Whatever information comes out of the Jan. 6 hearings, the fact-finding is secondary to the political impact. The public event is designed to prevent the country’s current intractable problems from rehabilitating former President Donald Trump and to force other Republicans to either be seen as siding with a violent fringe or distancing themselves from 2020 election views that are widely held by the party’s rank-and-file.
You can either side with the people who attacked the Capitol to prevent, or at least disrupt, the certification of President Joe Biden’s election. Or you must distance yourself from Republicans who are suspicious of the fact that Trump led in several battleground states when they went to bed on election night and then woke up to a Biden lead, in a race defined by COVID protocols, mail-in voting, and ballot harvesting. While Biden’s raw national popular vote edge was solid, the constitutionally relevant Electoral College came down to 43,000 votes in three states.
Still, the images of Jan. 6 were a national disgrace even if you believe some of the “insurrection” talk is a bit overwrought and the plans by some in Trump’s orbit to bridge the vote gap through various fraud claims — with the full encouragement of the 45th president himself — were constitutionally dubious. And the apparent plot of murder Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is stark reminder that political violence of any kind cannot be tolerated.
Some Democrats hope to take the next step beyond making voters believe Trump is too reckless and dangerous to return to the White House in 2024 and remove their option to do so. The hope is that Trump can be implicated in the riot to the degree that a 14th Amendment provision designed to bar former Confederate leaders from public office can similarly disqualify him. These dreams did not die with the failure of Trump’s second impeachment to result in a Senate conviction.
This has been tried against other down-ballot Republicans with varying degrees of involvement in the events of Jan. 6. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado has been targeted for possible removal from the ballot in this manner. So have Arizona Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs. Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina was also a major focus of these efforts, before Republican primary voters decided to move on from him themselves.
Attempts to use the 14th Amendment and a related 1872 federal law to kick Trumpier Republicans off the ballot or out of office haven’t fared especially well in the courts, though there have been some favorable rulings. By and large, this looks like an extension of the 25th Amendment fantasy liberals and Never Trumpers engaged in, looking for a quick fix for the Orange Man.
If supporters of Al Gore or Hillary Clinton who believed their candidates were the rightful winners of the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections, respectively, had rioted, would participants have been Confederate-style insurrectionists? If you believe, as many Democrats do, that Russia altered vote totals and essentially installed Trump as president, that would appear to warrant a more forceful response than a blog post or sternly worded letter to the editor.
The fact that nobody, or at least different people, would be interested in applying these novel constitutional theories if the circumstances were different tells us what we need to know about the legal seriousness of this campaign. But from a practical standpoint, it also ignores the reason Jan. 6 happened in the first place.
A major factor in why Trump supporters breached the Capitol and revolted while supporters of Gore, Clinton or Stacey Abrams did not is that the most ardent MAGA types believed Trump was a unique political figure who cared about marginalized people like themselves. You do not have to endorse this viewpoint to try to understand that it exists.
Having the bipartisan political establishment conspire to disenfranchise such people by employing obscure constitutional provisions in ways they have never been used before — the 25th Amendment, for instance, has mostly been invoked when a president has surgery, not as a backdoor impeachment mechanism — to remove their preferred candidates from office or the ballot will only further inflame their radicalization. This is, as surely as any bit of social media disinformation or misinformation, is what can lead an otherwise normal person to dress like an animal and defecate on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk.
Just as Democrats felt about the GOP’s endless Benghazi hearings, the more Jan. 6 investigations are deemed a political cudgel to be used to beat adversaries or push them out of public life, the less anyone will pay attention to whatever facts are uncovered.
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner’s politics editor. He was previously managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and senior writer for the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? You can follow home on Twitter: @Jimantle.