Jan 4, 2024 - Politics & Policy

How the Republican Party memory-holed Jan. 6

Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Three years on from Jan. 6, the GOP establishment's shock, shame and fury at the Trump-inspired mob that ransacked the Capitol has melted away in favor of realpolitik and revisionist history.

Why it matters: President Biden is preparing a full-court press — starting with two anniversary speeches and his first campaign ad of 2024 — to remind Americans of former President Trump's actions after the 2020 election.

  • Biden's bet is that when a binary choice is presented in November, voter fears about the threat Trump poses to democracy will outweigh their concerns about the economy and the border.
  • How much that message will resonate three years after Jan. 6 — especially against a united Republican Party willing to go to bat for its rejuvenated leader — will be tested on the campaign trail over the next 10 months.

How we got here: The GOP's journey of reconciliation with Trump and Jan. 6 — to the point where 34% of Republicans recently polled falsely believe the FBI organized the Capitol attack — can be broken down into five key inflection points.

1. Impeachment: Despite many Republicans publicly blaming Trump for inciting the riot, the Senate voted not to convict him — and thus bar him from future office — in his post-presidency trial.

2. Mar-a-Lago mission: On Jan. 13, 2021, then-House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called on Trump to "accept his share of responsibility" for the mob's violence.

3. Bipartisan Jan. 6 commission: In May 2021, Republican senators filibustered the establishment of a 9/11-style commission to investigate Jan. 6 — with McConnell casting the probe as "extraneous" and "political."

4. House Jan. 6 committee: In July 2021, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created what quickly became an electrifying foil for Republicans convinced that Democrats were "weaponizing" Jan. 6 for partisan gain.

  • The committee held blockbuster hearings in the summer of 2022, and many election-denying Republican candidates backed by Trump went on to lose in the midterms.

5. Prosecution: Trump's first two indictments for alleged hush money payments and mishandling of classified documents created a Republican rallying effect, rescuing his image at a moment he was uniquely vulnerable after the midterms.

  • By the time Trump was indicted in August on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election, much of the GOP had grown to view the "weaponization" of justice as worse than any of his actions related to Jan. 6.

The big picture: Despite their full-throated embrace of Trump, most Republican leaders would be content to never discuss Jan. 6 again.

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