, Trump’s influence over the GOP seemingly remains a steady, potent force.