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Broken right wing: GOP failed to ground crazy talk after Giffords attack, now are party of insurrection

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What the Devil won't tell you

Broken right wing: GOP failed to ground crazy talk after Giffords attack, now are party of insurrection

  • Arizona resident Jake Angeli, the self-styled 'QAnon Shaman,' has been a ubiquitous presence at Trumpist rallies in the state for at least a year — standing next to GOP Chair Kelli Ward and shaking hands with a smiling Rudy Giuliani. Now <a href=''>he's at the top of the D.C. police's list of people wanted for questioning</a> about the swarming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump-incited rioters.
    Blink O'fanaye/FlickrArizona resident Jake Angeli, the self-styled 'QAnon Shaman,' has been a ubiquitous presence at Trumpist rallies in the state for at least a year — standing next to GOP Chair Kelli Ward and shaking hands with a smiling Rudy Giuliani. Now he's at the top of the D.C. police's list of people wanted for questioning about the swarming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump-incited rioters.
  • Columnist (far right) at the Democratic Party organizing committee meeting 10 years ago in Rincon High School. The shot taken at the moment Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot across town.
    courtesy Curtis DutielColumnist (far right) at the Democratic Party organizing committee meeting 10 years ago in Rincon High School. The shot taken at the moment Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot across town.

So I was typing up my 10-year look-back column on the Jan. 8 shootings and boy, did along come a clatter.

MAGAs invaded the U.S. Capitol and broke the joint up, smashing windows, ransacking offices. Several people died. They out-Antifa-ed Antifa and Boogalized the Boogaloos.That's when it hit me: There's a thread connecting the decade-ago shootings in Tucson that killed six and wounded 13 on the sidewalk outside a grocery store, and the storming of our nation's Capitol this week.

Crazy talk? Precisely.

It comes down to a few things:

1. For a moment in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings 10 years ago, no one knew the gunman's motives and temporarily dialed back the super-heated rhetoric that dominated the early part of Obama's presidency.

2. Once they realized the Safeway shooter was off his meds, the Tea Partiers (remember those quaint Lipton fans?) felt free to resume their crazy talk.

3. When the parameters of politics become "the crazier the better," just plain crazy is never quite crazy enough. So "sanity" gets redefined as the Overton window gets smashed wide open by a crowbar.

After Gabby was shot and the political moment passed, far too many Republicans missed the turn back to sanity — and just kept upshifting until they couldn't stop their peeps from ploughing through the Capitol. It's not going to be easy now for the party of Reagan and Eisenhower to extract themselves from the smash-and-grab images of a failed coup d'état.

Arizona Republicans have come a long way from short-lived civility pledges. U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs — freshly elected in a contest that they publicly declare to have been somehow a fraud — actually took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, eager to disenfranchise a plurality of Arizona voters because that's how they serve their master and not the people of their state.

Republicans in 2011 didn't think there would be a cost to their lies. Lies like: "Barack Obama intentionally planned to destroy America." Some fringe outlets like the Blaze made that case, but so too did Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.  Obama was going to establish, alternatively, martial law and Sharia law. He planned to set up death panels to kill grandparents. He was a Kenyan illegal immigrant and therefor a usurper in the Oval Office.

None of that was true. But truth and facts didn't matter because the GOP rank-and-file felt better believing it.

Some so-called smart people warned that that kind of rhetoric could lead someone unhinged to take violent action. My point was always this: If you believe the Democratic Party is intentionally out to destroy America, following an illegitimate leader's efforts to create a militarized state under Islamic law, then why do you have to be crazy to take up arms? Wouldn't a sane person have killed a teenage Hitler if they knew what was coming?

It's not just people with the sort of mental issues that mandate high-security hospitalization who can be misled by lies that are repeated often enough.

Despite declarations that everyone would straighten up and fly right, nothing changed after that Tucson massacre. In fact, the Republican Party became more hermetically sealed in their own world of supposed truths.

In their own paradigm, Trump supporters aren't unhinged. They are being told by news outlets and the president himself that Joe Biden stole the election through massive voter fraud. If you buy that, why wouldn't you set yourself to occupying the U.S. Capitol? It's the one move true patriots had remaining, no?

We're left wondering why our politics are so existential but at the same time, one party operating under one leader is trying to destroy our democratic institutions. I don't know how to de-escalate and accurately describe what's happening.

As Congress sought to go through the dull mechanics to finish up the long election process by ritually counting the electoral votes in order to formally acknowledge what the entire sane world knew to be a settled, factual matter, Trump supporters did what they did and we all saw it.

Arizona scheming

It bears noting that Republicans were — at the very moment that the first rioters began smashing their way into our Capitol — lying about the election in an effort to toss out our votes in Arizona. We were front and center again.

Rep. Paul Gosar decided to object to his own state's election results. Had he prevailed, you, me and 3.4 million of us might as well have not voted at all. That was Gosar's plan, because we didn't vote the way he wanted.

He and his party made a lot of arguments and I won't go through them point-by-point because that would only spread disinformation. They're nonsensical.

Suffice it to say the Trump campaign had every opportunity to make their case to the state courts. They couldn't get the Arizona Supreme Court to find that voter fraud had anything to do with the result. The Arizona Supreme Court includes just a single justice appointed by a Democrat. The rest are as conservative as can be. They just weren't willing to go along with a conspiracist fantasy con game.

The Legislature – theoretically – could have voted to turn in their own slate of electors for Trump but the MAGAs couldn't even get Republican legislative leaders to do that.

Allow me to rephrase: Trump was too right-wing crazy for the Arizona Legislature.

Then they had a Republican governor who refused to sign on to the scheme. Doug Ducey turned off the ringer on his phone when the president called him, as he was signing off on the certification of the election for Biden and Harris and others who actually got the most votes in this state.

Arizona's electoral votes did not go to Biden out of a lack of right-wing firepower there to stop it.

Joe Biden won. Period. However, Trump supporters won't be informed by facts, only inflammatory rhetoric.

The GOP wouldn't have it. They were trying to enact a nuanced attack on democracy just asking for an audit to confirm the victory but would instead be cherry picked for more proof of chicanery.

Then the Trump foot soldiers stripped all the nuance off it because they bought the B.S. The fools rushed in.

Coup rules

The back and forth between a couple Arizonans said it all.

We know it was a coup because Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward drove the point home. She sensed victory, tweeting:

"Congress is adjourned. Send the elector choice back to the legislatures."

The mob won, Ward seemed to imply. Trump was successful. His plotters and minions had seized control of the government.

Rule Number One of coups. Don't admit to being a plotter until the coup is successful.

Then came U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego with the tweet of the year:

"Fuck you we are. Democracy will not die tonight."

Rule Number Two of coups is that there are no second chances — not immediately, anyway.

Rules No. 3 to 249 of coups are the same rule: Without the military, it's not a coup. It's just trespassing.

The attack on the U.S. Capitol was a typical Trumpist move. It transpired without any planning. No tactics, certainly no strategy. So once they had control of the Capitol, these blunderers had no idea what to do with it. They took some selfies, broke some stuff, stole some more, and left.

The miserable failure forced GOP partisans to condemn their actions and gave ample warning to law enforcement to watch out for next time.

Though I have to admit to being somewhat galled by watching Republican congressional leaders praise the Capitol Police for saving them from a violent mob and go right back to arguing Joe Biden's election was a crime against democracy.

Trump won, they think. They just know it. You'll never tell them any different.

I was there

I feel ya.

I was there, a decade ago, that Saturday morning. Not at the scene, but in that mindset in the immediate aftermath.

I had been leading a discussion during the Pima County Democratic Party's annual organizing meeting that morning when we learned about the shooting. A half-hour later, I was — we were — convinced that the Tea Party had done it. I'm not talking about the whole Tea Party (sorry Trent Humphries, Ralph Kayser). Some lone wolf had done their bidding. It was obvious, right?

A bunch of us in the party were standing outside Rincon High School, where the meeting was being held, thinking about Gabby, a woman I knew and liked (as I liked her opponents the first two times). We knew the score.

I distinctly remember thinking: "They shot her."

Suddenly, in the age of Trump, that would have been enough to forever indict the whole Republican Party for the mass murder.

But we cleared them. Facts cleared them. However, by their rules, the fact that people believe something is true means that others are required to treat it as such. It's not that the misinformed individual has an obligation to perform a rectal-cranial extraction; it's that rest of us must adjust our facts to suit their fantasy.

One party makes adjustments to reality based on new information. The other does not. The Republicans had a chance to dial back and argue things like less government, lower taxes and fewer regulations are better for the country. They could be on their way to a second post-Obama term, with control over Congress. Instead they are on the outs with voters.

That's their problem.

It's not that January 8, 2011, inevitably led to Jan. 6, 2021. The Tucson shootings could have been a warning light that the GOP could have heeded.

There was a moment 10 years ago when they tried. A week after the Safeway massacre, a bipartisan group of couple dozen or so local political leaders gathered in the courtyard of the Old Pima County Courthouse to take a group pledge to civility.

As everyone from Rep. Raul Grijalva to conservative state legislators (when they were still aptly called that) began to organize themselves to make a few remarks and declare their dedication to reasonable discourse, an American flag set up behind where they were to stand was caught in a gust of wind.

It toppled, with the staff falling out of its stand. Then-state Sen. Frank Antenori, a Republican, grabbed at it as it fell, and missed. He picked it up and reset it, smoothing out the flag.

As he did so, he looked at the golden eagle figure topping the staff and noted wryly, "The right wing is broken."

Yes it was. Yes it is.

The GOP may have pledged to tone down the rhetoric, then and plenty of other times, but the only way their party has been able to fly is by returning to incitement. The symbolism of civility hampering the Right wasn't lost on Antenori that day, but his fellow Republicans need to learn that our country can't soar when it's buffeted by lies and hate.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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