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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: For just a moment, principle

by John Brummett | October 13, 2021 at 3:34 a.m.

Both can be true, you know, that U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton on rare occasions shows glimpses of personal principle and that a new book's revelation of such an occasion reflects Cotton's cold political calculation and manipulation.

But the important thing is that, unlike even-more-horrid Republican senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, Cotton broke with the president of his party when it counted most and sided with our democratic republic.

He stood for the simple constitutional truth that states decide the presidency and Congress cannot reverse the states at the behest of a megalomaniacal disorder clinging to the White House.

That doesn't excuse any preceding transgressions by the junior senator from Arkansas. And preceding transgressions don't alter the evident exercise of principle in the election case.

Cotton seems mostly a sneering, harsh, mean-spirited, liberal-despising partisan attack artist, shamelessly overstating such supposed menaces as critical race theory, socialism and an America-hating liberal media.

But this new book describes him as an influential ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in resisting and scheming to foil Donald Trump's frightful attempt at election thievery on Jan. 6.

The book, "In Trump's Shadow," is by a conservative writer named David M. Drucker. A Cotton segment is excerpted online by Vanity Fair. It includes previously unreported and adoring detail about Cotton's actions regarding Trump's election-denying madness. The information almost certainly came from Cotton himself or by Cotton's leave.

The excerpt makes the state's junior senator seem adept over the course of the Trump presidency at staying publicly and privately allied with Trump while ever-aware of Trump's failings, and of then working, when it came to a genuine constitutional crisis, to stymie Trump.

Hawley, Cruz and others apparently were willing to gut the republic for Trump, or at least pretend to try to do that while counting on others like Cotton and McConnell to behave with less irresponsibility, vileness and demagoguery.

If you wanted to promote yourself for the emerging Republican presidential sweepstakes as a smarter, more thoughtful, less dangerous version of Trump, on the premise that the Republicans may eventually be looking for that for 2024, then this kind of narrative would be smartly leaked.

The story the book tells is that McConnell knew early in December that Trump had lost the race but posed a menace to the nation with his continuing quest to have the outcome reversed. He sought Cotton's alliance in resisting Trump at least as far as any Senate role was concerned.

Cotton had his staff research the constitutional issue and informed McConnell he agreed with him that the Senate should and could do nothing about an Electoral College outcome.

Cotton's plan at the time, according to the book, and thus surely to Cotton, was to say nothing publicly until publishing an op-ed piece in this newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, on the morning of Jan. 6.

But then Hawley, Cruz and a few Republican House members said they would formally object to that acceptance, requiring floor debate and a vote, presumably.

At that point, McConnell feared the frequent dynamic by which a few fringe-right Republicans raise issues that Republicans who know better fear opposing lest they draw primary opposition alleging too much tolerance of evil Democrats.

McConnell believed that Cotton was credible and respected enough on the extreme right to be helpful if he would go ahead and announce his position rather than wait for an op-ed in this newspaper on the morning of Jan. 6.

Cotton, at some political risk to himself, agreed to put out a statement that, while he was concerned about voting irregularities in states pushing fast conversion to mail voting, the founders made no provision for the Congress doing anything other than accepting the final and binding Electoral College tally.

That should not be a matter of strength or principle, but of simply sanity and decency. But it was a matter of some strength and principle at that time.

Maybe it's sad that Arkansas, a state producing senators named Fulbright and Bumpers, finds itself taking what pride it can in a current senator who merely said Congress can't steal an election for a defeated incumbent.

But that's where we are at the moment, in Arkansas and beyond.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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