Republican senators say they feel a sense of growing regret over not standing up to President Trump sooner — a day after a violent mob ransacked the Capitol building in one of the darkest and most humiliating days in U.S. history.
One Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss his conversations with GOP colleagues acknowledged GOP lawmakers should have served as a stronger check on the president over the past four years.
“We should have done more to push back, both against his rhetoric and some of the things he did legislatively,” said the lawmaker. “The mistake we made is that we always thought he was going to get better. We thought that once he got the nomination, and then once he got a Cabinet he was going to get better, he was going to be more presidential.”
Many Republicans are shell-shocked over the horrific scenes at the Capitol, and seem to be trying to come to grips with their role in the disaster.
The mob that hit the Capitol was filled with people who believed Trump’s claims of a rigged election despite a lack of any serious evidence. It served as a symbol of the fact that many Americans are now moving through a reality no longer based on real facts — or the truth.
The GOP senator said he and his colleagues expected Trump would eventually accept the results of the election after courts ruled against his legal team’s challenges, which were resoundingly dismissed by Republican- and Democratic-appointed judges alike.
But Trump never did, and most Republicans — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — held back any sharp criticism.
This was largely because Republicans calculated they needed Trump to get out the vote in two runoff races to decide the Senate majority in Georgia.
Though Trump lost the presidential election, turnout was historic for both parties and Democrats had a disappointing election when it came to the races for the House and Senate. Republicans cut into the Democratic majority in the House in what was a surprise on election night, and Democrats failed to take the Senate after losing in Maine, North Carolina, Montana and other races.
Much of this was attributed to Trump bringing out his supporters, which led Republicans to put their hopes in him doing so again for the two Georgia races in January.
Republicans were worried Trump’s rhetoric was too focused on his unsubstantiated claims of fraud and feared it could backfire, but criticism of the president was muted — as it was for much of the last four years.
McConnell finally ripped the challenges by Trump and his allies of the election results in a floor speech Wednesday, shortly before the Senate was overtaken by thugs. It was also the day the Georgia gambit proved a failure and Democrats won control of the Senate.
“The Republican leadership explained repeatedly that we’d need Trump to help get votes out,” said the lawmaker, who added that colleagues worried the president would find a way to sabotage them in Georgia runoff races if they quickly acknowledged Joe Biden as president-elect or forcefully dismissed claims of widespread voter fraud.
But now there’s a sense among a growing number of GOP lawmakers that Trump may have inflicted long-term damage on their party, an anxiety heightened by the debacle of a pro-Trump mob storming and occupying the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday as Congress was meeting to finalize Biden’s election as the nation’s 46th president.
“There’s more concern about the long-term damage to the party than losing two Senate seats in Georgia,” the GOP senator said.
A second Republican senator who requested anonymity said Trump had inflicted serious damage on his party.
“Every time you think the president has done everything he could possibly do to fuck things up then he comes out with a tweet, like the election was invalid and the one in Georgia would be invalid,” said the lawmaker, referring to Trump’s tweets Friday declaring the runoff elections to be “illegal and invalid.”
The feelings of remorse are only now being expressed privately after Republican senators spent much of the past four years dodging questions about Trump’s controversial tweets, statements and decisions.
While Republicans did chide Trump from time to time, such as when the president declined to condemn groups such as the Proud Boys, who were linked to Wednesday’s violence, they often did so without direct and forceful criticism.
There were exceptions though, such as when Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said Trump appeared “unsympathetic” after peaceful protesters were pepper sprayed in front of the White House in June so the president could pose with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Graham on Thursday said Trump had “tarnished” his legacy by not condemning Wednesday’s “debacle” at the Capitol.