Liz Cheney, the vice chairwoman of the J6 commitment, knows that powerful eyewitness testimony and damning facts won’t necessarily change the minds of Republican voters who believe in Donald Trump.
That’s why, you may have noticed, she has been subtly but firmly appealing to their sense of honor and loyalty, such as it is, and repeatedly reminding them that the witnesses who have testified against the former president are lifelong conservative Republicans.
Here’s what she said in closing remarks after the fifth hearing:
Let me also make a broader statement to millions of Americans who put their trust in Donald Trump.
In these hearings so far, you have heard from more than a dozen Republicans who have told you about what actually happened in the weeks before January 6.
You will hear from more in the hearings to come.
Several of them served Donald Trump and his administration. Others in his campaign. Others have been conservative Republicans for their entire careers.
It can be difficult to accept that President Trump abused your trust that He deceived you. Many will invent excuses to ignore that fact. That’s a fact. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.
Bennie Thompson, the panel’s chairman, has also appealed to their sense of honor and loyalty (though as a Black Congressman, his opinion doesn’t hold much, or any, water for Trump devotees). In the first hearing, on June 9, he explained the origins of the oath of office taken by all elected officials and most of the Executive Branch:
Afterward, in 1862, when American citizens had taken up arms against this country, Congress adopted a new oath to help make sure no person who had supported the rebellion could hold a position of public trust. Therefore, Congresspersons and federal government employees were required for the first time to swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic.
Over six hearings so far, Thompson, Cheney and other J6 members have made the oath in a refrain. One effect of that recurring theme is the establishing, or reestablishing, of the so-called guardrails of democracy within which partisans can argue and fight and sue and whatever, but not so much that they violate their solemn promise.
The inference of this recurring theme of loyalty to the Constitution and not a man, seems clear: Once you bust through that guardrail – once you violate a vow to defend and protect the Constitution – you cease being a member of our political community in good standing.
You are now a domestic enemy.
The J6 committee’s appeals crescendoed Tuesday after testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson. The former White House aide, who is again a conservative Republican, revealed that Trump came this close to leading an army of paramilitaries to storm the Capitol. The only thing standing in the way was a valiant security chief, Robert Engel, whom Trump tried to strangle after being told he wasn’t joining the mob.
When asked how she felt after discovering that the former president believed Mike Pence “deserves” to be hanged, Hutchinson said: “As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”
By appealing to their sense of honor and loyalty, Cheney is creating an off-ramp, as it were, for Republican voters who have gone all the way with the criminal former president. That, I think, is shrewd.
But should the same be offered to elected Republicans?
Eight Republican senators, including two presidential hopefuls, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, voted to challenge the electoral count. With them were 147 House Republicans, including six representatives who were in on the conspiracy. With them was Lindsey Graham, senator from South Carolina and Trump confidante, who called the top election official in Georgia to ask if he could toss out ballots. And they voted after the insurrection. (Graham voted to accept the count.)
These Republicans together decided to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory even though everyone around Donald Trump – in the states, in the Department of Justice, in the office of the vice president – knew that Joe Biden won the election fair and square.
With doubt about the president-elect’s legitimacy coming from the very top of the party, not just Donald Trump, state-level Republicans moved swiftly to write new legislation that would permit, if political conditions are right, actual theft of the next presidential election by overruling the will of the majority of the people in their states.
Are we supposed to believe these Republicans were duped?
Were all but 10 Republicans in the Congress fooled into voting to acquit Donald Trump, during his second impeachment trial, of the charge of inciting a riot and obstructing an official proceeding?
Are we supposed to believe they were protecting him from biased and corrupt impeachment managers when the White House counsel said he feared being charged with every crime imaginable, including obstruction and fraud, if Trump made good on his plan to lead paramilitaries into battle against members of his own party?
Are we supposed to believe that this group of Republicans, which includes graduates of Harvard, Yale and Oxford, did not believe former Attorney General Bill Barr when he said, to an Associated Press reporter, that there was zero evidence of voter fraud?
Are we supposed to believe that the Republican leaders, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, did not know that Trump’s own Cabinet considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a president who had, to anyone with eyes to see, committed treason?
I don’t think so.
Cheney and the J6 committee are right to offer ordinary Republican voters the opportunity to escape their collective delusion. Her Republican colleagues, however, don't deserve the same courtesy.
They chose to protect an enemy of the Constitution.
They chose to institutionalize the Big Lie.
In the process, they became enemies themselves.