Why Are Republicans Being So Divisive?

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaking
Michael A. McCoy / The New York Times / Redux

This is a moment for healing and unity. The nation has been through a lot over the past few weeks and days, and it can scarcely afford more fractiousness. This is not a moment for partisan posturing, trying to gain a political advantage, or exploiting divisions.

Just ask most GOP members of the House of Representatives. “America is intensely divided at this moment, and people across the nation are frustrated and angered,” seven of them wrote in a letter to President-elect Joe Biden this week. “Our country is not just divided,” said Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “We are deeply hurt.” Even the close Trump ally Jim Jordan says the nation needs unity.

They’re right. That’s why the Republican Party must pressure President Donald Trump to resign, and if he will not, vote en masse to impeach him. The GOP caucus should also punish, and perhaps expel, the members of both the House and the Senate who pushed to overturn the election. The nation depends on it.

Yet for some reason, most Republicans (including the ones quoted here) are opposing an impeachment that could bring the country together. (The New York Times reports that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell looks favorably on impeachment, though he has not publicly endorsed it; at least two House Republicans now support the measure.) In some cases, they continue to lie to their constituents about what happened in the election. Why can’t the GOP put country ahead of party, defend Congress, and bring Americans together by evicting a president who most Americans agree is unfit and should be removed?

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Although the congressional Republicans complaining about divisiveness are either misjudging the moment or being disingenuous, their central premise remains true: It’s a dangerous, sad, and fractious time for the country. The fundamental question here is simple: Who is most responsible for the current division?

On the one hand, there is Trump, who spent two months lying to his supporters that the election had been stolen; called state elections officials and pressured them to throw out valid votes; tried to strong-arm the vice president into handing the election to him; summoned a crowd to Washington with the promise that January 6 would be “wild”; encouraged the crowd to march to the Capitol; and then once matters had turned violent, refused for hours to condemn the assault on the Capitol or call in the National Guard, and praised the rioters. (The people who stormed the Capitol must be held to account as well, but as I’ve written, they are already facing consequences.)

On the other hand, there are those who are calling for Trump to face some punishment, using a constitutionally prescribed remedy.

Impeachment is a political as well as judicial process, as everyone remembers from Trump’s first impeachment. Although the public’s views should not be the final word—we elect representatives to make decisions, after all—they are important. Very few Republicans are willing to defend Trump’s behavior, but they insist that impeaching him would only anger and divide the American people.

There’s little evidence to back this up. Although there are deep political divides in America, polling produces a consistent story: The public blames Trump for the attempted coup and wants him to go. In a Quinnipiac poll, clear majorities say the president was responsible and should resign or be removed. An ABC News/Ipsos poll and Reuters/Ipsos poll each find the same thing.

Nonetheless, impeachment opponents keep arguing that any repercussions will further split Americans. Jordan, who was one of those who objected to certifying the Electoral College vote, even has the nerve to say the country needs unity at the same time that he continues to espouse conspiracy theories about the election—calling for healing at the same time that he pours salt into the wound.

“This impeachment is causing tremendous anger, and you’re doing it, and it’s really a terrible thing that they’re doing,” Trump said today. “For Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country and it’s causing tremendous anger.”

Of course, Trump would say that. But so does Representative Tom Reed, who tells The Hill that “impeachment just inflames those that believe this election has been stolen. And it’s time to move forward.” Senator Tim Scott agrees: “An impeachment vote will only lead to more hate and a deeply fractured nation.”

Given that some of these people literally attempted a violent coup at the Capitol last week, one wonders what it would look like for them to be any more inflamed. What are they going to do, try it again? These Republicans are counseling surrender to blackmail (Fragile democracy you got here. Be a shame if it were attacked again), but they are also clarifying the stakes: Not acting risks allowing seditionists to run free, and acting can hardly elicit a worse response than what has already happened.

Privately, some Republicans recognize how dangerous the situation is. John McCormack reports that McCarthy warned members of his caucus not to attack colleagues who support impeachment, because it could put those colleagues’ lives in danger. In a sensible world, this would count as an argument for impeachment. If there were ever a time for coddling the misconceptions and anger of Trump and his loyalists, hoping they would go away if ignored, that moment passed on the afternoon of January 6.

Tom Reed is right: It’s time to move forward. The only way the country can do that, and the only way to bring it together, is to punish the president and his allies in Congress who are seeking to tear the country apart.