By early Wednesday afternoon, when Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar decided to weigh in on the matter, the discourse around Donald Trump’s astonishing demand for a “termination” of all rules in the U.S. Constitution already seemed stale.
The previous day, the Trump Organization had been found guilty of a tax fraud scheme by the Manhattan district attorney’s office; the House committee investigating Jan. 6 said it would issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department; and Democrat Raphael Warnock had won the Georgia Senate race.
The news cycle appeared to have shifted.
This likely came as a relief to some Republicans in Congress, who were eager to not have to comment on the latest rantings and ravings of their albatross. Especially because of what he was arguing: that a release of internal documents at Twitter showing employees doing content moderation around attacks on Hunter Biden was related to Trump’s loss in the 2020 election—which, of course, he believes he won—and that this kind of “Massive Fraud” perpetrated by “Big Tech Companies, the DNC, & the Democrat Party” allowed “for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”
Trump blasted “the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION” on Truth Social, adding: “Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”
This was awkward on several levels. The Republican Party has made it its mission to try to “be” the party of the Constitution. Originalists, a conservative sect of lawyers, claim to be beholden only to the laws of the Constitution (as they interpret them). Republican lawmakers often portray themselves as more loyal to the Founding Fathers than are their opponents, and are known to recite the Constitution on the House floor after winning a House majority, as they did this year. (In November, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy promised to do so “on the very first day of the new Republican-led Congress,” noting it was “something that hasn’t been done in years.”)
So Trump’s remarks meant that Republicans spent days hemming and hawing, trying to simultaneously distance themselves from the sound bite without slamming Trump; downplay the sound bite’s significance; and also stand up for their supposedly favorite document, the Constitution.
Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, called the Constitution “enduring” but ignored reporters when they asked about Trump. Mike Pence told a South Carolina radio station that anyone who “aspires to serve or to serve again” should support the Constitution. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell waited more than three days to comment, and when he did, said: “It would be pretty hard to be sworn in as to the presidency if you’re not willing to uphold the Constitution.”
Steve Scalise pretended he hadn’t heard what Trump had done, but said, about the Constitution: “Next to the Bible, it’s the most important document in the history of the world.”
It’s a tense moment. With Sen. Warnock’s win in Georgia, the midterms of Trump meddling is officially a bust. His hand-picked candidates did very badly, blowing what could have been a red wave. Establishment Republicans are surely hoping that the average Republican primary voter will look at the data and decide it’s time to move on from Trump—because he sure isn’t ready to throw in the towel.
The only silver lining of the week, in fact, should have been that big news elsewhere would swamp any memory of Trump’s Constitution hissy fit. But Paul Gosar, it seems, couldn’t help but step in it.
In a since-deleted tweet on his official account, he wrote on Wednesday, four days after Trump’s missive: “I support and agree with the former president. Unprecedented fraud requires unprecedented cure.”
This, of course, spurred a whole new slew of headlines from MSNBC, Rolling Stone, Axios, the New Republic, the Daily Beast, the Independent, the conservative Washington Examiner, and (multiple times over) the Arizona Republic. In a tweet, Rep. Liz Cheney called the deleted tweet to McCarthy’s attention and asked the Republican House leader if it was “time to condemn Trump yet.”
Gosar is an extreme even among the Republican Party’s right flank. He was stripped of committee assignments last year after appearing to threaten Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and he more recently appeared at a white nationalist event. This week, he clearly went unnecessarily off script, at a strangely unrushed moment. And his radical statement, followed by a quick walk back, showed just what a strange position Republicans have once again found themselves in with an anti-democratic figure as their leader—a leader they would surely love to see step aside.
But even Gosar could have saved himself some trouble by just checking the news. Because by the time he was backing Trump up, Trump had already disavowed his previous statement. On Monday, Trump wrote: “The Fake News is actually trying to convince the American People that I said I wanted to ‘terminate’ the Constitution. This is simply more DISINFORMATION & LIES, just like RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA, and all of their other HOAXES & SCAMS.”
Trump’s original post remains online.