Ý kiến ý cò
Pro-Trump rioters battle police at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
By David Lauter
Two years after a riotous mob attacked the nation’s Capitol, violently seeking to block the results of a presidential election, only a minority of Republicans are willing to say that Jan. 6, 2021, was a bad or tragic day for America.
That finding from a new Economist/YouGov poll highlights how deeply partisanship still shapes views of Jan. 6.
It also goes a long way toward explaining the inability of Republican members of the House to elect a speaker — forcing a multi-day stalemate of a sort not seen in a century.
What’s the connection?
Both Jan. 6 and the speakership fight show the willingness of a large segment of Republicans — voters as well as elected officials — to tear down long-standing norms and restraints in pursuit of goals that can’t be achieved democratically. Only one of those events involved violence, but both highlight an extremist impulse that has alienated voters and played a big role in Republican electoral failures.
Before diving further into the implications of extremism for the GOP, let’s take a closer look at the findings of the YouGov poll, which surveyed 1,500 adult U.S. citizens from Dec. 31 to Jan. 3. The survey, conducted online, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points in either direction.
At the request of The Times, YouGov asked Americans their view of several days in American history, presenting only the date with no explanatory labeling.
Overall, just over half of Americans said they see Jan. 6, 2021, as a bad (22%) or tragic (32%) day for America. Few see it as a good or great day — only about 1 in 10 said so — but more than one-third said they see it as neither good nor bad (22%) or were not sure (15%).
Those views varied hugely by party.
Among Democrats, more than two-thirds described Jan. 6 as a bad or tragic day. About 2 in 10 said it was neither good nor bad or that they were unsure.
By contrast, among Republicans, almost half said the day was neither good nor bad (33%) or that they were unsure (13%). About 4 in 10 said it was a bad or tragic day.
That partisan divide stands in contrast to other notable days YouGov asked about.
Across party lines, for example, about 8 in 10 Americans described Sept. 11, 2001, as a bad or tragic day. Americans younger than 45 were a bit less likely to say so, with more saying they were uncertain or neutral, but no difference exists along lines of ideology.
A similar pattern, including the age difference, describes Americans’ views of Nov. 22, 1963, with just over 6 in 10 calling the date of President Kennedy’s assassination a bad or tragic day.
A much larger age gap — but again no partisan difference — appears in views of Dec. 7, 1941. Among Americans older than 45, and especially those older than 65, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor continues to “live in infamy,” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared.
Among younger Americans, not so much. About 4 in 10 Americans aged 18 to 44 called Dec. 7, 1941, a bad or tragic day. Roughly an equal number called it neutral or said they were unsure.
Republicans and extremism
The poll also asked if respondents approved or disapproved of “Trump supporters taking over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, to stop congressional proceedings.”
Four in 10 of those who voted for former President Trump in 2020 said they approved strongly (12%) or somewhat (18%). Just over half of Trump voters disapproved either strongly (29%) or somewhat (23%).
By contrast, about 8 in 10 people who said they voted for President Biden strongly disapproved.
So while approval of the rioters and their actions is not the majority view among Republicans, it is the opinion of a significant minority.
A similar division can be seen among Republican members of the House. In this week’s stalemate over the speakership, election deniers are leading opponents of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become speaker.
But a willingness to flout democratic norms has been apparent in the GOP for far longer.
Starting in 2010, a growing minority of Republicans began voting against routine government funding measures. Their goal was to try to force Democrats to yield to their policy demands by threatening to shut down the government or cause it to default on its debts.
Unlike the Jan. 6 rioters, their actions didn’t violate any laws, but they did break longstanding norms that had restrained previous legislative minorities from using every conceivable means to thwart the majority’s will.
“Legislative terrorists,” former Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) memorably labeled the right-wing faction.
Despite the ire of Boehner and other traditional party leaders, the strength of the far right within the GOP has continued to grow.
Many of the incentives of modern politics helped drive that growth, especially the ability of shock and outrage to generate ratings for cable television and money from grassroots solicitations.
In the current fight, allies of McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) have accused his opponents of acting out of a desire for personal aggrandizement more than policy differences. That’s certainly true of some on the right, who appear to see the House less as a legislative body than as a convenient platform from which to launch a television career.
But TV and fundraising provide only part of the explanation for the rise of the extreme right in GOP politics. The bigger cause is a simple one: In deeply conservative districts, the tactics of the House Freedom Caucus and its allies match the desires of Republican voters — especially those who take part in party primaries, who say they want to see a fundamental change in the nation’s direction.
“The times call for radical departure from the status quo — not a continuation of past, and ongoing, Republican failures,” nine of McCarthy’s core opponents wrote in a letter on New Year’s day that one of them, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) posted on Twitter.
They correctly see that McCarthy — a glad-handing savant of campaign strategy with no strong ideological convictions — doesn’t share their fervor. And they doubt that he would have the strength to back them the next time they threaten to plunge the nation into chaos if they don’t get their way.
Ironically, every concession McCarthy has made to his opponents has only deepened the perception of him as too weak to lead, said longtime Republican strategist Mike Murphy, now the co-director of the Center for the Political Future at USC.
What the voters on the right and their representatives have demanded is a return to the 1950s, if not earlier — an era when government was smaller, the social safety net weaker and traditional gender and racial hierarchies far more solid.
That’s not achievable by democratic means: A large majority of the country rejects that agenda. So they’ve turned to anti-democratic tactics to try to push toward their goal. McCarthy and other Republican figures — one can’t truly call them leaders — have tried to indulge that faction to maintain their hold on power.
But their flirtation with anti-democratic practices has clearly hurt the GOP, especially with the swing voters who decide close elections.
That has brought the GOP to its current dead end: Without the far right, they would forfeit their current majority. With it, they may lose their legitimacy with a generation of voters. Regardless of how the race for speaker ends, that’s a dilemma they appear unable to resolve.
The speakership deadlock
While McCarthy twisted in the wind, President Biden and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky did a joint appearance in McConnell’s home state to tout the benefits of the bipartisan infrastructure law that Congress passed more than a year ago. As Courtney Subramanian wrote, the event, at a major bridge that is being rebuilt with money from the new law, was a victory lap for Biden and McConnell, giving the president an opportunity to tout bipartisan progress while House Republicans remain stuck.
How’s the speakership fight playing out on conservative media? Jim Rainey found that America’s conservative media stalwarts responded this week with recrimination, regret, reflection — and at least one suggestion that House Republican stalwarts might find solace, and a new leader, by getting good and drunk.