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Opinion | On Jan. 7, Could Republicans Have Made a Break From Trump?

On Thursday, my newsroom colleagues Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin reported on the Republican leaders who in private condemned President Donald Trump for the attack on the Capitol and hoped to hold him accountable.

In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, the two top Republicans in Congress, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell, told associates they believed President Trump was responsible for inciting the deadly riot and vowed to drive him from politics. Mr. McCarthy went so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately: “I’ve had it with this guy,” he told a group of Republican leaders.

Of course, we know what happened next. However frightened and disoriented they may have been in the immediate aftermath of the attempted insurrection, McConnell, McCarthy and other Republican leaders regained their composure and their partisan resolve as most conservatives chose to do nothing or aligned themselves with the rioters and embraced the “big lie” that the election was stolen.

Roughly a week after the attack, Democrats in the House introduced and passed articles of impeachment against the outgoing President Trump, joined by 10 Republicans. The Senate trial began after Trump left office, and only seven Republican senators voted to convict him on Feb. 13. There had been only a month between the attack and the trial, but in that period, Republican opinion had hardened and most conservative media outlets were fully behind Trump.

I do not think that it was inevitable that so few Republicans would vote to remove Trump. I think there was a brief time — the immediate aftermath of the attack — in which decisive action from Democrats could have changed the calculus for enough Republicans to secure a conviction of Trump in the Senate and impose consequences on him for his role in the insurrection. If the next day, House Democrats had introduced articles of impeachment and pushed forward with an immediate trial, it might have forced Republicans to make a choice before conservative media and other outlets could create and disseminate a pro-Trump message. And in that environment, there may have been enough votes to punish the outgoing president.

Now, there’s an argument that this is unfair to Democrats. That Republicans were indifferent to the attack, implacably committed to Trump, and that there was nothing that could be done to budge them from this position. In this world, it made sense for Democrats to wait before beginning a second impeachment trial, since they could hone their argument before they took their second swing at the president.

But I don’t think that’s right. At various points throughout his first campaign for the White House and then his presidency, Trump would do something truly awful — something that shocked and appalled even his allies. There was, in the immediate aftermath of those transgressions, an opportunity to impose consequences on him. The “Access Hollywood” tape, for example, gave Republican elites the chance to make a decisive break with Trump. The release of the Mueller Report, likewise, was the first major opportunity for Democrats to pursue impeachment. The key, however, was to act quickly. Allow any significant time to pass, even a few days, and there would be time for Trump to rally the troops and for conservative media to circle the wagons.

What the reporting from Burns and Martin suggests is that this was the dynamic on Jan. 6 and 7. There was a slim window to act — a slim window to force Republicans to take a vote on whether Trump should remain in national life. But once it passed, that was it.

I understand that there are readers who will disagree with this assessment. I think that disagreement rests on a static view of politics, a world where every player is locked into a pattern from which they cannot deviate. But political life is more fluid than that, and politicians — even the most rigidly partisan and ideological ones — respond to pressures and incentives.

Perhaps Republicans would not have budged in the face of an immediate drive to impeach Trump in the wake of Jan. 6. But we don’t know that for certain. What we do know is they were knocked off balance. We know — and we could see with our own eyes — that they were scared and disoriented, shook by the experience of facing a mob that might have killed them if it had the chance.

Republicans were off-balance on the morning of Jan. 7, and a strong push might have knocked them to the ground. I don’t fault Democrats for the state of the Republican Party, but I do fault them for not taking that chance.


My Tuesday column was on the “constitutional conservatives” who helped Donald Trump try to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Which gets to the truth of what that “constitutional conservatism” really seems to be: not a principled attempt — however flawed in conception — to live up to the values of the founding, but a thin mask for the will to power.

My Friday column looked at the continuing panics about “critical race theory” and L.G.B.T.Q. educators through the lens of McCarthyism and the Red Scare.

Both the crusade against “critical race theory” and the slanderous campaign against L.G.B.T.Q. educators and education are as much about undermining key public goods (and stigmatizing the people who support them) as they are about generating enthusiasm for the upcoming midterm elections.


Ruth Milkman on the Amazon Labor Union’s historic breakthrough in Dissent magazine.

Emma Lower interviews Mary Kathryn Nagle on violence against Native women in the Boston Review.

Gita Jackson on “The Batman” in Vice.

David Dayen on the labor movement in The American Prospect.

Tanner Greer on the Taliban in Palladium magazine.


Feedback If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to your friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at jamelle-newsletter@nytimes.com. You can follow me on Twitter (@jbouie) and Instagram.


This is an old stockyard not far from my house. I pass by it on occasion and I took this photo one morning on a bike ride. I used a small Nikon point-and-shoot (which I unfortunately dropped and broke) and Ilford film.


Bhindi masala is a mainstay of my kitchen, an easy vegetarian main dish to serve with any number of salads and dals and breads. I have a few recipes for the dish already, but I am interested to try this one from my colleague Zainab Shah. Recipe comes from NYT Cooking.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons ghee or neutral oil

  • 1 pound okra, fresh or frozen (no need to thaw), stemmed and chopped into ½-inch pieces

  • ½ teaspoon grated ginger or ginger paste

  • ½ teaspoon grated garlic or garlic paste

  • 1 large red onion, quartered and thinly sliced

  • ¾ teaspoon Kashmiri or other red chile powder

  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander

  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1 medium plum tomato, finely chopped

  • 1¼ teaspoons fine sea salt

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons lime juice

  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala

  • Roti, for serving

Directions

In a medium (9-inch) frying pan or wok, heat 2 tablespoons ghee over medium-high for 30 to 45 seconds or until it has melted. Add okra and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes or until okra starts to brown around the edges. (Cooking okra undisturbed helps eliminate the gooeyness.) Stir once so that the sides with less color can brown next, then cook for another 5 minutes or until all the okra is brown around the edges. (This may take slightly longer if using frozen okra.) Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon ghee to the same frying pan and heat over medium-high until it melts. Add ginger and garlic, and stir for about 30 seconds, until the raw smell dissipates. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onions begin to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes. (The onions should still have a little bite.)

Lower the heat to medium and add red chile, coriander and turmeric, and stir until they are uniformly mixed with the onion, about 30 seconds. Add tomato and salt. Continue cooking on medium until tomatoes break down, about 5 minutes.

Add okra back to the pan and mix until incorporated. Sprinkle with lime juice and garam masala. Serve with roti, store-bought pita or by itself.

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