Local Republican officials last week condemned the storming of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday by rioters supporting President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his election defeat, but area GOP leaders generally stopped short of saying Trump is responsible for inciting the violence.
“I don’t know if he’s to blame or not, and I imagine that will be debated for the next 10 years,” said Rep. Steve Smith of Charlestown, who represents Sullivan District 11. “... He certainly didn’t help. But here’s the biggest point of frustration to me: No politician ever made me go attack something.”
The people who breached the Capitol made their own choices to do so, he said, but Trump should have intervened quickly to stop the riot.
“I wish that President Trump had immediately gone on TV … and said, ‘Stop this. Go home.’ That was the biggest disappointment to me,” Smith said.
Former Cheshire County Republican Committee Chairwoman Kate Day noted, “It must be stated those in D.C. [Wednesday] who were violent were the exception, a small fraction of the many, many hundreds of thousands who peacefully protested.”
The Sentinel spoke with seven area Republican elected officials and party leaders since the breach of the Capitol Wednesday afternoon. Messages left for nine additional local GOP officials were not returned as of Monday morning.
Of those reached for comment, Rep. John Hunt of Rindge, who represents Cheshire District 11, spoke most strongly about his view of Trump’s role in inciting the riot.
“Of course he did” provoke the crowd, Hunt said. “There’s no doubt that he told them to march down to the Capitol. He might not have said, ‘Break in,’ but he certainly gave them the concept of being there.”
Thousands of people, including at least two area residents, gathered in Washington, D.C. Wednesday to protest the results of the presidential election. During a speech at a rally near the White House that morning, Trump repeated unsubstantiated claims that widespread voter fraud cost him the election, and encouraged supporters to march to the Capitol, where a joint session of Congress was meeting to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
“... We are going to the Capitol, and we are going to try and ... give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re ... going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country,” Trump said in the conclusion of his speech Wednesday.
The demonstration turned violent shortly after Trump’s remarks. Rioters clashed with U.S. Capitol Police, shattered windows, ransacked congressional offices and occupied the House and Senate chambers, which had been evacuated. The violence caused the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer.
“I am straight-up saddened by the loss of life [Wednesday],” said Rep. Jennifer Rhodes of Winchester, who represents Cheshire District 15. She declined to answer any further questions on the violence at the Capitol.
“The whole thing’s upsetting,” said N.H. Sen. Denise Ricciardi of Bedford, whose district includes the local communities of Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Greenfield, Hancock, Jaffrey, Peterborough, Richmond and Troy. “… I am heartbroken whenever I see such violence, but such violence in our nation’s capital is the most disturbing.”
Ricciardi declined to comment on whether or not Trump bears any responsibility for the riots, saying “I don’t have all the facts.”
Rep. Matthew Santonastaso of Rindge, who is serving his first term representing Cheshire District 14, felt similarly.
“It’s too soon, I don’t really know what caused it,” Santonastaso said Saturday, noting that the violence in Washington came at the same time he and the rest of the N.H. House met for the first session of the year in a parking lot at the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham.
“I wouldn’t say that [Trump] caused it or didn’t,” Santonastaso said. “That’s not a position I would take one way or the other.”
Rep. Jim Creighton of Antrim, who represents Hillsborough District 38, said he also wasn’t following Wednesday’s events in the nation’s capital closely because he was focused on the N.H. House session. Creighton did say that the protesters who stormed the Capitol were “absolutely wrong,” and that all Americans need to respect the result of the presidential election.
“I think the president was in his rights to go through the legal questions, but clearly once the decision is made, you have to respect the rule of law, and that’s not what happened [Wednesday].”
Trump has disputed the outcome of the Nov. 3 election, without providing any factual evidence, since the race was called for Biden four days later. The president’s campaign and other allies have filed approximately 50 lawsuits alleging voter fraud, nearly all of which have been dropped or dismissed by courts, according to the Associated Press. The Supreme Court also declined to hear cases aimed at invalidating election results in some states, the AP reported.
Hunt said Trump’s rhetoric since the election has been disheartening to him as a Republican.
“I’m disappointed right from the get-go when he kept talking about the fraud and the stealing the election,” Hunt said. “... I think that his insistence of saying that this election was stolen somehow was totally inappropriate and wrong.”
Since Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol, several Trump administration officials, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, have resigned in response to the president’s rhetoric and actions surrounding the riot. Additionally, more than 200 federal lawmakers, including the entire all-Democratic New Hampshire delegation, have called for Trump’s removal from office, either by impeachment or the 25th Amendment.
Locally, Hunt said he does not support Trump’s removal from office with less than two weeks left in his term, but added that he is ready to move forward.
“At this point, it’s time for him to move on, and the nation to move on,” Hunt said.
Sentinel reporters Mia Summerson and Caleb Symons contributed to this story.