WASHINGTON ― Former President Donald Trump’s extraordinary tribute over the weekend to people convicted in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol was a step too far for some Republican senators, including one of his top allies in Congress.
“I think the best thing for President Trump to do is to focus on the problems people are facing today. There is no way you’re going to convince the American people that Jan. 6 was anything less than a horrible day,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is supporting Trump’s 2024 campaign despite the former president’s role in inciting the attack on Congress, told HuffPost on Monday.
Graham said that suggesting the violent Jan. 6 riot involving hundreds of Trump supporters was “a walk through the park is offensive to me. It’s not reality. It was one of the worst days in American history, and it needs to be viewed that way.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he didn’t believe focusing on past events like the Jan. 6 attack was a “recipe for success” for any candidate seeking political office.
“I never have seen somebody successfully get elected to office running on something that happened in the past…. I think people want a positive vision for the future,” Cornyn said.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), meanwhile, expressed dismay that footage from the Jan. 6 insurrection was displayed on big screens while Trump appeared on stage.
“I was disappointed to see the way that he utilized clips of that day. That was a bad day for this country,” Rounds told HuffPost. “What happened on that day was as close to an attempted insurrection as we’ve seen in a very long time, and I don’t think any of us should be proud of that day.”
With a hand over his heart, Trump opened his rally in Waco, Texas, on Saturday with a song called “Justice for All” that was recorded by a “choir” of people imprisoned for their roles in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The recording is being used to raise funds to support the families of Trump supporters locked up on charges related to the violence on Jan. 6, 2021. In the track, Trump is featured reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
That the event ― Trump’s first official rally since announcing his bid for the White House ― was held about 17 miles from the site of the federal government’s 1993 siege on the gun-hoarding Branch Davidian religious sect that left scores of people dead, sent an unmistakable message to far-right extremists, experts said.
It also came one day after Trump raised the specter of violence should he become the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges over hush-money payments made before his 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed they’d had an affair 10 years earlier.
Most Republican senators have been willing to break with Trump over his support for Jan. 6 convicts given that their lives and the lives of their staff were put at risk during a harrowing assault they personally experienced. But few are willing to publicly rule out supporting Trump in the future over it.
“I don’t blame him for people taking the law in their own hands,” Graham said on Monday when asked if Trump’s embrace of Jan. 6 convicts would shake his support for the former president. “People were going to blow up the [Democratic National Committee] headquarters before he even spoke. The point is I will not be part of any effort to normalize January the 6th.”
Asked twice if he would support Trump if he won the GOP nomination, Rounds said only that he is “looking at a number of other very qualified individuals who I think would do a great job as president of the United States.”
But another Trump ally, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), suggested Trump is using the Jan. 6 attack on Congress to gin up his base voters in what is expected to be a crowded Republican primary.
“Most any politician is going to use anything they can to get an edge,” Tuberville said. “I think as he speaks he’s trying to get everyone fired up at the beginning of his campaign. Hey, it’s all about motivation and getting people fired up for a common cause.”
“Now is he right or wrong? I don’t know,” Tuberville added. “The voters have to answer that.”