A variety of Senate Republicans have stepped up of late to criticize Donald Trump, with some even calling for his resignation. As a rule, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who's voted with the Republican White House about 90% of the time, has not been among Trump's notable detractors.
It's why his comments yesterday to the Forum News Service in South Dakota came as a bit of a surprise.
Rounds cited Section 2383 of Title 18 of the U.S. code, "Rebellion or insurrection," as the law that prosecutors could use against Trump. "If there are (impeachment) proceedings brought against him (Trump)," said Rounds, "and even if the article of impeachment is not followed through in the Senate, if the article of impeachment to incitement of a riot or incitement of an insurrection are followed through in a criminal proceeding, that by itself would ... stop him (Trump) for running for election to a public office again."
There aren't many GOP officials speaking openly about Trump's possible criminal liability, especially those in states Trump won by 26 points.
But just as importantly, if not more so, was Rounds' willingness to call out Trump's election lies.
"When the story of this last 90 days is told, they will clearly lay out that the president of the United States misled very, very good, honest, patriotic Americans by telling them time and again that the election was stolen," Rounds said. "I believe that history will hold him accountable."
For now, let's put aside the fact that "misled" is an extremely charitable verb given the circumstances. Let's also temporarily put aside the senator's willingness to push off accountability to future scholars, instead of contemporary officials. Let's also sidestep the fact that the misinformation campaign lasted a lot longer than 90 days.
What struck me as notable was Rounds' willingness to touch on the issue at the heart of the ongoing crisis: Trump lied to a whole lot of people who made the mistake of believing him. To be sure, there are relevant complexities that helped lead to last week's attack on the U.S. Capitol, but at the heart of the matter is simple truth: Trump convinced millions that the election was stolen, despite the reality that it was not.
Were it not for those lies, the deadly riot would not have occurred. Were it not for Trump's deliberate misinformation campaign, the capital of the United States would not currently be filled with tens of thousands of troops hoping to prevent an attack by the sitting president's well-armed followers.
When pushing back against impeachment this week, more than a few Republicans brought up a convenient buzzword: "unity." I can think of an easy step GOP officials could take that would go along way toward unification: do as Mike Rounds did and acknowledge that Trump lied about the integrity of the election.