The Republican state lawmaker didn’t hesitate. Would he vote for President Donald Trump again? “Hell, yeah,” said Sen. Phil Fortunato of Auburn.
Yes, he didn’t like supporters of the president rampaging through the nation’s Capitol Wednesday, leaving five people dead, including a police officer. “That doesn’t reflect well on us,” said Fortunato, who ran for governor in 2020 and lost in the primary.
And he condemned the actions of Trump supporters in Olympia, some of them armed, who were forced off the grounds of the governor’s mansion by law enforcement the same day. “Whatever point today’s demonstrators were trying to make is lost on the general public,” Fortunato said in a statement.
But none of that negates his support for Trump and his policies, like “getting the weight of government off business’ back.”
And so it goes with many, if not most, of Trump’s supporters in Washington.
Nationally, the mob assault on the heart of U.S. democracy — and the president’s role in egging it on and refusing for months to concede the election and pushing falsehoods about its legitimacy — has finally provoked some Republicans, including in Trump’s Cabinet, to break with him. Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor and early backer of Trump, called the president’s conduct since the election “injurious to the country and incredibly harmful to the party.”
Locally? Not so much.
Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse, Washington’s three GOP members of Congress, condemned the attack, but not the president who incited it. Even as Trump lauded the attackers after they stormed the Capitol — “We love you, you’re very special,” he said — none of the three said anything negative about the president.
All three have echoed the president’s false claims of a stolen or fraudulent election, although McMorris Rodgers reversed her plans to officially object to the election results after the attack. None of the three responded to repeated interview requests for this article.
Many state and county officials, as well as ordinary voters and conservative protest organizers, are also reluctant to criticize Trump. At the same time, some say Republicans will inevitably rethink the direction of the party now that Trump is leaving office and Democrats are in control of both the White House and Congress.
One protest organizer is talking about changing strategies to avoid the kind of violence that happened last week. Others are talking more broadly about moving beyond the dominant personality of Trump and refocusing on core conservative principles.
What really happened?
Conspiracy theorists are holding off a full reckoning with last week’s events in D.C.
Some people question whether it was really Trump supporters who broke into the Capitol — despite selfie videos of longtime Trump fans causing chaos — rather than outside agitators, perhaps people bent on making the president look bad.
“Just because you’re wearing a Trump hat doesn’t mean you are a Trump supporter,” said Anita Azariah, an Everett software company accounts manager and vice-chair for the Snohomish County Republican Party.
Joey Gibson of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, which has held pro-Trump rallies in Portland and other cities, said he has been going through video footage of the events in D.C., trying to figure out a lot of “weird” things.
He said police appeared to be letting people in, suggesting they were following orders of officials seeking to undermine the president, though there’s no evidence supporting that theory.
“I think that storming the Capitol was the best thing for anti-Trump rhetoric,” he said.
Others accept genuine Trump supporters were involved but shift blame, at least some of it, onto Democrats.
“It’s definitely the fault of the people who committed the crime but the people who have been denying the rights of Republicans … are not totally innocent either,” said Hossein Khorram, a Bellevue real estate developer and former finance co-chair of the Trump campaign in Washington.
Despite Trump’s election challenges being repeatedly rejected by the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, Khorram said the “winning side,” Democrats, has not been transparent about how the election was conducted. Both nationally and in Washington, he said, where Trump lost by more than 780,000 votes and Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp refuses to concede despite losing by more than 545,000 votes.
That state and election officials in several contested states are Republican, like Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, makes no difference to him. Politics is a complicated business, he said, and officials have to weigh what they say against their electoral prospects.
Nor does Khorram find persuasive the lack of evidence produced about voter fraud, or the number of state and federal courts — some presided over by Trump-appointed judges — who have thrown out 61 Trump lawsuits on the matter. “Republicans were not able to prove their case. Does it mean it didn’t happen? No, I don’t think so.”
While Khorram said he was sure Trump didn’t intend to incite a mob, he said: “If I were him, I wouldn’t have done the rally the way he did. And I would not have people march toward the Capitol building the way he asked. … But I see the frustration.”
If protesters expressed their anger unlawfully, well, many Trumpers, in the “whataboutism” so common to our times, bring up property destruction and clashes that occurred at some Black Lives Matter protests last year.
Despite the police’s extensive use of pepper spray and blast balls at Seattle protests where dozens were arrested, it looked to Fortunato, the legislator, like aggressive protesters were acting with impunity. “You can imagine the frustration,” he said “when nobody does anything.”
The Trump camp’s equating of protests against police killings with an attack on the U.S. Capitol — and the force with which the former were met — has been decried by Black leaders and other elected officials in the days following the riot.
‘Ready to move on’
Don Stevens, a Trump supporter and retired nurse who works at the Amazon warehouse in Kent, said that by summer, people will have, if not forgotten the Capitol episode, at least moved on.
“I don’t think it injures the conservative movement as much as we might think today,” Stevens said.
Indeed, Pacific County Republican Party Chair Nansen Malin said she’s hearing from some people who think “it wasn’t that big a deal,” though she added she’s not in that camp. “I think it was a step too far.”
Others who got in touch with Malin, she said, saw it as a “definitive end to some of the drama.” Their attitude, she said: “We’re just ready to move on.” And they want to know how they can help create a better party.
In her view, “the party is bigger than a candidate, bigger than a president.”
“The question is what kind of party will we be,” said Mike Vaska, who chaired a centrist group called Mainstream Republicans before stepping down last year in a failed bid to become attorney general.
He did not vote for Trump “and never will,” leaving him outside the GOP mainstream. While most Trump voters are fine Americans, Vaska said, the president has invited extremist, fringe factions into the party, including the “Matt Sheas of the world.” Shea, a former GOP legislator from Spokane Valley, was found in a state House investigation to have participated in a militia siege of the Malheur wildlife refuge.
The courting of extremists has happened before, Vaska said. Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater courted the far-right John Birch Society. Vaska quoted former Republican Gov. Dan Evans’ strong repudiation of “the lunatic fringe” at a state GOP convention and said he hopes more Republicans will now speak out.
Then again, Vaska said, Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson in 1964. “He didn’t have a four-year platform.” So, he said, it may take longer for Trump’s influence to dissipate, as he believes it will.
One question rebounding among GOP activists: Will Trump run again? “Some want him to run. Some don’t,” said Malin, the Pacific County GOP chair.
More immediately, Tyler Miller, a Bremerton engineering technician and conservative who runs an organization called Hazardous Liberty, said he is trying to figure out how to hold protests without attracting agitators bent on destruction and violence.
Judging the risk too high after the events of this week, he canceled a planned daily protest in Olympia that was supposed to begin Sunday out of dissatisfaction with the Legislature’s decision to meet mostly remotely, preventing public access. Protesters were to station themselves at entrances to the state Capitol building and peacefully follow whoever went in.
Before canceling, he bandied about a possible way to isolate any agitators. A radio call could go out to, say, pull back and meet at a fountain, leaving authorities to deal with the remaining troublemakers.
He may not get a chance to test that approach Sunday, but a protest organized by another conservative group will still go on, as reported by The Stranger newsweekly. Miller, who plans to be there, said it will be a more traditional protest on the Capitol steps.
“Please do not wear tactical or other paramilitary gear,” Republican James Walsh of Aberdeen posted on Facebook.
Late on Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee activated up to 750 members of the National Guard to protect the Capitol.