Like many Republicans, Chris Smith is trying to disassociate himself from the Trump-induced insurrection in our nation’s Capitol on January 6th. Before we credit Smith for speaking against Trump’s madness, we should remember that he is complicit in bringing about that shameful episode and shows no sign of changing.
Trump has been lying about fraudulent votes since immediately after the 2016 election. Smith never spoke against this dangerous rhetoric. In fact, whether it was cheating in an election, denying foreign election interference, or sowing doubt about election security, Smith consistently enabled or quietly accepted Trump’s attacks on our democracy.
When Trump began claiming the 2020 election was rigged, stolen, or otherwise rife with fraud, Smith was silent for two weeks until Jeff Edelstein of the Trentonian asked Smith if he supported Trump’s actions. Smith replied with a comparison to Al Gore, noting that Gore did not concede until Dec. 13th after a ruling from the Supreme Court. Smith also paid lip-service to Trump’s conspiracy theories by saying Trump could “exhaust every legal avenue” while pursuing “definitive confirmation” of the election outcome. If Trump didn’t do so, Smith worried political divisions in our county would worsen.
First of all, we have “definitive confirmation” of the election results, and even intimating that we don’t is irresponsible. Second, for Smith to not see that Trump declaring the election “stolen” is what will worsen divisions in our country takes a remarkable level of ignorance.
Third, as Edelstein notes, the 2000 election was different. In that election, the margin was razor thin in just one state, there were confusing and faulty ballots, and Gore never shouted fraud.
But how did Smith feel about Gore “exhausting all legal avenues” back in 2000? He said that “Gore led our nation down this unsightly road in his overzealous search for votes in pursuit of the White House via lawsuits and countless trial lawyers.”
Immediately after we learned that Trump asked Georgia’s Secretary of State to “find 11,780 votes,” - and well past Smith’s own benchmarks of December 13th and multiple court rulings - Dustin Racioppi of USA Today asked Smith for a comment on Trump’s continued lies about the 2020 election. Smith didn’t respond.
It is impossible to reconcile Smith’s response to Trump’s lies and the events of January 6th without concluding that Smith is culpable and a coward. How Smith couldn’t see the inevitable danger of Trump’s lies is mystifying. Smith, along with most of his party, failed to understand a basic principle of the Trump era - that it doesn’t matter if the corrupt scheme succeeds, the real damage is done by letting absurd narratives take hold amongst millions of Republican voters.
Smith stood with Trump every step of the way. Not once was he willing to speak truth to conservative voters. Not once, despite forty years in Congress, did he have the courage to defend our democracy. But now that the consequences of Trump’s lies have boiled over, Smith is speaking.
Smith voted to confirm the election results and issued a general condemnation of violence, but it is too little too late. The time to speak, the time to lead, has long passed.
What’s worse, Smith is still paying lip-service to Trump’s voter fraud lies by calling for a “top-to-bottom review of election law and administrative policies to ensure that elections are free and fair” when all the evidence indicates that they were. (If Smith really believed this he shouldn’t have opposed the latest iteration of the Voting Rights Act.)
But amazingly, Smith hasn’t learned the lesson of January 6th, 2021: That using your position of authority to propagate unfounded nonsense is dangerous. When Patch reporter Carly Baldwin asked Smith if he believed that the mob in the Capitol were merely posing as Trump supporters, he responded “I saw very strange things, some strange designs on tattoos, for example a hammer and sickle. Some very strange things. It may have been Antifa. We just don't know. I'll leave that to the police to ascertain."
That sounds like it came from Trump himself.
Smith helped bring us to this shameful moment. It doesn’t sound like he has any intent of helping us out of it.