Nebraska Republicans Reflect on the Party’s Future
By Melissa Rosales, Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
Jan. 20, 2021, 5:40 p.m. ·
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After a tumultuous few weeks for the GOP, Republicans in Nebraska are reflecting on the end of the Trump Administration and what their party’s future holds.
After pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol, President of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom Doug Kagan said what happened at the Capitol was tragic and inexcusable, but he doesn’t put all the blame on Donald Trump.
“All he did is he encouraged his followers to rally in Washington, which they did, but I don't think he's responsible for the rioting,” Kagan said. “Because he didn't ask people to riot. All he did is ask for conservatives to attend a peaceful rally in Washington.”
In his speech to supporters, former President Trump urged attendees to “be strong” and march on the U.S. Capitol, saying he will walk with them.
In Kagan’s mind, whenever there’s a big rally like the one in Washington, people with bad intentions show up as well. He believes the “stop the steal” rally was no different.
“I know people who went to Washington to rally but they were not the people who invaded the Capitol Building,” Kagan said. “They went there just to rally for Trump and they are all embarrassed [by the behavior of the rioters] as I am, because the liberal media tends to label all conservative groups as extremists, and we're not extremists. I'm not an extremist.”
Several white supremacist groups like The Three Percenters, The Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Texas Freedom Force participated in the insurrection. Overall, more than 100 people have been arrested so far.
The GOP’s Response
Nebraska’s House Republicans have disagreed on whether Trump is to blame for the insurrection, and did not vote to impeach him. Senators Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer have not clearly signaled whether they plan to convict Trump in the upcoming Senate impeachment trial.
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said Trump should face ramifications for what happened.
“There is no question that Trump incited the insurrection and mob of Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol. But all of our Republican leaders at the national and state level did as well,” she said. “Because none of them stood up to Trump in the last four years, not just the day that the mob tried to kill Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Pence.”
John Hibbing, who teaches Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said the impeachment puts Republicans in a delicate political situation, as Trump has become an integral part of the party.
“I think the biggest danger for the Republican Party is that it could lead to a kind of split within the party, you'll have the diehard supporters of Donald Trump and the people who are trying to kind of get past the Trump era and form a viable Republican party without his base,” he said.
“So that's going to be very intriguing to see if they're able to keep that together.”
Nebraska’s state Republican leadership has not supported impeachment. Ryan Hamilton, who heads the Nebraska Republican Party said Trump’s impeachment only increases political tensions at a time when the government is supposed to be leading pandemic relief.
“I think that this impeachment process as it's happening in Washington is a huge disservice to the people of Nebraska and the people of our country,” he said.
Hamilton said it doesn’t surprise him people are backing away from expressing their support of the president.
“Because there are real stakes up now for everyday normal people, famous or not,” he said. “They're going to be banned, they're going to be doxxed, they're going to lose their ability to fly on planes or engage in normal everyday commerce on the basis of their political beliefs. That's, as far as I know, unprecedented in the history of our country, and it's one of the many problems that we are going to have to sort out going forward.”
Kleeb with the Nebraska Democratic Party said the only victims of January 6th are members of Congress and the Capitol police who were killed and beaten on the job.
“The Republicans aren't the victim in this scenario,” she said. “And if people are being removed from social media platforms, because they incite violence, or because they spread misinformation, then that's exactly what should have happened four years ago, when they started spreading all the misinformation and violence.”
She thinks Trump’s second impeachment is not about symbolism, but the importance of accountability.
“The behavior that Trump did, not only that led to the insurrection, but over the four years is an impeachable offense, and he should be held accountable,” she said. “So I don't want to hear about timing or hurt feelings from the Republican Party. I want to hear their strong words about protecting the constitution and some accountability for bad behavior.”
Longing For Unity
Stephen Bader is Chair of Republican Liberty Caucus in Nebraska and said he’s also disappointed by the mob in the Capitol riots. He worries the attack on the Capitol will hurt both the Republican party’s current standing and its future.
“I've been asked a lot of times by just friends and family and coworkers, ‘What percentage [of the country] do you think actually supports that?’, ‘Do you think it's this massive amount of the Republican party?’” And I would probably say that maybe 20% would really actually endorse what happened,” he guessed.
Some GOP voters are feeling nostalgic for times when they say people with different politics got along better.
Dough Kagan is one of them, saying he misses times back in the “late 70s” when he was involved in politics. He claimed people were more able to disagree with each other’ beliefs, but still go out and have a beer later.
“Now there's just a lot of name calling and nastiness going on and physical assaults, and it's just somewhat depressing to me,” he said. “That's how I feel, because I look back over the last decades and I see our country spiraling, spiraling into this civic divide. It's just like a chasm. It's a deep divide, and I honestly don't see it getting any better.”
Political scientist John Hibbing said the country’s civic divide has been a trend for a long time.
“But Donald Trump certainly made it a whole lot worse,” he said. “So I think the Republicans have to be careful. They just spent four years encouraging somebody who is not nice to the other side at all, so I think a lot of people are viewing those kinds of comments as fairly hypocritical.”
A Pew Research Center survey conducted from January 8 to 12 found former President Trump's approval rating dropped to 29% after the US Capitol attack.
Chair of Republican Liberty Caucus in Nebraska Stephen Bader thinks a lot of Republicans are turning the page, and just want to look ahead.
“His era is at a close, love or hate it. That's just the fact of the matter. So we need to just move on and focus on what we can control, and that's state and local races,” he said.
Bader said Republicans will now have to try to make a new future for a party that has changed dramatically over the past four years.
Editor's Note: This story was edited after originally published and a sentence was removed that did not meet NET News' editorial standards. We regret and apologize for our error.
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