Republicans, it’s time to stop sniveling

January 12, 2024 5:30 am

In the back right stands U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who attended the Jan. 2 swearing-in of Kentucky’s Republican constitutional officers. They are, from left, Commissioner of Agriculture Jonathan Shell, Auditor Allison Ball, Attorney General Russell Coleman, Treasurer Mark Metcalf and Secretary of State Michael Adams. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

FRANKFORT – The tableau in the rotunda of the state Capitol on the year’s first day of business was, for a moment, reassuring to those of us who worry about the future of the party in which we were long registered and where its current strongman may take it and our country.

The swearing-in of Republican constitutional officers – Agriculture Commissioner Jonathan Shell, Auditor Allison Ball, Attorney General Russell Coleman, Treasurer Mark Metcalf and Secretary of State Michael Adams – was attended by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who made remarks and stood behind them as they posed for pictures.

The lineup seemed broadly representative of the Kentucky Republican Party, which has remained more traditional than Trumpian as the former president has transformed the national party into a personality cult swallowing his lies.

Kentucky Republicans looked like that four days later, when their party’s central committee voted narrowly to say that many people at the U.S. Capitol riot were “wrongfully detained” and “have been unconstitutionally held without the right to due process and the right to a speedy trial by a jury of their peers.”

There is no evidence to support those assertions, but millions of Americans believe them because they have been repeated and amplified by Donald Trump and his media minions.

Trump’s campaign for president rests largely on his lies about the 2020 election, which he lost by more than 7 million popular votes and 74 electoral votes, and increasingly on the lies he tells about Jan. 6, going so far as to call those convicted of crimes “hostages.”

It’s shameful, ridiculous and dangerous. It leads to mischief like the bomb threats that cleared the Capitol and other state capitols the day after the Republican ceremony. “While some on the right have been affected,” The Washington Post reported, “many targets share a common attribute: They have done or said something that has earned Trump’s ire.”

The state Republican resolution says those at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, gathered “to express their frustration with the electoral process,” reflecting the false belief that Joe Biden stole the election. That has become an article of faith for most Republicans, partly because Trump started laying the groundwork for it even before the election.

The best evidence that’s false are the 60 judges who ruled against Trump after the election, and a comprehensive investigation by The Associated Press of “every potential case of voter fraud” in the six battleground states that decided the election.

The AP found only 475 disputed ballots and reported, “The review also showed no collusion intended to rig the voting. Virtually every case was based on an individual acting alone to cast additional ballots.”

This was a straight news story by the nation’s most widely used news source, one that has no ideology or agenda other than reporting the news, and satisfies the needs of news outlets all across the political spectrum because they own it. (The story remains available for use, even by weekly newspapers not part of AP). Sadly, few elected Republican officials talk about those facts, because they fear Trump and his followers, and the prospect of defeat in a party primary. 

But in Kentucky, Adams has stood up to election deniers as the state’s chief election officer, and McConnell declared Biden the winner the day after the electoral votes were cast, then blamed Trump for the Jan. 6 riot. They have set the tone for Kentucky Republicans – at least until the state party’s central committee passed, 34 to 32, a resolution with language like one filed by state Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield.

Most Republican leaders avoided comment on the resolutions. Tichenor’s went to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Whitney Westerfield of Christian County, who told me that he wouldn’t bring it up and that the state party resolution was “stupid.”

Other Republicans should follow Westerfield’s lead and speak honestly and frankly about such efforts to support Trump’s lies. Kentucky Republicans have more freedom to stop sniveling, now that the Jan. 5 filing deadline for this year’s elections has passed; the chances that anti-Trump talk will cause them electoral problems this year have disappeared in most Republican-held districts.

But some Republicans are looking ahead to 2026. One seems to be 6th District U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, who endorsed Trump for president last month — for no apparent reason, other than maybe to get a leg up on running for the Senate seat of the likely retiring McConnell in 2026.

Barr and other Republican snivelers bring to mind the William Butler Yeats quote that retiring Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah put at the top of his iPad as he considered running in 2018: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

If they’re really the best, they don’t lack convictions, and they express them.

This column is republished from the Northern Kentucky Tribune, a nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism.

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Al Cross
Al Cross

Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is a professor in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and director emeritus of its Institute for Rural Journalism. His opinions are his own, not UK’s. He was the longest-serving political writer for the Louisville Courier Journal (1989-2004) and national president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2001-02. He joined the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010.