The GOP wants to distance itself from the insurrection. Trump has other ideas.

·2 min read
Donald Trump.
Donald Trump. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock

Ever since Donald Trump left office, most elected Republicans — though not all — have tried to walk a tightrope: Embracing the "Big Lie" that the 2020 election of Joe Biden was somehow unfair and fraudulent, while at the same time distancing themselves from the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The problem? Trump won't let them.

Trump's supporters on Saturday will hold a "Justice for J6" rally in Washington, D.C., an event to support the insurrectionists still being held in pretrial detention. The people still in jail are "political prisoners" the rally's organizer has said. That's unlikely — The New York Times points out that 15 percent of those arrested in connection with break-in at the Capitol remain in custody, which is actually much lower than the overall federal pretrial detention rate of 75 percent. Truth isn't the point here, though. The purpose is to recast the insurrectionists as martyrs to the Trumpist cause.

Unsurprisingly, Trump has endorsed this notion. "Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election," Trump said in a Thursday statement. "In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!"

The problem for elected Republicans, though, is that while they've fallen in behind Trump as the party's leader, they would really rather discuss anything but the insurrection. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) famously offered a fist pump salute to the Jan. 6 crowd before it began its assault, has let it be known he won't be attending Saturday's rally. "Anytime the attention is on Joe Biden it's good for Republicans, and anytime the attention is on Jan. 6 it's bad for Republicans," one GOP strategist told the Times. Trump's decision to draw attention to the jailed rioters fails squarely in the latter category.

That has always been the problem for Republicans, though. They love how Trump excites their base, but he often does so in ways that alienate the broader electorate. It's why senators and members of Congress spent the four years of his presidency telling reporters they hadn't seen his tweets. Trump is never going to curb his narcissism for the good of his party. As long as they stick with Trump, Republicans will be stuck with the insurrectionists.

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