IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Already in a ditch, Ron Johnson digs deeper with Jan. 6 comments

On the Jan. 6 attack, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was already in trouble. With racially charged comments, he's made matters much worse.
Image: Ron Johnson
Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., speaks at a hearing to examine the nomination of Neera Tanden, on Capitol Hill, on Feb. 10, 2021.Anna Moneymaker / Pool via Reuters file

When it comes to Senate Republicans' responses to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, few have been as reckless as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Somehow, however, the Wisconsin Republican keeps managing to make matters worse.

One of the first signs of trouble came in early February, when Johnson tried to redirect blame for the insurrectionist violence away from Donald Trump and onto House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). A week later, the GOP senator falsely argued that armed insurrectionists may not have actually been armed, as part of a clumsy effort to downplay the seriousness of the deadly riot.

In late February, the Wisconsinite went so far as to appear at a Senate hearing, read an item from a right-wing blog, and peddle the ridiculous idea that the pro-Trump forces that launched the attack on the Capitol were secretly made up of "fake Trump protesters."

Late last week, Johnson, already in a hole, grabbed a shovel and dug deeper.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., described the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 as people who "truly respect law enforcement" and "loved this country" in a radio interview Friday and expressed worry if the mob had been Black Lives Matter protesters or Antifa members.

Even by Ron Johnson standards, the details of this story are ugly.

The senator insisted, for example, that as insurrectionist rioters targeted the Capitol, he was unconcerned because he "knew those were people that loved this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break a law."

Right off the bat, whether he was referring to his assumptions at the time or his reflections in hindsight, this is utterly bonkers. We are, after all, talking about a group of extremists who attacked the heart of our system of government in the hopes of overturning an American election. As part of their illegal and deadly assault, these radicals, far from "truly respecting law enforcement," committed brutal acts of violence against police officers, killing one officer and leaving many more badly injured.

For Johnson to praise the violent mob two months after their attack isn't just indefensible, it's bizarre.

But as part of the same interview with Joe Pags on Friday, the senator went on to argue that while he wasn't afraid of the white, right-wing extremists targeting the Capitol in the hopes of overturning an election, he might've felt differently about a different kind of hypothetical mob.

"Now, had the tables been turned -- now Joe, this will get me in trouble -- had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protestors, I might have been a little concerned."

The implication of comments like these is hardly subtle: Ron Johnson, a man Senate Republicans put in charge of the Senate Homeland Security Committee for six years, apparently didn't fear the insurrectionist mob because it was made up of radicalized white people.

The most charitable interpretation of his rhetoric that I can think of is that Johnson wasn't afraid on Jan. 6 because the attackers were unlikely to harm him personally. After all, few senators are as far to the right as he is. Let's not forget that just four days before the riot, the Wisconsin Republican was part of a group of GOP senators who signed onto Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) effort to overturn election results the party didn't like.

In other words, even if the insurrectionists had reached individual members of Congress, with the intention of doing them serious harm, Johnson assumed he'd fine -- because the attackers likely would've seen him as an ally. But if the rioters had been black, Johnson would've been less confident about his fate.

The senator who spent much of 2020 setting his reputation on fire has apparently decided to stop caring altogether about his standing.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership, sat down with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos yesterday and the host asked him twice about the propriety of Johnson's comments. Both times, Barrasso dodged the question.

There's no reason other GOP senators shouldn't also be asked whether they're comfortable with Johnson's comments. He conceded on Friday that his comments would get him "in trouble." Johnson's GOP colleagues are in a position to determine whether his prediction proves true.