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Marc Short, former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, leaves the Capitol Hill Club after Pence spoke to the Republican Study Committee in Washington on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Republicans Who Testified Had No Business Acting Surprised by Trump's Incitements to Violence on Jan 6

Trump's entire political persona has centered on violent posturing and on incitements to violence.

Jeffrey C. Isaac

The overarching narrative presented by the House January 6 Committee is that the violence of January 6 was the culmination of a long process: that Trump laid the groundwork to undermine the election long before November 2020; promoted the Big Lie every day since the election; invited the mob to the Ellipse on January 6; incited them on that day; urged them to march on the Capitol; and then stood by approvingly while they did what he told them to do.

Every Republican who supported Trump's re-election bid in 2020 knew about Trump's violent rhetoric and these violent threats, and clearly had no problem with them.

At the same time, last Thursday's hearing deliberately focused on Trump's malfeasance during the three hours in which the insurrection itself took place and Trump watched it unfold while refusing to do anything to restore law and order.

And the Republicans who testified at the hearing, either live or on video, placed special emphasis on the outrageousness of Trump's refusal to publicly call off his mob while it ransacked the Capitol and sought to lynch Mike Pence.

Trump's actions and inactions that afternoon were despicable.

But insufficient attention has been paid to the fact that it could hardly have been surprising that Trump would refuse to call off his mob, because it was his mob. And it was doing exactly what he expected.

Insufficient attention has also been paid to the fact that much of the framing of this outrage has too-narrowly centered on Trump's betrayal of his own Vice President, Mike Pence—who was hardly the only figure in fear for their life on January 6.

Trump's behavior that day was genuinely outrageous and malign; even if he had wanted there to be a disruption of the Congressional vote counting, his failure to take action as police were being beaten and lives were being threatened was shocking.

At the same time, anyone who was surprised by Trump's promotion of violence and his refusal to stop it was not paying attention for years. And the fact that so many of Trump's so-called "team normal" supported his reelection and continued to work for him even after he refused to concede the election speaks to their own complicity in the events of that day, whether it was due to sheer irresponsibility or malign political intentions.

For Trump's entire political persona has centered on violent posturing and on incitements to violence.

During his first run for the White House he regularly called for violence, prompting Politico to run a piece, back in August 2106, on "Trump's long dalliance with violent rhetoric."

As President, Trump regularly called for violence. When back in September 2020 John Cassidy noted in the New Yorker noted that "Donald Trump's Incitements to Violence Have Crossed an Alarming Threshold," he was simply saying what pundits had been saying every other week of the Trump Presidency. For Trump had in fact crossed that threshold before even taking office. A May 2022 piece at Axios documented the many "times Trump has advocated for violence" while in office. An even more "comprehensive timeline" by Vox listed the dozens of times that Trump incited violence, against journalists, political opponents, and even protesters.

Was there something particularly troubling about his promotion of violence on January 6? Of course. For that violence was part of an organized attempt to overthrow an election, and it threatened the lives of high U.S. government officials and injured many law enforcement officers.

But let us not forget that this was not the first time that Trump and his MAGA enthusiasts incited violence against U.S. officials.

Back in 2016 Trump notoriously threatened "second amendment solutions" against Hillary Clinton, and while in office he regularly invoked this rhetoric. 

Back in late April 2019, he delivered a rousing address at a National Rifle Association meeting in Indianapolis. Denouncing the Mueller probe as a "coup" he incited his supporters to rally to his cause and to oppose "Far-left radicals in Congress [who] want to take away your voice, your jobs, your rights, and they especially want to take away your guns.  You know that.  They want to take away your guns.  . . .  you have socialists and far-left Democrats that want to destroy everything that we've done." Invoking the memory of the Minutemen who fought the British at the start of the American Revolution, his message was clear: his supporters must be prepared to "defend" their liberties with their guns.

Perhaps most dangerously, Trump clearly incited violence against progressive Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues on "the Squad," regularly singling them out for vicious opprobrium. 

In July of 2019 Trump Tweeted a vicious, racist attack against the Squad, suggesting that they "go back" to the "crime-infested places from which they came." 

Days later, in response to critics, Trump followed up on Twitter by again denouncing the Squad and demanding that they "apologize" to the American people, declaring: "We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country." Trump closed by accusing them of being supporters of al Qaeda and apologists for 9-11. It is hard to imagine a more incendiary accusation, entirely contrived and designed to mobilize his angry mob.

At rallies in 2019 and 2020 Trump regularly denounced the "radical left" as "enemies from within" while his crowds denounced Ilhan Omar, chanting  "send her back" and chanting "AOC sucks." It was indeed widely reported that OmarOcasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib had regularly been the target of death threats, and had been forced to take special security measures.

And yet with a few exceptions—most notably Liz Cheney—top Republicans refused to denounce these threats against members of Congress or the consistently inflammatory rhetoric employed by then-President Trump that generated these threats. And so the rhetoric continued, and with it the danger of violence.

Back in February 2020, many months before the November election, Trump-appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Republican, testified before Congress that 2019 was the "deadliest" year ever for domestic terrorist attacks and hate crimes in the U.S., singling out white supremacist and far-right militia groups as "the top threat"—the same groups that Trump regularly cultivated. His testimony received major media attention.

Every Republican who supported Trump's re-election bid in 2020 knew about Trump's violent rhetoric and these violent threats, and clearly had no problem with them—for they supported the man responsible for them as he crossed the country pouring gasoline on the flames of resentment. Every White House staffer who has so far testified before the January 6 Committee knew this—and yet chose to remain in the White House.

Much has recently been made of the fact that Marc Short, then-Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, has voluntarily testified before the House Committee and before a federal grand jury about January 6, apparently attesting to Trump White House lies and to the danger of "a massacre" on January 6 had Pence actually been found by the rioters.

Pence's staff are often presented in the media as important parts of "team normal."

And yet back in July 2019, when Trump denounced the Squad as haters of America, singling out Ilhan Omar with particular hostility, it was none other than Marc Short who defended Trump, suggesting that his comments were legitimate criticisms of her anti-Americanism, and insisting that Trump could not be racist because Elaine Cho, AKA/Mrs. Mitch McConnell, was his Secretary of Transportation. And when House Democrats defended Omar against Trump's attacks, it was Short—described by Roll Call in 2019 as "Trump's top Congressional envoy and a leading public defender," who observed that "if the Democrats choose to want to unite around Omar, it will be interesting to see how that plays out for them." 

Interesting indeed.

Roll Call also pointed out that minutes later Trump himself posted a Tweet that "echoed" Short: "If Democrats want to unite around the foul language & racist hatred spewed from the mouths and actions of these very unpopular & unrepresentative Congresswomen, it will be interesting to see how it plays out." Back then there was no distance between Short and Trump. Back on election day in November 2020 there was no distance. And on January 6 Short was with Trump in the White House.

While many Trump White House staffers were horrified when Trump and his minions turned on Mike Pence on January 6, it would appear that they had no problem with the endangerment of Ilhan Omar and her fellow Squad members, or with the way that Trump had spent years inflaming his violent base against his critics.

This should not be forgotten.

Indeed, there was a synergy between Pence and Trump that persisted up until the afternoon of January 6; that has continued as Pence has refused to publicly condemn Trump; and that apparently continues to this day. This past Tuesday both Trump and Pence spoke, at different times, before the far-right Young America's Foundation. The Times described the speeches as "competing" and as signifying an "uncomfortable split" within the Republican party, and Politico declared "It's Trump vs. Pence in Washington." But the most glaring feature of Pence's speech is that it refused to condemn Trump or to say anything at all about January 6 or about the damning revelations of the House January 6 committee. Pence did insist, in a veiled reference to Trump, that "some people might choose to focus on the past . . . [but] conservatives must focus on the future to win back America." But speaking of Trump, he also declared that "I don't know that the President and I differ on issues, but we may differ on focus." And, downplaying the idea that there is a major ideological split within the Republican party, he noted that he "couldn't be more proud of the record of the Trump-Pence administration."

This is a major split promising something new within the Republican party? Hardly.

There is a difference between Marc Short and Mark Meadows, just as there is a difference between Mike Pence and Donald Trump. But the difference exists at the margins. Pence did refuse complicity in Trump's attempted coup. But he has refused to call that coup what it was, or to testify in Trump's second impeachment, or to reckon in any way with the forces within his party that promoted it and might promote it again. Indeed, he appeals to these very same forces. Pence may no longer be hand in hand with Trump. But he remains firmly in the Trump orbit, and his ideological hatred of liberalism and of liberal democracy matches that of Trump.

Pence will not use profanity. He will not incite crowds to violence—or, given his boring demeanor, to anything else. 

But until January 6, Pence proved himself perfectly content to stand by, and stand down, as Trump unleashed his assault on constitutional democracy from the White House. And every member of so-called "team normal" in the White House who stood with Pence on January 6 did the same.

None of them had any business being surprised by Trump's incitements to violence on that day.

And none of them have any business presenting themselves now as heroes of democracy.

Some of them have finally decided to come clean about what actually took place in the final days of the Trump White House. Their compliance with the law is admirable, and in some cases, like that of Cassidy Hutchinson, it is even brave. But they are no heroes of democracy. 

We must never forget how far these people were willing to go in support of autocracy, even if they stopped short of violent insurrection at the last minute, as some of their own were placed in mortal danger.

And we must do what we can to see that they and their Republican party get what is coming to them—political defeat and historical ignominy.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Jeffrey Issac

Jeffrey C. Isaac

Jeffrey C. Isaac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include: "Democracy in Dark Times"(1998); "The Poverty of Progressivism: The Future of American Democracy in a Time of Liberal Decline" (2003), and "Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion" (1994).

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