As the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol starts its work, former president Trump and his supporters are consolidating their power over the Republican Party. Through it, they hope to control the nation.
Trump this morning tried to assert his dominance over the party by issuing a statement in which he demanded that Republican senators scrap the infrastructure bill that has been more than three months in the making. Although he did not note any specific provisions in the bill, he claimed that senators were getting “savaged” in the negotiations because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “and his small group of RINOs wants nothing more than to get a deal done at any cost to prove that he can work with the Radical Left Democrats.” Trump ordered lawmakers not to do an infrastructure deal “until after we get proper election results in 2022 or otherwise…. Republicans,” he ordered, “don’t let the Radical Left play you for weak fools and losers!”
The term “RINO” comes from the 1990s, when the Movement Conservatives taking over the Republican Party used it to discredit traditional Republicans as “Republicans In Name Only.” It reversed reality—the Movement Conservatives were the RINOs, not the other way around—but it worked. Movement Conservatives, who wanted to get rid of the New Deal and take the government back to the 1920s, pushed aside traditional Republicans who agreed with Democrats that the government should regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure.
Now, the former president is doing the same thing: claiming that the Movement Conservatives who now dominate the leadership of the Republican Party are not really Republicans. True Republicans, he says, are those loyal only to him.
He is using the infrastructure bill as a loyalty test. The reality is that an infrastructure package is very popular, and walking away from it will cost Republicans in states that are not fully under Trump’s sway. A new poll by the Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago (NORC is the nonpartisan National Opinion Research Center affiliated with the university) finds that 83% of Americans, including 79% of Republicans and 80% of Independents, want funding for roads, bridges, and ports. Sixty-six percent of Americans, including 43% of Republicans and 53% of Independents, want to pay for it with higher taxes on corporations.
Walking away from those kinds of numbers seems like political poison, and yet the discussions to whip the bipartisan bill into shape seemed to veer off track today.
The demand for Republican loyalty is playing out as the January 6 committee gets down to business. Organizing that committee has driven a wedge through Republican lawmakers. After an initial period in which leaders like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed outrage and a desire to learn what had created the January 6 crisis, the leaders have lined up behind the former president. Emboldened, Trump’s supporters have become more aggressive in their insistence that they, not those interested in stopping a future insurrection, are the good guys.
After Republican senators rejected the establishment of a bipartisan select commission and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) set up a House select committee instead, McCarthy tried to sabotage the committee by putting on it two extreme Trump supporters out of the five slots he was assigned. He named Jim Jordan (R-OH) but pretty clearly expected Pelosi would toss him and put up with Jim Banks (R-IN), whom McCarthy had named the ranking member of the committee. Banks was on record attacking the committee as a leftist plot, and could undermine the committee’s work while getting enough media time to launch him as a national political candidate (his hiring of Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson’s son long before this indicated his hope for good media coverage for a possible swing at a higher office).
But Pelosi didn’t play. She refused to accept either Jordan or Banks, prompting McCarthy to pull all five of his nominees. She had already chosen Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) as one of her eight seats on the committee; yesterday she added Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) as well. Both Cheney and Kinzinger are Movement Conservatives, but they are not willing to jump on the Trump bandwagon.
Today, when PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked McCarthy what he thought of Cheney and Kinzinger’s participation on the committee, he called them “Pelosi Republicans.” He has suggested that they might face sanctions from the party for their cooperation with the committee.
Both Cheney and Kinzinger voted for Trump. Cheney voted with Trump more than 90% of the time. Kinzinger voted with him 99% of the time in the president’s first two years in office. Trying to make them into Democrats because they did not support the insurrection is a double-edged sword. McCarthy is trying to read them out of the Republican Party, for sure, but he is also tying the entire party to Trump, and it seems likely—from Trump’s rising panic, if nothing else—that the committee will discover things that will not show the former president and his supporters in a good light.
Today Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), chair of the select committee and of the House Homeland Security Committee, published an op-ed in the Washington Post. He noted that in a recent CBS News survey, 72% of Americans said they thought there was more to learn about what happened on January 6. He promised that “nothing will be off-limits” as the committee figures out “what happened, why and how. And we will make recommendations to help ensure it never happens again.”
Along with Thompson, Liz Cheney will deliver opening remarks from the committee before it begins to hear the testimony of Capitol Police.
But McCarthy and other Trump supporters are doing all they can to derail the investigation into what happened on January 6. The committee’s work is not a criminal investigation: that is the job of the Department of Justice, which has already charged more than 535 people for their actions in the insurrection. The committee will try to piece together the events leading up to January 6, along with why the response from law enforcement was so delayed. It will look at the response of the White House, as well as the funders and organizers of the rallies of January 5 and 6. It will look at members of Congress, and how they intersected with the events of that day.
Politico’s congressional reporter Olivia Beavers reported that McCarthy will try to counter the committee’s first hearing tomorrow morning with a press conference. Sometime later in the day, Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), staunch and vocal Trump supporters all, are planning a press conference outside the Department of Justice, where they plan to demand “answers on the treatment of January 6th prisoners” from Attorney General Merrick Garland.
One of the hallmarks of a personality like that of former president Donald Trump is that he cannot stop escalating. It’s not that he won’t stop; it’s that he can’t stop. And he will escalate until someone finally draws a line and holds it.