In the immediate aftermath of the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, many Republicans were reluctant to defend Donald Trump's role in inciting the deadly riot. Most GOP officials balked at the idea that the then-president deserved to be impeached, but they had the good sense not to offer their support for Trump siccing a violent mob on the seat of the U.S. government.
But nearly four months later, the party's posture is ... evolving.
Last week, for example, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) thought it'd be a good idea to defend Trump's Jan. 6 efforts, telling reporters, "In fact, President Trump used the word 'peaceful' when he talked about, you know, the statements that he made."
The "statements" in question refer to Trump's speech in which he told enraged followers that if they failed to "fight like hell," they wouldn't "have a country anymore."
Nevertheless, Scalise apparently isn't the only GOP leader suggesting Trump's conduct on Jan. 6 was defensible.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., skirted questions Sunday about his Jan. 6 phone call with President Donald Trump as the Capitol riot was underway. ... "I was the first person to contact him when the riots were going on," McCarthy said [on Fox News Sunday]. "He didn't see it. What he ended the call with saying was telling me he'll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that's what he did. He put a video out later."
In a situation like this, there's a forest, there are trees, and they're both a ridiculous mess.
Let's start with the relevant details. First, the idea that Trump didn't know what was happening at the Capitol in the midst of the riot is literally unbelievable. Not only has the former president earned a reputation for obsessive television watching, but sources close to the Republican have told reporters that Trump was, in fact, watching developments unfold in real time -- and he "enjoyed" what he saw.
Second, McCarthy's argument that Trump "put a video out" in the interest of curtailing the violence is ridiculous. As host Chris Wallace reminded the House GOP leader yesterday, the video posted by the former president came "quite a lot later," and it was "a pretty weak video." That's more than fair: we are, after all, talking about a video in which Trump professed his "love" for the rioters, calling them "very special people," and telling them how just their cause was.
And third, McCarthy's rhetoric in late April is wholly at odds with McCarthy's rhetoric from January. Let's not forget that the House Republican leader, in the immediate aftermath of the violent attack, conceded, "The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters." The California congressman also floated the possibility of a censure resolution, which would've formally condemned Trump for his actions.
Soon after, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler's (R-Wash.) issued a written statement, explaining that McCarthy reached out to Trump during the violence, hoping he'd convince his followers to stand down. The president apparently tried to blame leftists for the attack.
"McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters," the GOP congresswoman added. "That's when, according to McCarthy, the president said: 'Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.'"
Asked about this yesterday, McCarthy dodged, instead sticking to the line that Trump's actions on Jan. 6 were responsible. That's only true if we overlook everything else McCarthy has said on the subject.
But let's not miss the big picture: the House minority leader has repeatedly found himself in Trump's doghouse -- not for having done anything wrong, but for failing to show the former president the kind of genuflecting loyalty he expects.
And so, the GOP leader is still looking for ways to make the former president -- and his sycophantic allies on Capitol Hill -- happy, even if that means contradicting himself in painfully obvious, easy-to-check ways.
A Washington Post analysis concluded this morning, "McCarthy seemed to genuinely want to distance himself from what his party and the president had done or were doing, only to later jump on board when it became clear which way the wind was blowing in his conference. That wind has now blown sufficiently toward rewriting the history of Jan. 6 and what preceded it. And McCarthy, it seems, is now quite happy to play his part in that as well."
Such efforts clearly paint the House Republican leader in a pitiful light. By all appearances, McCarthy doesn't care.