Less than six hours after rioters forced legislators to stop their debate over certifying the electors from Arizona on January 6, senators were back on the floor again. The insurrection failed to stop Congress from playing its constitutional role in certifying Joe Biden as the next president.
That may be a metaphor for the resilience of American institutions under assault, but the Senate’s quick return to business also shows that the antidemocratic attitudes of the protesters were nothing new to the chamber. Indeed, the debate over whether to accept the outcome of a presidential election was only happening at the Capitol because a faction of the Republican Party had already embraced the same grievances as the rioters.
In The Atlantic, Tom Nichols dubbed this faction of lawmakers the “sedition caucus.” It lost on January 6, but its members are not going away. The question is what form their persistence will take. Are they the Republican Party’s future, or will they have to find a new home—perhaps in the Patriot Party or MAGA Party that Donald Trump reportedly wants to found?
Because the sedition caucus is embedded within the GOP, other Republicans are the only ones in a position to rein the group in. So far, many who opposed the election challenge and want to hold their party together are making an effort to restore constitutional norms. Others are still trying to play both sides. The reason so many are worried about the divisiveness of impeachment is not that it will divide the country, but that it will divide the Republican Party. It will force Republicans to go on record opposing some of their own. As the former GOP strategist Stephen Schmidt writes, that could lead today’s Republican Party down the path the Whig Party took two centuries ago, when it fractured over slavery.