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Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Defeating Trumpism

The January 6th Committee is about more than Donald J. Trump.
July 1, 2022
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Defeating Trumpism
Supporters of US President Donald Trump rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on November 14, 2020. - Supporters are backing Trump's claim that the November 3 election was fraudulent. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

The testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson seems to have spurred parts of the public to consider anew what happened on January 6th: that the president of the United States attempted to overturn the results of an election by sending a mob—which he knew was armed—to the Capitol in order to interrupt Congress as it counted the electoral votes.

Donald Trump, many people now seem to think, is in trouble.

But the purpose of the House January 6th Committee is not merely to hold Donald Trump accountable. It is to hold the entire project of Trumpism to account.

Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony centered on the malevolent conduct of Trump and Mark Meadows.

By contrast, some others in the White House—White House counsel Pat Cipollone, deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato, acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien—seemed to be somewhat more responsible in their efforts to stop the cascading violence at the Capitol.

But at the same time, what had these people been doing in Trump’s orbit in the months leading up to, and then following, the election. During this long interregnum, Trump actively and publicly promoted lies, incited violence, and laid the groundwork for the eventual coup attempt of Jan. 6th.

According to Hutchinson’s account, many in the White House on Jan. 6th were horrified by the violence at the Capitol. Yet most of these people seem to have been fine with—and even complicit in—the events leading up to this violence. Some of them had accompanied Trump to the Ellipse knowing that he would join Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Mo Brooks, and others in the incitement of an angry crowd. So what was it that these members of Team Normal objected to, in the end? Was it merely the excessive anger and violence that boiled over? Were they basically onboard with Eastman’s legalistic fantasies that the Electoral College vote count might might be obstructed with only a minimum of disruption and violence?

There was a moment in Hutchinson’s testimony when this question briefly sprang into view. She commented that “Jim” had been trying to reach Meadows by phone as the Capitol was being breached. “Jim” was Representative Jim Jordan, one of the more notable Trumpists in Congress. The substance of the conversations between Jordan and the White House remains unknown, because Jordan has refused to cooperate with the committee.

But here is what is known:

“Jim” was one of the most violent and adamant promoters of Trump’s Big Lie.

After the violence of Jan. 6th subsided, Jim led the effort on the floor of the Senate to delay and obstruct the counting of the Electoral Votes, and was perhaps the most vocal and visible of the 147 Congressional Republicans who voted to overturn Biden’s victory.

Jim was as vociferous in his opposition to Trump’s second impeachment as he was to Trump’s first impeachment.

In the months since Joe Biden’s inauguration, Jim has waged a relentless rhetorical war against the Democratic party and promised that if the Republicans retake the House in November, he will use his position as incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to organize a series of public hearings to investigate the Bidens, hearings that would surely make the Benghazi inquisition of Hillary Clinton in 2015 seem like a picnic.

Perhaps it is the case that as the violent mob approached his position, “Jim” was frantically trying to convince Mark Meadows to get Trump to do something to prevent the crowd from assaulting him and his friends. Or perhaps not.

But whatever the case it hardly matters, because “Jim” was innocent of nothing and complicit in everything that transpired that day.

The same can be said of the 146 other Republicans in Congress who did everything in their power short of participating in the violence personally in their quest to subvert democracy.

And do not forget the 197 of 207 House Republicans who voted against Trump’s second impeachment, and the 43 out of 50 Senate Republicans who voted against Trump’s impeachment conviction.

John Harwood said it best after Hutchinson left the stand:

That is the most important truth—which is being highlighted, time and again, by the Jan. 6th Committee hearings. Because while Trump and his inner circle were especially malevolent and dangerous in their attempt to exercise and to hold on to power, the entire Republican party had been behind him before Jan. 6th and was behind him after Jan. 6th.

And these same Republicans stand behind him still.

On the day of Jan. 6th itself some Republicans—Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell—fearing for their very own lives, stopped short of actually embracing Trump’s violence, and even said a few words condemning it, for at least a minute or two.

But these people had no problem with Trump’s rhetorical violence against people of color or Muslims or immigrants or a wide range of opponents. Nor did they have any problem with Trump’s incitement of actual violence against Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other members of “the Squad.”

The entire Republican party enabled Trump’s authoritarianism before, during, and after Jan. 6th. This same Republican party has worked assiduously since the November 2020 election to restrict voting rights and voter access, to empower Republican-controlled state legislatures to override future election results, and to promote the idea that the Democratic party is the enemy of Americans and of America itself.

We should hope that Tuesday’s testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, along with the other evidence made public by the Jan. 6th Committee, will lead to criminal liability for—and prosecution of—everyone involved in planning and executing the Trumpist coup attempt—up to and including Trump himself.

But this is secondary business.

The primary business is not criminal but political. The Republican party which aided, abetted, and participated in this crisis must be held responsible by voters for its ongoing efforts to undermine constitutional democracy. It must be fought from top to bottom in the upcoming November election and in the one to follow in 2024.

And it must be defeated.

Jeffrey C. Isaac

Jeffrey C. Isaac is the James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington.