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Republicans committed a huge self-inflicted political error in the wake of the Capitol siege

Members of the National Guard stand behind a fence outside of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Members of the National Guard stand behind a fence outside of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg

Last week’s insurrection from pro-Trump supporters on the Capitol building was a massive security failure. It was deadly. And it was all based on a lie.

Politically, it was also one of the worst self-inflicted wounds in the history of American politics.

That President Trump told his supporters the election was stolen and that there was something they could do it about on January 6 was one thing. But then many of those supporters, following Trump’s speech, stormed the Capitol building by breaking windows and doors and stole items from wine, to podiums, to a laptop in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Reporting over the weekend showed that among some true oddballs in costume, there were some in full combat gear and carrying zip-ties, and some later found with, explosives, Molotov cocktails and, yes, even homemade napalm. The insurrection resulted in the deaths of five people.

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But instead of owning this violent overreach and trying to distance themselves from the bad actors and move on, Republicans appear, at least so far, to be doubling down. They are defending their own side on everything from questioning who led the riot, to whether the violence was a follow up from Black Lives Matter protests this summer, and lately suggesting big tech companies are to blame and not their own side for violating terms of service agreements about inciting a future riot.

As long as this continues, Democrats will have the upper hand during at least the first few months of the Biden administration, and the implications for that could be sweeping.

As audacious as it was that three-quarters of House Republicans continued to object to some Electoral College votes just hours after the rampage, it also set a tone that the default position in American politics in 2021 is tribal partisanship.

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The House Republican position — and that of 14 Republican US Senators — could be explained away as a logical stance: the only elections many of these politicians had to worry about was a primary election, and their base was angry at the results.

The violence in the Capitol could have provided Republicans with the clean break from Trump many were trying to find. After all, Trump’s antics meant that Democrats are now fully in charge of Congress and the White House.

But instead of that clean break, it is more complicated. For example, according to NBC, Mitch McConnell is telling people he will never speak with Trump again. Yet, in the grassroots, there is more attention on so-called “free speech” concerns — actions Twitter and Facebook took to ban Trump — than on the impact of Trump’s words in inciting a future riot.

During the 2018 and 2020 elections, the attention politically was all about how Republicans were losing the suburbs for the first time to Democrats, and how that has imperiled them. Unless Republicans start disavowing rioters who used violence in their name, it is hard to see how they could start winning again.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.