At last summer’s Republican National Convention, Republican leaders from President Donald Trump down warned the election of Democrat Joe Biden would cause chaos, anarchy and a breakdown of law and order.

What almost no one anticipated was that it would occur while Trump was still in the White House, and that the main cause would be the president’s pleas for protesters to pressure Congress to override the American voters’ decision to end his presidency.

The result Wednesday may have been the worst insurrection against the U.S. government since the Civil War and the most direct threat to the Capitol building since the British burned it during the War of 1812. It provided an unfortunately appropriate coda to Trump’s four years of disrespect for the country’s rule of law, democratic proprieties and the Constitution.

It came a day after the GOP lost its Senate majority in two hotly contested Georgia runoffs, defeats many Republicans blamed on Trump’s constant harping on unproven allegations that fraud cost him a second term.

But it failed to prevent Congress from affirming Biden’s victory, prompting Trump to acknowledge defeat for the first time and to pledge “there will be an orderly transition” 13 days hence.

The House and Senate had barely begun their constitutionally prescribed ritual of counting November’s electoral votes when lawless mobs of Trump protesters, encouraged at an earlier rally by the president, marched on the Capitol.

Unrestrained by an inadequate police presence, despite prior warnings of trouble, they broke into that most iconic symbol of American democracy, swarming through its corridors, occupying its chambers and trashing the offices of its leaders. The invasion forced lawmakers to suspend the count that some 13 hours later confirmed Biden’s victory.

For some hours, Trump sat silent in the White House, watching violence explode on television while ignoring his constitutional responsibility to maintain law and order, just as he continues to ignore the pandemic ravaging the country.

In midafternoon, soon after Biden urged him to “fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege,” Trump finally spoke up, though with minimal enthusiasm.

He told the protesters “we love you” but added “you have to go home now,” devoting most of his brief recorded statement to repeating the litany of lies on which he has obsessed, starting even before the Nov. 3 election.

“This was a fraudulent election,” Trump said, though his lawyers and supporters have produced no credible evidence of fraud. “But we can’t play into the hands of these people. So, go home.”

It took a massive influx of local and national law enforcement to quell the uprising and expel the invaders from the Capitol. The Pentagon federalized the District of Columbia’s National Guard – reportedly over Trump’s resistance – after officials conferred with congressional leaders and Vice President Mike Pence.

In time, the Capitol was cleared and cleaned. After a delay of more than six hours, both houses resumed consideration of a GOP challenge to Arizona’s electoral votes. Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned the violence — but not Trump.

About half the Republican senators who vowed to back Trump said the day’s events had tempered their intentions. In the end, lawmakers voted on just two challenges, to the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania, both overwhelmingly rejected.

In the aftermath, there was widespread agreement that Trump was primarily responsible for unleashing the day’s lawlessness and disorder in his unprecedented effort to prevent certification of an election he lost.

Making clear his target without using Trump’s name, the only living former Republican president, George W. Bush, cited ‘the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election,” declaring the assault “was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes.”

Others blamed the Republicans who continued to enable Trump’s flouting of proper presidential behavior for a day some commentators said would “go down in infamy” like the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strike on New York and Washington.

Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney said that, along with “a selfish man’s injured pride,” those backing Trump’s extra-legal challenges “will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack on democracy.”

Even after the Trump-inspired chaos disrupted Wednesday’s proceedings, a majority of House Republicans, including the party’s two top leaders, and a handful of GOP senators continued to press their doomed effort to prevent certification of Biden’s victory.

Pro-Trump House ideologues like Rep. Louis Gohmert and more than a dozen fellow Texas Republicans were joined by those like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley — making a political calculation that continued support for the defeated president would help their future presidential ambitions or insulate them against possible GOP primary challenges.

After all, most Republicans overwhelmingly back Trump’s presidency, though a smaller proportion wants him to run again in 2024.

But the fact that half of his prospective Senate backers changed their plans suggested some reevaluation of that calculation after Wednesday’s violence and Tuesday’s Georgia elections. “Enough is enough,” said South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham, the closest thing to a GOP political weather vane.

It signaled a recognition that, even for Republicans, Trump may become more political burden than asset.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at

(2) comments


"The result Wednesday may have been the worst insurrection against the U.S. government since the Civil War and the most direct threat to the Capitol building since the British burned it during the War of 1812." Lawmakers' bubble was breached by the rampaging fringe element en masse. With Pence and Pelosi in-house, successors to the Presidency were at risk. If these had been invaders from outside the U.S. we'd be at war today. It's that simple. If you don't agree, it doesn't matter. That's what it was. Get educated.


Some presidents leave a stain on a dress. Trump stained the entire nation. Too soon?

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