Reaction to Capitol violence highlights GOP schism
Mass. Republicans dispute whether to blame Trump
ANTHONY AMORE felt physically ill on Wednesday as he saw mobs of President Trump’s supporters violently breaching the US Capitol. “I felt sick to my stomach in a literal sense,” Amore said.
Amore, a security expert and former Republican candidate for secretary of state, said he now regrets his 2020 vote for Trump, even though he cast his ballot more as a protest vote, knowing it wouldn’t matter in Massachusetts. “I was astonished at how he handled it,” Amore said of Trump. “From his first tweet while this activity is ongoing and he decided to attack the vice president for doing what the Constitution required him, I could see that he was going to handle the situation badly, and he did.”
But Michael Potaski, an Uxbridge resident and Trump supporter who has been active in the Massachusetts Republican Assembly, the more conservative wing of the GOP, said he sees no evidence Trump encouraged protesters to enter the Capitol. “To condemn Trump for something a group of people did is simply piling on. It’s a reflection of the anti-Trump or never-Trump attitude that pervades a lot of the Massachusetts Republican Party,” Potaski said.
The reactions among Massachusetts Republicans to the violence in Washington, DC, this week illustrates the stark divide within the state Republican Party. On Wednesday, pro-Trump protesters broke into the US Capitol and disrupted the counting of Electoral College votes, resulting in the deaths of four protesters and a Capitol police officer. According to state Republican officials, multiple busloads of Massachusetts residents went to Washington to join the protests. MassLive reported that a man from Pittsfield was among those arrested. While many leading Republicans in Massachusetts strongly condemned both the violence and the president, others stuck by Trump – and criticized the more moderate voices within the state party.
The party divide was already on display on Sunday, before the protests, when Jim Lyons won reelection as chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party in a 39-36 vote, defeating state Rep. Shawn Dooley, a Norfolk Republican. Lyons is a strong Trump supporter and a fiscal and social conservative, who has clashed with the more moderate Baker. Dooley, who also voted for Trump, had said he could bridge both wings of the party.
Lyons, in a statement Wednesday, condemned the mob’s attempts to “disrupt our precious and irreplaceable Constitutional order.” “Sadly, we are witnessing a breach of lawful order on Capitol Hill that is completely indefensible under any circumstances,” Lyons said. His statement did not mention Trump.
In contrast, Dooley wrote a lengthy post on Facebook condemning the mob, calling them traitors and anarchists, accusing them of terrorism, and expressing disappointment at the president. “I cannot tell you how horrified, saddened, and frightened I am for our nation,” Dooley wrote. “I’m ashamed of our President for encouraging this behavior and I feel guilty for not condemning more of his nonsense in the past.”
In an interview, Dooley said a lot of factors went into his decision to support Trump for president, and his first choice in the 2016 primary was Marco Rubio. “Obviously, since the election, I think his overall behavior has been surprising even for Trump,” Dooley said.
Dooley said going forward, he thinks the Republican Party needs to return to its core beliefs in principles like small government and personal responsibility, and he regrets that party politics have become more about loyalty to Trump than the common good. “We can’t be defined by a man. We have to be defined by a principle and a guiding set of principles,” Dooley said.
But some GOP activists say Trump is not to blame for the actions of those protestors who stormed Congress.
But Mountain doesn’t hold Trump accountable for egging on the protesters. He thinks Trump’s rally that day calling the election stolen and urging supporters to “show strength” as they marched to the Capitol is no different from his typical style of riling up a crowd. Mountain said there is a difference between urging protesters to protest outside the Capitol and telling them to smash their way indoors. “I think it took the president by surprise, it took all of us by surprise,” Mountain said. Mountain suggested that the president was isolated at the White House and “didn’t realize full extent of it” initially. Once he did, Trump told them to go home.
In a video message released during the protests, Trump reiterated claims that the election was stolen and told the protesters he loves them, but also told them to go home in peace.
Mountain said he hopes the ringleaders are arrested and prosecuted, and there is further investigation into how four protesters died. According to the police, one was shot and three died from medical emergencies. But, Mountain said, “The party’s not responsible for the behavior of a few fringe elements that broke into the Capitol and did what they did.”
Some of the most conservative voices in the state Republican Party are criticizing Baker and former Massachusetts governor and now-Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican who blamed Trump for inciting an “insurrection,” for their anti-Trump stands. “We can’t view Mitt Romney and his ilk or even Charlie Baker as being representatives of the Republican Party going forward,” Potaski said.
Mary Lou Daxland, northeast regional vice president for the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, blamed the media for being biased against Trump. Daxland, in an interview, reiterated the unproven claim that left-wing supporters of the group Antifa infiltrated the protest and stormed the Capitol to make Trump supporters look bad.
Daxland predicted that the criticism of Trump will cause further conflict between the more conservative and more liberal wings of the Massachusetts Republican Party. “Baker’s not even a RINO, he’s a Democrat with an R next to his name,” Daxland said, using the acronym for “Republican in name only.”
Bill Gillmeister, executive director of the conservative Renew Massachusetts Coalition, said he was in Washington for the protests on Wednesday, and he condemns the violence – just like he condemned this summer’s violence during the Black Lives Matter protests. “Ninety-nine point 99999 percent of people who were present on Wednesday were there only to petition the Congress to uphold the elections laws of this nation,” Gillmeister wrote in an email. “A very small number of people, likely lead by Antifa members, caused the mayhem that took place. They should be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law.”
Gillmeister said he stands by his support for Trump. “President Trump’s remarks were confined to reiterating his great accomplishments and to presenting the evidence of voter-fraud that took place in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Wisconsin,” Gillmeister said. “He, in no way, said anything to incite the violence that took place.”
Some state Republicans have little interest in talking about Trump’s role in the protests. Patrick Crowley, a Republican State Committee member from the First Worcester District, called the violence “outrageous, totally unacceptable, and indefensible,” and called on government to move forward. Asked whether he had supported Trump, Crowley said that was “irrelevant.”
State Rep. David DeCoste, a Norwell Republican who in 2016 said he voted for Trump, said he wishes President-elect Biden well and he is worried about the economy, but he has no comment on the protests or on Trump. “I was busy the entire week worrying about what we were trying to pass [in the Legislature],” DeCoste said. “When you’re writing about zoning or raising taxes or pay raises, give me a call.”