When Donald Trump, the patron saint of sore losers, appeared at a Republican event on Saturday night and compared the 2020 election to a “third-world-country election like we’ve never seen before,” it wasn’t just another false rant from the former president. His words also described his attempted subversion of democracy in the run-up to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Consider Mr. Trump’s remarks at his rally just before the attack: “If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election,” he said. “All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president.”
Or consider Mr. Trump’s harassment of Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, with the request to “find” him votes, or his relentless harassment of other election officials and governors.
Many Republicans want to move on from the Jan. 6 attack. But how is that possible when the former president won’t move on from the Nov. 3 election and continues to push the same incendiary lies that resulted in 61 failed lawsuits before Jan. 6, led to an insurrection and could lead to yet more violence?
If you doubt that a threat of violence exists, look at the recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core, which shows that a dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory is believed by 15 percent of our fellow Americans — including almost one in four Republicans, 14 percent of independents and even 8 percent of Democrats.
Republicans, instead of opposing a commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6, need to be at the forefront of seeking answers on the insurrection and diminishing the power of QAnon and the other conspiracy theories that Mr. Trump has fueled. While he is still popular within the party, Mr. Trump is a diminished political figure: 66 percent of Americans now hope he won’t run again in 2024, including 30 percent of Republicans. He is not the future, and Republicans need to stop fearing him. He will continue to damage the party if we don’t face the Jan. 6 facts head-on.
Nothing less than a full investigation is essential. As a House Republican chief counsel during the Clinton administration, I see a clear set of unanswered questions about Jan. 6, as well as evidence that needs to be gathered and that our country needs to understand. An investigation should cover the events related and leading up to Jan. 6, as well as all the parties involved. Who planned and funded the Trump rally that day, and who picked the speakers and got attendees there? How did supporters of QAnon, Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys get there? What happened as the White House planned for Jan. 6?
Whether it is a congressionally formed commission or a congressional committee, the subpoenas and testimony would produce records that tell the story. Imagine all the thousands of texts, emails, phone calls and other records from the weeks leading to and on Jan. 6 that are not yet part of the public record. This material will come out eventually — in hearings, in books or in the media — but Republicans should be part of the process, to help provide accountability and prevent future attacks.
While a commission would be best, a congressional select committee with a five-Democrat, five-Republican split and the same rules as a commission would have, could also work. In the meantime, any standing committee with subpoena power could begin the information-gathering process immediately.
Many Republican leaders seem to think any all-encompassing investigation will be bad for the party. I disagree. Some prominent Republicans want to uncover the truth, as do police officers who heroically protected members of Congress and their staff on Jan. 6. Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after engaging with the Trump-inspired mob, supported Mr. Trump. Officer Michael Fanone, who was shocked multiple times with a stun gun and beaten and suffered a heart attack and traumatic brain injury, told me he is a Republican. Officer Harry Dunn said: “We were victims of an assault, of an attack, and we deserve justice and we deserve to know everybody who was involved, and we want them held accountable.” Many of our officers feel they are being left on the field, and they wonder, what happened to “Back the Blue.”
Mr. Trump’s lies are red meat to those in the conspiracy world who have already demonstrated what they are prepared to do. The danger also extends to states, as Mr. Trump tells people that election outcomes in Georgia and Arizona will be overturned, and he could be reinstated as president in August. How will QAnon followers or Oath Keepers respond when that does not happen?
Many Republicans rationalize ignoring his rhetoric: His speech on Saturday wasn’t even aired live on Fox or CNN, and he may end up being indicted in New York and occupied with legal and financial problems. So, this thinking goes, what’s the harm in humoring the guy a little longer?
The harm is that the lies have metastasized and could threaten public safety again. The U.S. Capitol Police report that threats against members of Congress have increased 107 percent this year. Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, has noted, “There’s no reason to believe that anybody organically is going to come to the truth.” Representative Liz Cheney, another Republican, said, “It’s an ongoing threat, so silence is not an option.”
Humoring the guy also emboldens Mr. Trump’s pardoned allies like Steve Bannon and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Republicans are now flocking to Mr. Bannon’s podcast to audition for Mr. Trump’s support, and Mr. Bannon says “a litmus test” will be whether they are willing to challenge the outcome of the 2020 election. Later this month, Mr. Flynn will appear at an Oklahoma campaign rally with Jackson Lahmeyer, a political novice who is challenging Senator James Lankford, the Republican incumbent. Mr. Lahmeyer claims the 2020 election was stolen and touts Mr. Flynn’s endorsement, saying we have to be willing to “Fight Like a Flynn.”
Republicans would be better advised to fight like Senator Margaret Chase Smith. During the Joseph McCarthy era in 1950, she advised fellow Republicans that the Democrats had already provided Republicans with sufficient campaign issues, and they need not resort to McCarthy’s demagogy.
The same is true today. Republicans need to have more faith in their policies and stop being afraid of a dangerous and diminished man who has divided the country and now divides our party. Reconsider the commission, let the investigation go ahead, and run and win in 2022 on the truth.
Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican and a lawyer, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019.