McConnell blamed Trump for inciting the Capitol riot, but the senator — and everyone else who refused to acknowledge Biden’s win — was complicit too

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters as Senate Republican leaders hold a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 1, 2020. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
  • On Tuesday, McConnell blamed Trump for inciting the mob that violently stormed the US Capitol.
  • But incitement of the mob started with lies about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
  • Republicans who did not admit Biden’s win, and let those lies spread unchecked, are complicit.
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On his last day as Senate majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell explicitly blamed President Donald Trump for inciting the mob that violently stormed the US Capitol building on January 6.

“The mob was fed lies,” the Republican leader said from the floor of the Senate on Tuesday. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

It’s unclear exactly who McConnell meant by “other powerful people,” but if he’s being honest, it should include himself too.

The Capitol attack was carried out by a group of the president’s supporters after thousands attended a “March for Trump” rally to protest certification of the election results, due to what they believed was a stolen election.

The president himself addressed his supporters and reiterated unsubstantiated claims of voter and election fraud, fuelling the mob’s march to, and eventual siege of, the Capitol.

Those lies may have started with Trump, but they were enabled by every member of Congress who gave credibility to the fraud claims by not acknowledging Biden’s win.

“Absolutely the Republican leadership fed this,” Alison Dagnes, a political science professor at Shippensburg University, told Insider. “Because to me it’s not about the riot, to me it goes back to the original sin of the lie.”


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Indeed, evidence of widespread voter fraud has not been uncovered, despite relentless attempts by Trump’s administration and other Republican officials. Dozens of legal challenges were mounted regarding fraud claims, and virtually none of them held up in court.

Trump’s own Justice Department said there was no evidence of widespread fraud.

And yet, according to an Ipsos/Axios poll conducted in the wake of the Capitol riot, 62 per cent of Republicans polled supported Trump’s efforts to contest the election results. In the same poll, only 36 per cent of Republicans self-identified as Trump supporters, meaning election challenges had support within the party even among those who don’t necessarily love Trump.

Another poll, conducted by Data for Progress and Vox, found 72 per cent of Republicans don’t trust the election results, and 74 per cent said allegations of voter fraud made them question the results.

“Even if they don’t identify as being Trumpy, they are still buying into a line of reasoning that is false,” Dagnes said.

That’s largely due to the Republican lawmakers, and a right-wing media ecosystem, who let the misinformation fester, she said.

By Saturday November 7, all major media outlets had called the presidential election for Biden. Typically, that call is made on election night, but because of the pandemic and an increase in mail-in voting, the counting process took longer than usual, as experts had been anticipating for months.

In other presidential elections, including Trump’s 2016 win, lawmakers and Americans generally accept that call. The opponent then concedes, and the country moves forward with a president-elect.

This time, the president not only refused to concede, but also falsely asserted that he won the election and Biden lost. Most Republican lawmakers went along with the president, refusing to acknowledge Biden’s win.

McConnell was one of them. He remained silent about the election outcome, instead opting to point out that the president had the right to pursue legal challenges.

It wasn’t until December 15, more than five weeks after Biden was projected to win and one day after states certified their results, that McConnell finally acknowledged him as president-elect.

“McConnell is an old school politician,” Kevin Kosar, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-editor of the book “Congress Overwhelmed,” told Insider. “When he speaks up, it is for a very clear purpose.”


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Kosar said McConnell “made the choice to wait things out rather than elicit a backlash from the president and his most ardent supporters.”

The majority leader also didn’t want to create issues for his fellow GOP senators, as many Republican voters already believed the election had been stolen by the Democrats.

“Those voters were yelling at their senators, and were being further stirred up by various right-wing media and provocateurs,” Kosar said. “So McConnell kept mum and tried to let the situation defuse itself through the failure of the various Trump lawsuits.”

McConnell may have hoped that Trump’s loss would become too apparent to be ignored, or that the president would eventually yield or “blow himself up,” according to Kosar.

“And the latter sorta happened,” Kosar said. “The insurrection of January 6 changed the political optics greatly, and, I think, deeply troubled McConnell.”

It troubled Americans as well, including some Republicans, and made the president look very bad to a lot of people. Some White House officials who previously stood by Trump resigned, and some lawmakers who had intended to object to certifying the election results reversed course.

“With Trump so greatly weakened and headed for the door, McConnell recently felt free to say he thought Trump provoked the mob,” Kosar said.

But to some, McConnell’s condemnation of Trump and the lies fed to the mob came too late, well after election doubts took root among a wide swath of Republicans.

It’s true that McConnell came out firmly against the efforts by some of his peers to object to the election certification on January 6, saying overturning the results would send our democracy into a “death spiral.”

“Nothing before us proves illegality of the massive scale that would have tipped the entire election,” he said from the Senate floor shortly before Congress had to evacuate the Capitol. “Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when the doubt was incited without any evidence.”

But McConnell helped sow that doubt, along with every lawmaker who refused to simply acknowledge the truth on the day Biden was projected to win.

Even though, as he said himself, there was no evidence against it.