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Trump yelled the quiet part all weekend. Republicans keep making excuses for him anyway.
Unpacking Trump's authoritarian Texas speech and the muted response to it.
With the walls closing in on him because of intensifying criminal investigations in New York and Georgia — as well as the congressional investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol — Donald Trump seems increasingly disinterested in pretending that he won’t go down without taking wild knockout swings at an already teetering US democracy.
Key Republicans continue to make excuses for him anyway.
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Trump capped off a weekend filled with authoritarian bluster with a written statement on Sunday asserting that on January 6, then-Vice President Mike Pence should’ve followed through with a coup-like scheme to throw out the election results and overturn Trump’s loss.
“Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!” Trump claimed.
That statement came a day after Trump held a rally in Conroe, Texas, that Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer described as “one of the most incendiary and most dangerous speeches in America’s 246-year history.”
Trump promised pardons for supporters who have been convicted of crimes in connection with the January 6 attack in which hundreds were injured (including 150 police officers) and five people killed (not including suicides that took place in the days following the attack).
“If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly,” he said.
He called for January 6-style protests DC, New York, Atlanta, and other cities if he’s prosecuted for crimes in connection with ongoing investigations of his business in New York and effort to overturn the election in Georgia. He accused the Black prosecutors involved of being racist against white people. And he teased an occupation-like deployment of federal law enforcement to Democratic cities if he wins another term.
This glorification of what essentially amounted to a coup attempt and call for civil unrest in response to legal proceedings is obviously extremely dangerous stuff. Despite his open disdain for democracy and the rule of law, however, Trump not only remains the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, but seemingly can bank on again having the support of key Republican senators if he wins the primary.
Consider comments made by Susan Collins, whom Trump denigrated as “Wacky” in the above statement because she’s working on a reform of the Electoral Count Act to clarify that in fact vice presidents can not toss out the election results — high treason, as far as Trump is concerned.
During an appearance on ABC’s This Week earlier Sunday, Collins not only didn’t seem especially concerned about Trump running again, but indicated she’s not closing the door on supporting him.
“We’re a long ways from 2024,” Collins told George Stephanopoulos, refusing to take the opportunity Stephanopoulos provided her to say she wouldn’t support Trump.
Collins’s comments were especially remarkable considering that less than a year ago she was one of seven Senate Republicans who voted for Trump’s conviction following his impeachment for inspiring the January 6 attack — a vote that set the stage for him to be barred from running for the presidency again had he been convicted.
At that time, Collins justified her vote last year by accurately accusing Trump of creating “a dangerous situation” with “falsehoods” about the election that “convinced a large number of Americans that he had won and they had been cheated” and having inspired the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Trump’s rally on Saturday demonstrated that in multiple respects, the danger he represents is more acute than ever. But with the Republican base still consolidated behind Trump, Collins is now putting party over country.
Collins, it should be noted, has a long history of naïveté about Trump — recall her absurd comment, after voting against Trump’s conviction following his first impeachment trial, that she believed he had learned “a pretty big lesson” from the ordeal. Still, her position — or lack of — on ABC seems to be that nobody should expect so-called “moderate” Republicans to grow a spine when Trump launches a big lie-inspired presidential campaign against democracy itself.
Less remarkable but also notable was Lindsey Graham’s appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation. Graham — who in May 2016 tweeted, “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed.......and we will deserve it” shortly before becoming one of the staunchest Trump loyalists in the Senate — said it was “inappropriate” for Trump to promise pardons to January 6 criminals, but then immediately tried to bothsides it by bringing up Kamala Harris’s support for Black Lives Matter.
This sort of excuse-making for an aspiring authoritarian has never been defensible, but at least in 2016 there was a shred of plausible deniability about who Trump is and what he’s capable of. If Collins and Graham watched the speech Trump delivered hours before their TV hits, they would have seen that he is no longer even trying to conceal his disdain for democracy and rule of law. That they can’t speak out unequivocally against him is just the latest proof that it’s foolish to think they stand for anything bigger than a self-destructive sort of tribalism.