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GOP senator says Trump is entitled to a 'mulligan' for Jan. 6

As far as Mike Lee is concerned, exactly how many "mulligans" is Trump entitled to?
Image: Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) speaks after the senate voted on a resolution ending U.S. military support for the war in Yemen on Capitol Hill in Washington
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks on Capitol Hill on Dec. 13, 2018.Joshua Roberts / Reuters

In the wake of last month's insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, Donald Trump's Republican allies have come up with a variety of strained defenses. Some have said his remarks were wrong, but don't rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Others have stuck to procedural points, emphasizing the fact that the former president is no longer in office, so the underlying questions no longer matter.

As the New York Times reported, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) offered a different approach.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a conservative Republican, suggested on Tuesday that former President Donald J. Trump be given a "mulligan" for exhorting an angry gathering of supporters to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

After reflecting on other elected officials who've made comments about political confrontations, the Utah senator said, "Look, everyone makes mistakes, everyone is entitled to a mulligan once in a while."

In context, Lee appeared to be referring to both Trump and others who've used language he considers comparable.

For those unfamiliar with golf -- a group I'm very much a part of -- the Times' report added, "A mulligan, in golf, refers to the informal practice of allowing an opponent to take a second shot after an errant first swing without incurring any penalty on the official scorecard."

When applied to the debate over Trump's misconduct, the Utah Republican seemed to be effectively arguing that the former president deserves a "mulligan" for having incited a deadly riot, attacking the U.S. Capitol in the hopes of overturning an election and allowing the losing candidate to remain in power.

There are a few glaring problems with this.

First, casually trying to dismiss Trump's role in inciting a deadly riot is as unpersuasive as it is offensive. As DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison put it, "Mulligan?! Several died. Hundreds injured. Threats were made to murder the Vice President of the US and the Speaker of the House. Our nation's Capitol Building was desecrated. Senator, this is not a damn golf game!"

It's hardly an unreasonable point. In a game, "mulligans" are fine. In a constitutional crisis in which law-enforcement officials were maimed and murdered, they're not.

Second, comparing Trump's Big Lie and the violence it spurred to some heated rhetoric from Democratic officials is misguided: the latter didn't lead to violence and bloodshed.

Finally, how many "mulligans" are Republicans prepared to give the former president? A year ago, nearly every GOP senator, including Lee, gave Trump a pass after he tried to extort a foreign ally into helping him cheat in an election. After that impeachment trial, a variety of Republicans assured the public that Trump had learned a valuable lesson and would be far more responsible going forward.

A year later, Trump pleaded with his followers to come to D.C. on Jan. 6, whipped them into a frenzy, and then dispatched them to the Capitol. It was the culmination of four years of scandals and abuses without precedent in the American tradition.

As far as Mike Lee is concerned, exactly how many "mulligans" is Trump entitled to?