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The RNC's Ronna McDaniel changes her tune on Jan. 6

When the Republican National Committee appears kinder to suspected criminals than sitting Republican members of Congress, something is clearly amiss.

It's hardly a secret that Republican officials are outraged that two of their own are serving on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. After two GOP representatives — Wyoming's Liz Cheney and Illinois' Adam Kinzinger — agreed to help get to the truth about what transpired, they faced an immediate partisan backlash, which has intensified in recent months.

It's reached the point at which a Republican National Committee panel unanimously advanced a resolution yesterday censuring the pair of lawmakers. As NBC News reported, the measure will now go before all 168 RNC members at today's general session, as part of the party's winter meeting.

Of particular interest, though, is how the party is justifying the censure effort. The Washington Post reported overnight:

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also worked behind the scenes with David Bossie, a top Trump ally, to author and push a resolution that attacked Cheney's work on the committee, called her a "destructive" force in the GOP and vowed the party would no longer support her.

The RNC chair specifically told reporters, "We've had two members engage in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse."

Right off the bat, it's worth emphasizing that the bipartisan congressional panel isn't "persecuting" anyone. It's asking legitimate questions about one of the most important instances of political violence in modern American history. It's also pursuing an examination in a methodical and fair way.

But even putting that aside for a moment, there's the question of who counts as "ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse."

One possibility is that she was referring to those who pretended to be duly elected electors as part of the fraudulent post-election scheme. The article noted, for example, "McDaniel said she was particularly upset when an elderly, recently widowed friend of hers was subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee after it was reported the friend was an alternate elector at the campaign’s behest."

She was apparently referring to someone who is facing a Justice Department investigation for trying to steal an election — which is not legitimate political discourse.

The Washington Post's Dan Eggen, however, said McDaniel was referring to those who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 as "ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse."

This is a far cry from what the RNC said a year ago. Indeed, on Jan. 6 itself, the Republican National Committee released a written statement "strongly condemning" the riot, adding, "These violent scenes we have witnessed do not represent acts of patriotism, but an attack on our country and its founding principles."

Perhaps the party has changed its mind.

It's not alone. In fact, just this week, Donald Trump not only said he's "absolutely" prepared to pardon Jan. 6 rioters if he returns to the White House, the former president also said of those who attacked the Capitol, "Many of these people are not guilty. In many cases, they're patriots. They're soldiers. They're policemen."

This, too, wildly contradicted everything Trump said in the immediate aftermath of the insurrectionist assault on the Capitol, when he condemned those responsible for the "heinous attack." The then-president added at the time, "The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy.... To those who engage in the acts of violence and destruction: You do not represent our country, and to those who broke the law: You will pay."

That was before he decided they were actually innocent "patriots" — and before the RNC may have concluded that the rioters were "ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse."

It brings us back to the evolution in Republican thinking that we highlighted yesterday:

  1. The rioters' attack was bad.
  2. The rioters' attack was bad, but it was Democrats' fault.
  3. Maybe the rioters weren't so bad.
  4. The rioters were actually good.

When the Republican National Committee appears kinder to suspected criminals than sitting Republican members of Congress, something is clearly amiss.

Update: This piece has been updated for clarity.