There is a central reason why we live in an era of fake news and disinformation and it boils down to this: the truth is so incredibly and unutterably strange, such a departure from the way we have lived in all the years of this republic, that it beggars belief. The plain truth is so incredible that many people choose to say, “Nah, that can’t be right” and go straight into denial.
We got here in 2016, because the incredible truth was that the GOP had chosen a tabloid character, a reality TV show host with zero experience in politics to be its standard bearer. Once a proposition that insane became settled fact, then the rest all makes sense. The insurrection happened on January 6, yes. And Donald Trump loves to say, no, the insurrection happened on November 3. No, the insurrection really happened July 19, 2016 at the GOP convention, which was a complete zoo.
The atmosphere of that convention was what I imagine the Roman Coliseum of yore was like. People were enraged. The delegations of both Iowa and Colorado stormed out, delegates tore off their credentials and threw them on the floor, and Ted Cruz was booed when he refused to rally behind the GOP nominee — and we know how long Cruz’ resolve lasted.
The fact is, Ted Cruz was right and what had just happened was a travesty. The GOP convention provided the blueprint, the paradigm, of how the GOP would function in the ensuing years of Donald Trump’s reign. There would be consternation, condemnation, and then capitulation. That’s the recipe. That’s how the GOP deals with its insane ruler, Mad King Donald.
And in the incredible story you’re about to read, and I use the word “incredible” advisedly, you will see the same paradigm. I use ‘incredible’ advisedly because in this political era, the incredible is the norm and we have lost our capacity to be shocked. We are politically shell shocked in this culture.
With that understanding, here comes another Howitzer from the New York Times. Take cover.
In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, the two top Republicans in Congress, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell, told associates they believed President Trump was responsible for inciting the deadly riot and vowed to drive him from politics.
Mr. McCarthy went so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately: “I’ve had it with this guy,” he told a group of Republican leaders.
The confidential expressions of outrage from Mr. McCarthy and Mr. McConnell, which have not been previously reported, illustrate the immense gulf between what Republican leaders say privately about Mr. Trump and their public deference to a man whose hold on the party has gone virtually unchallenged for half a decade.
The leaders’ swift retreat in January 2021 represented a capitulation at a moment of extraordinary political weakness for Mr. Trump — perhaps the last and best chance for mainstream Republicans to reclaim control of their party from a leader who had stoked an insurrection against American democracy itself.
This account of the private discussions among Republican leaders in the days after the Jan. 6 attack is adapted from a new book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future,” which draws on hundreds of interviews with lawmakers and officials, and contemporaneous records of pivotal moments in the 2020 presidential campaign.
Mr. McConnell’s office declined to comment. Mark Bednar, a spokesman for Mr. McCarthy, denied that the Republican leader told colleagues he would push Mr. Trump to leave office. “McCarthy never said he’d call Trump to say he should resign,” Mr. Bednar said.
You see the repetitive themes here. This is what is killing democracy, right here. The lies and the cover ups. They never stop. We know for a fact that McCarthy did address the House and say that Trump was responsible. We saw that with our own eyes. Yet here we are asked — in pure Orwellian fashion — “to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.” This is the GOP’s “final, most essential command.” This is “1984.” We are there.
And what is grotesque is that we STAY there, because the lies keep getting piled on top of the lies and the denial keeps getting thicker and the truth keeps getting buried deeper and deeper down.
And the cowardice keeps increasing. Here is the bottom line of what’s wrong in America right now: We do not have strong enough leaders in the Republican party to police what is wrong in that party and put democracy first. That is why we’re teetering on the edge of fascism and we just may go over the edge. The next Republican president might well be Ron DeSantis, potentially in 2024, and realistically in 2028.
Read here and now, in this article in 2022, how the path away from democracy and into fascism is being paved.
On a phone call with several other top House Republicans on Jan. 8, Mr. McCarthy said Mr. Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6 had been “atrocious and totally wrong.” He faulted the president for “inciting people” to attack the Capitol, saying that Mr. Trump’s remarks at a rally on the National Mall that day were “not right by any shape or any form.”
During that conversation, Mr. McCarthy inquired about the mechanism for invoking the 25th Amendment — the process whereby the vice president and members of the cabinet can remove a president from office — before concluding that was not a viable option. Mr. McCarthy, who was among those who objected to the election results, was uncertain and indecisive, fretting that the Democratic drive to impeach Mr. Trump would “put more fuel on the fire” of the country’s divisions.
But Mr. McCarthy’s resolve seemed to harden as the gravity of the attack — and the potential political fallout for his party — sank in. Two members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet had quit their posts after the attack and several moderate Republican governors had called for the president’s resignation. Video clips of the riot kept surfacing online, making the raw brutality of the attack ever more vivid in the public mind. […]
Mr. McCarthy said he would tell Mr. Trump of the impeachment resolution: “I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign.”
He acknowledged it was unlikely Mr. Trump would follow that suggestion. […]
In a brief window after the storming of the Capitol, Mr. McCarthy contemplated a total break with Mr. Trump and his most extreme supporters.
During the same Jan. 10 conversation when he said he would call on Mr. Trump to resign, Mr. McCarthy told other G.O.P. leaders he wished the big tech companies would strip some Republican lawmakers of their social media accounts, as Twitter and Facebook had done with Mr. Trump. Members such as Lauren Boebert of Colorado had done so much to stoke paranoia about the 2020 election and made offensive comments online about the Capitol attack.
Now this is some clear thinking. If McCarthy had had the guts to stick to his guns and do what was right, we wouldn’t be strolling down the path to fascist rule right now. But you know what happened. By the end of January, McCarthy made his pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s ring.
In the Senate, Mr. McConnell’s reversal was no less revealing. Late on the night of Jan. 6, Mr. McConnell predicted to associates that his party would soon break sharply with Mr. Trump and his acolytes; the Republican leader even asked a reporter in the Capitol for information about whether the cabinet might really pursue the 25th Amendment. […]
On Monday, Jan. 11, Mr. McConnell met over lunch in Kentucky with two longtime advisers, Terry Carmack and Scott Jennings. Feasting on Chick-fil-A in Mr. Jennings’s Louisville office, the Senate Republican leader predicted Mr. Trump’s imminent political demise.
“The Democrats are going to take care of the son of a bitch for us,” Mr. McConnell said, referring to the imminent impeachment vote in the House.
Once the House impeached Mr. Trump, it would take a two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict him. That would require the votes of all 50 Democrats and at least 17 Republicans in the Senate — a tall order, given that Mr. Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2020 had ended with just one Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, voting in favor of conviction.
But Mr. McConnell knew the Senate math as well as anyone and he told his advisers he expected a robust bipartisan vote for conviction. After that, Congress could then bar Mr. Trump from ever holding public office again.
The president’s behavior on Jan. 6 had been utterly beyond the pale, Mr. McConnell said. “If this isn’t impeachable, I don’t know what is,” he said.
In private, at least, Mr. McConnell sounded as if he might be among the Republicans who would vote to convict. Several senior Republicans, including John Thune of South Dakota and Rob Portman of Ohio, told confidants that Mr. McConnell was leaning that way. […]
Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, privately told the leaders of several liberal advocacy groups that he believed his Republican counterpart was angry enough to go to war with Mr. Trump.
“I don’t trust him, and I would not count on it,” Mr. Schumer said of Mr. McConnell. “But you never know.”
Mr. Schumer was right to be skeptical: Once the proceedings against Mr. Trump moved from the House to the Senate, Mr. McConnell took the measure of Republican senators and concluded that there was little appetite for open battle with a man who remained — much to Mr. McConnell’s surprise — the most popular Republican in the country.
After Mr. Trump left office, a new legal argument emerged among Senate Republicans, offering them an escape hatch from a conflict few of them wanted: It was inappropriate to proceed with impeachment against a former president, they said. When Senator Rand Paul, a fellow Kentuckian, proposed a resolution laying out the argument, Mr. McConnell voted in favor of it along with the vast majority of Senate Republicans. He didn’t ascend to power by siding with the minority, he explained to a friend.
Again, cowardice. Both McConnell and McCarthy lacked the leadership to stick to their guns and do what was right. And you know the rest. When McConnell was asked later if he would vote for Trump in 2024, his response was “absolutely.”
This is the plain tragedy of this moment in our history: Public sentiment was with both McConnell and McCarthy. The country was outraged. We had never experienced anything like this before. If McCarthy and McConnell had had the courage of their convictions, they would have harnessed the power of what Lincoln spoke about. “Public sentiment is everything. Without it, you can do nothing. With it, anything is possible.” Public sentiment would have backed McConnell and McCarthy and it would have been a cathartic moment for America. But they didn’t have the guts to try.
If the two leaders had stood their ground and did what they knew was right, they would have struck a resounding blow for democracy and they would have cleansed their party of the cancer that is Donald Trump.
Trump was at his weakest. They had their shot.
But like Hamlet, they hesitated. Hamlet’s hesitation led to his doom. He had a shot to kill the king and he didn’t take it and thus lost his own life. McCarthy and McConnell may lose their political lives for not taking decisive action when they had the chance.
Moreover, their capitulation now gives credence to the fantasy of a stolen election and the Big Lie may be what takes us down, finally.
This is where we are now, in what I’ll call pre-fascist mode, because there is no doubt in my mind but that Ron DeSantis is the heir apparent to Trump and if he’s not a pure fascist, based on what he’s doing in Florida right now, then I don’t know what is.
McConnell is not a spring chicken. He’s not going to be helming the GOP caucus for too much longer. Who knows who will take over? All we can be sure of is this: We have some very rough times ahead of us. The GOP has been rotting for some decades now. It’s no longer the party of Reagan, it’s not even the party of Bush Sr. or Bush Lite — or the party of Dick Cheney. The GOP is headed straight into yet a darker phase of its existence, unless by some miracle some of the intellectuals and strategists can steer it away from the iceberg, and I don’t see that happening, quite frankly. And believe me, I read the Bulwark every day and the New Republic and monitor Lincoln Project and all of that.
I believe one of two things will happen: either the GOP will continue to become more fascist, OR, and this is a biggy, there will be a formation of a new conservative party, just as the Republican party arose out of the dysfunctional Whig party in the 1850’s. The problem with the latter and it is of paramount concern, is that third party votes tend to bleed votes away from the Democrats. That is how a fascist like Ron DeSantis could get in power — and possibly stay there.
I honestly don’t know what will happen. But I think that this is a fair assessment of where things stand.