Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s speech Saturday explaining his impeachment acquittal vote was, as my colleague Chris Bedford explains nearby, a disgraceful betrayal of the Republican voter base and a cri de cœur that the GOP return to its corporatist ways. Democrats, as Sen. Lindsey Graham noted, will no doubt use the speech against Republican candidates in 2022.
The contempt for Trump supporters McConnell shows here is worth closer examination, because he repeats something Democrats and the corporate press have been braying for more than a month. McConnell said the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol last month “believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions” of Trump and that once the violence began, “It was obvious that only President Trump could end this.”
According to this theory of events, the several hundred radicals who attacked the Capitol were persuaded to do so entirely because of things Trump had said after the election. His litany of conspiracy theories about a “rigged election” convinced them they had to take bold action, and they believed that they would, per Trump’s wishes, change the outcome of the election by forcing their way into the U.S. Capitol.
This is nonsense, and McConnell knows it. Trump need not have said a word about the well-documented problems with the election for millions of people to come to the conclusion that it was not free and fair. Trump could have conceded the night of Nov. 3, and there still would have been protests and likely a riot at the Capitol at some point. Why? Because the claims of voter fraud and illegal electioneering are based on more than conspiracy theories; they’re based on hundreds of sworn statements, interviews, and media reports from all over the country in the weeks following the election. McConnell knows that, Democrats know that, and the corporate media know that.
It certainly didn’t help that people like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell injected actual conspiracy theories into the scrum of reporting and lawsuits after the election. But the ludicrous theories they peddled in no way take away from the legitimate problems surrounding the election. The reason so many people came out to protest on Jan. 6 wasn’t because Trump convinced them the election was stolen, it was because they came to the conclusion, all on their own, that the election wasn’t free and fair.
The mass expansion of mail-in voting with no safeguards in place, the overruling of state election laws by judges, the problems GOP poll challengers encountered in Democrat-run cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia and Atlanta — all this and more was enough for many Americans to throw up their hands in disgust. All McConnell or any other GOP officeholder had to do was ask them. Maybe House Democrats could have called in some protesters, even some rioters, as witnesses. That they didn’t is telling.
Instead, they just waved all this away as a bunch of conspiracy theories. That’s useful if you want to argue that these people are stupid enough to believe crazy conspiracy theories, and therefore stupid enough to think Trump wanted them to storm the Capitol and overturn the election results by force.
But none of that reflects the reality of what happened Jan. 6. The protest was massive. Tens of thousands of people, maybe more, traveled to Washington, D.C., to object to what they felt was an unfair election marred by fraud and irregularities of every kind. Almost none of them believed they would change the outcome. Almost none of them, relative to the total numbers present, engaged in violence. They were not, for the most part, kooky conspiracy theorists. They were not, for the most part, “traitors” or “insurrectionists.” They were simply there to make their voices heard. Many of them believed it was their patriotic duty to do so, to show lawmakers that a wide swath of Americans had no confidence in the election and that election integrity should be a national priority no matter the outcome of Nov. 3.
You don’t have to agree with all this to understand why a person would attend such a protest, or feel so frustrated that they decide to scream and shout and jostle a few police barriers. It should go without saying that the attack on the Capitol, which got underway while Trump was still speaking to the main body of protesters, is unconscionable and unjustifiable. But that attack was carried out by a few hundred people who had decided beforehand to take matters into their own hands. There is no evidence Trump had anything to do with it or had any knowledge of it beforehand. Democrats never even demonstrated that a significant number of rioters thought they were doing Trump’s bidding — and no, a few screenshots of tweets and Facebook posts expressing solidarity with Trump do not substantiate such an outrageous claim.
Later in his remarks, McConnell tried to preempt criticism that he’s throwing Trump voters under the bus. “Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That is an absurd deflection,” he said. “Seventy-four million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Several hundred rioters did. And 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did.”
This is a cowardly dodge. No, 74 million Americans didn’t invade the Capitol, but tens of thousands of Americans were outside it protesting on Jan. 6. Why were they there? McConnell doesn’t care. But you should.