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Lessons From Capitol Storming: Words Matter, And Time’s Up For Electoral College

U.S. senator from Texas Ted Cruz in a black jacket and yellow scarf speaking in front of the texas capitol
Gabriel C. Pérez
U.S. senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, speaking at the Texas Capitol in 2019. Cruz led the GOP effort to protest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's win, and continued that protest after a mob of pro-Trump protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

A scholar of politics tells Texas Standard how political theater has consequences, and that the electoral college is “on the chopping block.”

From Texas Standard:

Early Thursday morning, members of the U.S. House and Senate certified the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. It was an expected outcome despite the chaos that came before it earlier Wednesday, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. Four people died, and multiple police officers were injured.

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a dean at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, says the insurrection, incited by President Donald Trump, is a clear example of how the words spoken by people in power have real effects. Wednesday’s events will likely have long-term consequences in American politics.

She told Texas Standard that some of the GOP members of Congress who had planned to protest Biden’s certification, even though they knew it would likely be fruitless, changed course after the violence.

“Many of them recognized that words aren’t just words; words also can incite actions. And in this case, they incited dangerous and deadly action,” DeFrancesco Soto said. “And that ... political posturing, which is something that happens – it happens in D.C., it happens in our state capitals, it happens at our local level – can have very serious consequences.”

But some GOP lawmakers continued the protest, even after Congress reconvened late Wednesday to finish the certification. That included Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who continued to make the case that Biden’s certification should wait until after further investigation into election results. That could hurt Cruz with American voters at large if he runs for president in 2024. But De Francesco Soto says it likely won’t hurt him in Texas where he has a reliable base of conservative supporters.

What is a likely result of Wednesday’s events is a renewed push by Democrats to do away with the Electoral College. One criticism is that the institution has led to the election of presidential candidates who lost the popular vote. Trump’s win in 2016 was one example of that; so was George W. Bush’s win in 2000. Wednesday’s certification of electoral votes is also what led to protests at the Capitol.

“Democrats have been wanting to get rid of the Electoral College for a long time. Republicans have been blocking it. But after yesterday’s events, it’s going to be a whole lot more difficult to defend the Electoral College,” DeFrancesco Soto said.

But there is one reason for optimism: Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – two congressional leaders often at odds – condemned the GOP protest against Biden’s certification, “both echoing the same sentiments of upholding the popular will,” DeFrancesco Soto said.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we can start off our new year trying to paper over the divisions and trying to bring ourselves together as a nation,” she said.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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