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Declaration of a Peaceful Revolution

Republican leaders should recoil in horror at Trump. But too many still fear him | Republicans

Surely this would be the moment. Surely the sight of a horde storming the US Capitol, smashing windows and breaking down doors, determined to use brute, mob strength to overturn a free and fair election, surely that would mark the red line. After five years dismissing those who warned that Donald Trump posed a clear and present danger to US democracy, branding them hysterics suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, surely this moment – when they saw the citadel of that democracy overrun by men clothed in the slogans of neo-Nazism (Six Million Wasn’t Enough, read one), waving the Confederate flag of slavery, racism and treason and carrying zip ties, apparently to bind the wrists and ankles of any hostages – would, at long last, make Republicans recoil from the man who had led them to this horror.

After all, the link between Trump and the sacking of the halls of Congress was direct and unhidden. Short of carrying the battering ram himself, he could hardly have done more to lead the mob. “Let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” he told the “Save America” rally that preceded the attack, guiding them towards the House and Senate as lawmakers prepared to certify Joe Biden’s election victory. No need to bother with the “strong ones”, he said, referring to those Republicans who were already on side. The crowd was directed to focus instead on “the weak ones”: “We’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” The thousands who had gathered, who revere Trump and call him Daddy, did not need to be told twice.

Hours into the attempted – and planned – insurrection, Trump again made plain the bonds that connect him to the men of havoc. “We love you,” he told them in a video message, gently suggesting they go home. “You’re very special.” None of that is a surprise. They were only there for him, summoned to Washington by Trump’s big lie that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen through fraud – that they had been robbed of their champion by a wicked conspiracy that took in everyone from the Chinese Communist party to his own vice-president.

The back of the Republican camel has proved remarkably durable in the Trump era, but surely the president’s role in inciting an attempted putsch would be the straw to finally break it. There are some signs of that, as several star enablers of the Trump era apparently discover their consciences at two minutes to midnight. There have been a couple of cabinet resignations, along with the departure of some White House staff. Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, condemned Trump’s orchestration of the mob as “a betrayal of his office and supporters”. Senator Lindsey Graham declared, “Enough is enough.”

Mike Pence refused to indulge Trump’s delusion that as the ceremonial opener of the envelopes containing the 2020 results, Pence could overturn them. The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, stood against the effort of several colleagues to challenge those results and seven of them abandoned that effort once the rioters were cleared off the premises. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, a longtime Trump cheerleader, now urges the president to resign or be removed from office.

If this were a genuine shift by the bulk of the Republican party, it would be welcome – even if it would be several days late and many dollars short. It would attract deserved mockery for the absurdity of claiming to be shocked by Trump’s true nature now, less than a fortnight before the expiry of his term. How laughable to desert Trump for lighting the match this week, when you stood by and applauded as he built up the bonfire and drenched it in gasoline every day since the November election and for the previous four years.

Elaine Chao resigned as commerce secretary, saying she was “deeply troubled” by Wednesday’s events. Yet she was perfectly happy to stand at Trump’s side – literally – as he praised the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in 2017 as “very fine people”.

Pence did not speak out when, less than a week ago, a tape recording showed his boss putting the squeeze, Sopranos-style, on Georgia election officials, urging them to “find” the votes that would thwart the democratic will of that state’s citizens and anoint Trump the winner, rather than Biden.

Above all, Pence, McConnell and the rest kept their mouths shut as Trump spun his big lie that the election had been stolen – the lie that would poison the minds of his followers so deeply, they eventually sought to seize America’s representative bodies by force.

This would be the deserved response if Republicans were now collectively recoiling at the monster they had created, and on whose back they have been happy to ride until today. But there has been no such collective recoil, still less a deep reckoning with, or even recognition of, the fact that Republicanism has allowed the toxic far right to enter its bloodstream.

Note that eight Republican senators and 139 members of the House of Representatives still voted to reject the outcome of the November election, even after the storming of Congress. McConnell may have taken a stand, but his counterpart in the House remains loyal to Trump. Pence seems uninterested in leading a cabinet revolt that would remove Trump under the 25th amendment of the constitution, and there’s little sign he’d have the votes around that table of nodding dogs anyway. The White House resignations that have come thus far have not carried much heft: they include the social secretary and the chief of staff to the first lady. Only a single Republican in the House has called for Trump’s removal.

Why such inaction in the face of indisputable evidence that Trump poses a danger every hour he remains in the Oval Office? One YouGov poll provides a clue. Asked whether they support the assault on the Capitol, most Americans say a firm no. But among Republicans, more support the rioters than oppose them, 45% to 43%. Perhaps that’s no surprise, given that less than half of all Republicans believe Biden won the election.

Ambitious Republicans – those such as Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, eyeing 2024 – are aware of that constituency and they are frightened of it. For four years they have not dared offend it. And now the Republican party faces a choice, one that does not disappear with Trump’s scripted hostage video promising to behave nicely – doubtless prompted by fear of removal or of future legal action for incitement – but still refusing to admit he lost. Nor will it recede when Trump finally leaves on 20 January, especially if his most devoted supporters make good on their threat of more violence on, or ahead of, inauguration day.

That choice is stark. Do Republicans continue to take the path laid by Trump, the path of lies and contempt for democracy? Or do they declare that, much as they hate Democrats, they are, in the end, democrats. In a two-party system such as America’s, it’s no exaggeration to say that the fate of the republic depends on their answer.

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