Politics

If Republicans Want to Unify the Country, They Should Tell Donald Trump to Admit He Lost the Election

The Capitol dome and the street leading to it illuminated at night
The U.S. Capitol on Monday. Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Republicans and their media mouthpieces have collectively settled on a single argument against impeaching Donald Trump: It would be “divisive,” and after last week’s violence at the Capitol, politicians need to “unify” the country. “Impeaching the president with only 12 days left will only divide our country more,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted last week. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz charged that “impeachment is unnecessary, divisive, and it’s only being done because Democrats want to keep the focus on President Trump so they can hold together their fragile coalition.” Sen. Marco Rubio suggested that President-elect Joe Biden was failing to live up to his campaign promises by not coming out against impeachment:

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Some have suggested that by going ahead with impeachment, Democrats will bear responsibility for the next round of pro-Trump terrorism. Rep. Kevin Brady, a powerful senior House member from Texas, tweeted that Democrats were “engaging in intemperate and inflammatory language and calling for action that is equally irresponsible and could well incite further violence.“ The line is now being parroted on Fox News.

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This is all breathtakingly hypocritical. Republican politicians, including more than half of the party’s House members, did not seem particularly concerned about uniting the nation last week when they voted against certifying November’s election results. Though Trump himself bears most of the responsibility for last Wednesday’s insurrection, the decision by lawmakers like McCarthy and Gaetz to contest the Electoral College count contributed to the disaster by perpetuating the lie that the race had been stolen, a belief that ultimately led the mob to attack the Capitol. To turn around now and oppose impeachment on the grounds of unity is, as many have noted, laughably opportunistic; their protests simply cannot be taken seriously. Worse yet, those warning that impeachment could trigger more violence are implicitly demanding that Democrats give in to hostage-takers. Their position is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should allow herself to be cowed by a right-wing mob.

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The grim reality is that there is nothing Democrats can do on their own at this stage to “unite” the country. With the help of quiescent lawmakers in Washington, Trump has convinced a critical mass of GOP voters that Biden stole the election; according to a Quinnipiac poll released Monday, 73 percent of Republicans still believe November’s results were marred by fraud, while a Vox and Data for Progress poll found that 49 percent of the party’s voters don’t trust the election results and don’t think Biden should be inaugurated. There is nothing that Biden himself, or any Democrat, can say that will undo that damage. Will impeachment anger conservatives further? Maybe. But keep in mind that militant reactionaries are currently planning armed protests and plotting to overthrow the government in response to Biden’s inauguration. The mere fact that Trump is leaving office appears to be enough to make them pick up arms; if the impeachment article Democrats have introduced makes a difference, it’ll just be at the margins.

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The only somewhat sure way to begin a healing process in this country would be for Trump to admit that he lost the election, fair and square. Nothing short of that will break the spell that pushed his most cultish followers into violence. Of course, he won’t. The man is a feckless egotist who more likely than not believes his own bullshit. He has perpetuated his own version of a stabbed-in-the-back myth in order to assuage his own wounded pride and retain his power over the GOP. According to the Washington Post, Trump immediately regretted the video he released last week after the riot, in which he promised a “smooth, orderly, and seamless transition of power,” because “he feared that the calming words made him look weak.” Asked during a visit to Texas on Tuesday about his own role in the Capitol attack, he showed no signs of introspection or contrition, telling reporters of his speech to the crowd, “People thought that what I said was totally appropriate.”

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But if Republicans actually wanted to make an effort at reconciliation, the party could start by conceding that Joe Biden won legitimately, that he is the rightful next president, and urge Trump to do the same. Not just a majority of its senators, or a minority of its House membership, but the whole party—from backbencher representatives all the way up. If they want to go further and show that inciting violence is in fact unacceptable, they could join Democrats to impeach Trump.

None of this seems particularly likely either. A handful of Republican moderates seem poised to vote to impeach and convict, but not enough to remove Trump from office. Even admitting that Biden won seems like too tall an order for many key GOP figures; when Slate asked McCarthy’s office whether he would affirm that Biden won the election and there was no fraud or unlawful irregularities that affected the outcome, the House minority leader’s staff did not respond. (Update, 2:33 PM: After this piece was initially published, an aide emailed pointing to the portion of McCarthy’s previous public statement in which he merely referred to Biden as the “president-elect,” as if that should clear up any confusion.) As long as Republicans refuse to take a concrete stand for truth and against violence, their complaints about divisiveness should be treated as nothing more than pure bad faith.

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