Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers’ voice wavered as he spoke to the House Jan. 6 committee Tuesday about his belief in a divinely inspired Constitution. His conviction was clear when describing the offense he took at former President Donald Trump asking him to break the law. In testimony that’s being likened to Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Bowers said violating the Constitution “because somebody just asked me to is foreign to my very being.”
Like the fellow Republicans who joined him on Tuesday’s panel, Bowers was willing to speak the taboo that has condemned so many of Republicans: Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden and tried to persuade officials like Bowers to help him illegally stay in office. But Bowers stood out for his simple yet eloquent musings on the nature of courage and democracy.
Three short sentences burn away the patina of bravery that Bowers had cloaked himself in.
It was easy to get lost in the moment that Bowers created — but then reality comes crashing in. In an interview with the Associated Press, Bowers said of Trump: “If he is the nominee, if he was up against Biden, I’d vote for him again. Simply because what he did the first time, before Covid, was so good for the county. In my view it was great.”
The House Jan. 6 committee is holding its fifth public hearing on Thursday, June 23 at 3 p.m. ET. Get expert analysis in real-time on our liveblog at msnbc.com/jan6hearings.
Those three short sentences burn away the patina of bravery that Bowers had cloaked himself in and undoes any of the admiration I’d had for him as he testified on Tuesday. Because what is the point of a principle if it is only adhered to in moments of extreme duress? What does it say that once the moment of danger has passed, the driving force behind that danger is once again welcomed with open arms? How can there be such forgiveness without any atonement or repentance from the person who has done you wrong?
Bowers represents an unsettling part of the Republican Party that, even now, puts partisan solidarity over the future of the country. How can someone who saw firsthand the lengths Trump went to subvert the country’s foundational document, in whose words Bowers sees the hand of God, still pledge his support to that same person? It almost feels like an old Borscht Belt gag: “The food is terrible… and the portions are so small!”
It also lends itself to a more existential question: What are we even doing here? Bowers isn’t a rube who got caught up in the president’s lies. He’s not an extremist who wants to tear down the federal government . He’s not depending on Trump’s goodwill for continued electoral success. Bowers knows what Trump is capable of, and yet, he says, he would still gift him with his vote in service to a system that Trump has done nothing but disdain.
His justification for that support is galling. Even if we are to take his premise at face value, that the pre-Covid Trump was good for America, the times that Bowers harkens back to happened despite, not because of, Trump’s unique effect on American politics. The first two and a half years of the Trump administration were better defined by the limits and constraints that managed to keep the president from spinning completely out of control. Little by little, he shed each of them until by late 2019 he had freed himself of anyone who would dare tell him no.
The Trump that Bowers saw when the former president was asking him to break the law is the version we would get should he return to office.
The Trump that Bowers saw when the former president was asking him to break the law is the version we would get should he return to office. The rage, jealousies and grievances that fuel him would all be at the forefront of his mind. There would be no moment where anyone could pretend that he had finally grown into the role. There would be no guiding hand to keep the conspiracies from his desk or distract him from his fantasies of revenge.
I’d like to think there are Trump supporters who can still be reached with facts. I hope the Jan. 6 committee exposing Trump’s role in trying to end American democracy will plant seeds of doubt in people who would still be inclined to vote for Trump in 2024. But I don’t know what to do about the willfully blind who already know the worst about Trump and still pledge their support. I don’t know what to do about Rusty Bowers.
Bowers seems to have convinced himself that the former president got some bad advice but could turn himself around if given another chance. That means he would rather run the risk that the Constitution he has put his faith in be trampled on than vote for Biden in 2024. He thinks the odds are in his favor.
He is wrong.