Republicans—yes Republicans only—are responsible for hostility and threats of violence in Congress

Let’s take a look at what’s going on:

  • Supporters of Donald Trump, the head of the Republican Party, attacked the U.S. Capitol with encouragement from Trump and a few congressional Republicans. Five people died, including one police officer. Multiple police officers were seriously injured. The lives of members of Congress were threatened. Insurrectionists battered down windows, erected a gallows, and roamed the Capitol carrying flex cuffs and weapons. 
  • Democrats think there should be some accountability for those who incited the insurrection.
  • The vast majority of House Republicans tried to block the electoral votes of two states from being counted as part of a broader effort to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Biden presidency.
  • Democrats wanted the votes counted as they were cast, and were critical of Republicans for trying to do otherwise.
  • Pelosi said, “The enemy is within the House,” which was Not Very Civil of her.
  • She said it after some House Republicans were trying to bring guns into the House chamber in violation of the rules, and they became outraged at metal detectors installed to try to prevent that. She also said it after it was revealed that Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene had “liked” social media posts about assassinating Democratic leaders … like Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
  • Greene has said that the school massacres at Sandy Hook and Parkland were hoaxes. Despite this, Republican leadership put her on the Education and Labor Committee.
  • Democrats think that someone who embraces conspiracy theories about the murder of children should not have an oversight role in education.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez refused to work with Sen. Ted Cruz. Again, Not Very Civil.
  • That refusal was because “you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out.” Is … almost having someone murdered less civil than refusing to work with someone?
  • Ten Republicans voted to impeach Trump, recognizing his culpability for the Capitol attack. Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said of her decision, “None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
  • Rep. Matt Gaetz headed to Wyoming to rally opposition to Cheney for that sin.

A few Republicans sidle up to acknowledging who’s at fault here. After several House Republicans forced their way past the newly installed metal detectors, Republican Rep. Peter Meijer told police: “I am sorry some of my colleagues are being assholes.” Former Rep. Charlie Dent looks at the decision to continue supporting Greene and said, “I can’t understand why anybody would think we should welcome that element into the party.”

But the former part of Dent’s title is critical: It continues to be the case that few Republicans currently in office dare to speak out (see the bullet point about Gaetz to understand why), leaving most of the criticism from within the party to come from people who are no longer in office. Dissent does not survive the Republican Party.

Perhaps the most remarkable statement from a former Republican lawmaker comes in a Washington Post op-ed from former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Remarkable because he was the freakin’ majority leader and, as that role implies, was a far-right, fully loyal at all times Republican. Remarkable because Cantor only tries to drag Democrats in for a both-sides argument to about the same extent we’re seeing from traditional media pundits and reporters.

Cantor looks back to the 2013 government shutdown, pinning it squarely on Sen. Ted Cruz and other extremist Republicans and drawing a straight line between that and the attack on the Capitol. Back then, Cruz and his buddies “started telling the base what they longed to hear: that Republicans could indeed defund Obamacare simply by insisting on it as part of a larger annual government spending bill. These members, and indeed every other elected Republican, knew better, but very few were willing to say so.”

Fast forward to 2020 and the right-wing media claim that Republicans could and should overturn the election results, with Donald Trump whipping up the frenzy and many congressional Republicans on board. “It was ultimately all political posturing, and I honestly don’t know if the president believed the story or not—but many in the GOP base did. Two-thirds of voters who are Republican or lean Republican have been misled into thinking that there is solid evidence of widespread fraud in the election, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found this month.”

That’s why, Cantor says, “To my fellow Republicans who hope that Trump’s departure from office will end this cycle, I would remind them that it started long before he descended the escalator in Trump Tower more than five years ago. And left unconfronted, it will continue long into the future.”

Now, Cantor can get stuffed because in public he absolutely participated in these dynamics during his time in office, no matter what he says about his behind-the-scenes efforts to head off the shutdown, and he waited until a little late to start speaking out. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong about what’s going on—just that he shouldn’t get credit for being right at this point and in this way.

Republicans have pushed and pushed and pushed the extremes that led to Donald Trump and to the refusal to accept the results of the election and to the attack on the Capitol. Republicans embrace Marjorie Taylor Greene and her violent rhetoric and harassment of teenagers. Republicans are trying to bring guns into Congress. Republicans are trying to block the COVID-19 aid that voters support. 

It is not on Democrats to unify with people who want them dead. Pelosi offering some real talk about what’s happening with guns in the House, or Ocasio-Cortez doing likewise with Cruz’s participation in an insurrection that threatened her life, are not some breach of decorum that deserves a both-sides treatment.

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