GOP Senate hopefuls can't agree on whether Jan. 6 riot was a big deal


Some top 2022 GOP candidates think the Jan. 6 attacks were sedition, while others say it was 'nothing.'

Thursday will mark the first anniversary of the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. While congressional Democrats plan to mark the occasion with "reflection, remembrance and recommitment" and GOP leaders plan to stay silent, it does not appear that top Republicans running for the Senate can agree on how to frame the event.

A year ago, thousands of supporters of Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, halting a joint session of Congress as it tallied the results of the 2020 presidential election. The attackers violently attempted to thwart the electoral vote count and overturn then-President Donald Trump's reelection defeat.

According to information compiled by American Bridge 21st Century, a progressive research group, leading 2022 GOP Senate hopefuls do not agree on whether the attempted coup was a big deal.

At least two have strongly condemned the attacks.

David McCormick, a former hedge fund executive and a Treasury appointee under President George W. Bush, is exploring a bid for the seat of retiring Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R). McCormick called the Jan. 6 attacks "seditious and an attack on our most dearly held national principles."

Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who lost his run for reelection in 2016 after signing an anti-LGBTQ bathroom bill that cost his state's economy hundreds of millions of dollars, called the Trump supporters rioting at the Capitol "nuts" he "wouldn't want to be around" and "radical" — though he also baselessly suggested some participants were leftist anarchist infiltrators.

But many other Republicans running for Senate seats say the events of Jan. 6 were no big deal.

Kathy Barnette, an unsuccessful 2020 GOP House candidate who helped organize busloads of pro-Trump supporters who traveled to Washington for the "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the insurrection, is also seeking the Pennsylvania Senate nomination. She tweeted last month, "#Jan6 is another Russia, Russia, Russia hoax/distraction."

A third Pennsylvania hopeful, real estate developer and failed 2018 lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Jeff Bartos, said in May, "I do not believe it was an insurrection. I mean, it's a ridiculous thing to call it. It was not a coup attempt."

On Jan. 6, former football player Herschel Walker, who is now seeking the GOP nomination to challenge incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), tweeted a photo of rioter Jacob Chansley and said, "Trojan Horses ...I call on ⁦@realDonaldTrump to find out who these people are as they do not look like MAGA! You have the power right now to see who they really are and to get to the bottom of who stole this election! Prosecute these bad players." He alleged with no evidence that the rioting was a scheme by the left to distract from "election fraud" and to "run the clock out."

J.D. Vance, a wealthy venture capitalist and author seeking the nomination for the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, claimed in July that while some of the insurrectionists invading the Capitol were "bad actors" and "violent," many of the prosecutions that followed were political: "A lot of the people in jail, it looks like, did absolutely nothing wrong, other than walk into the Capitol after it was already opened by the Capitol Police."

More than 700 people have been arrested on charges connected with their alleged roles in the attacks; at least 165 have pleaded guilty.

Another Ohio Senate hopeful, former State Treasurer Josh Mandel, also downplayed the importance of the attacks. In June, he argued that the bipartisan special House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 should be disbanded and replaced with one "to study the widespread election abuses and cheating during the 2020 election" that led to it being "stolen from President Trump."

Adam Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general and co-chair of Trump's 2020 campaign in the state who is seeking the nomination to challenge Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), has been mostly silent on the matter. In a September interview, he mentioned only "that fateful day in January when they pulled him [Trump] off of social media and pulled them off of Twitter and people felt that in their stomach, 'Oh, my God, they can cancel a former president of the United States,'" after Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook for inciting violent attacks.

The anniversary comes as polling shows the majority of Americans disapprove of the Capitol insurrection, but many Republicans do not. A CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday found that 47% of American adults who identify themselves as Republicans believe the attackers were motivated by "patriotism" and 56% believe they were "defending freedom." Just 21% believe it was "an insurrection."

The poll also found that 41% of Republicans falsely believe that most of the people who invaded the Capitol were "left-leaning groups."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.