After that attack, Mullins colleague Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) voted to confirm Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump and then introduced legislation to set up an independent commission to investigate the attacks.
On Tuesday, Republican voters in central Illinois punished Davis for his transgressions against Trump in the primary. In Oklahoma, GOP voters rewarded Mullin by giving him first place in the first vote for the Senate nomination, the clear favorite in the Aug. 23 runoff in the Trump-loving state.
All they wanted was an independent investigation into the uprising; the other actually looked through broken glass and threatened to kill one of the rioters.
Davis’ political career is over, at least for the time being. However, Mullin appears poised to become a conservative star in the Senate’s finer air. Both Republicans declined offers to discuss their careers and GOP politics in the post-January period. 6 world.
Friends since entering Congress together a decade ago, Davis and Mullin provide a case study of how images, not necessarily actual votes and actions, are increasingly driving political outcomes — particularly in Republican primary elections.
How voters perceived both lawmakers’ response to the attack on the Capitol may have determined their political destiny.
Certainly Mullin was more conservative and represented rural eastern Oklahoma, while Davis’ original district was a battlefield. Davis has a 53 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, while Mullin received 83 percent over the same period.
But Mullin is no fire-breathing right winger: His 79 percent rating in 2021 ranks just below the 82 percent mark for the average House Republican.
However, he presents himself as a man ready to do battle with liberal enemies. Built like an NFL linebacker, 44-year-old Mullin won a wrestling scholarship to Missouri Valley College and dabbled in pro mixed martial arts competition. A chartered member of the Cherokee Nation, he dropped out of college to take over his family’s plumbing business and became extremely successful with several spin-off businesses, including a steakhouse.
For almost 10 years, he has led a training group popular with Republicans and Democrats alike, every morning when the House is in session.
While his official bio doesn’t mention the military, Mullin has hinted at having some sort of intelligence training. He participated in a nearly 30-minute oral history of the attack on the Capitol in March 2021 and explained that his background allowed him to see early on “that something was happening” from Capitol police movements.
“I’ve been in situations like this before,” he said, referring to “working abroad,” but declined to give any further explanation. “I would prefer not.”
Davis, 52, is a more traditional lawmaker. He still lives in Taylorville, where he grew up — less than 30 miles southeast of the State Capitol in Springfield — and ran the district office of longtime Congressman John Shimkus for 16 years. New county lines in 2012, combined with the sudden resignation of an incumbent, allowed local party officials to choose Davis as their nominee in another county.
After a few close elections, Davis became a close ally of House leaders and became the top Republican on the House Administrative Committee — a normally quiet outpost where top officials earn tags with colleagues by giving them better offices or parking spots.
But the rebellion thrust that committee, with its oversight of Capitol security and electoral laws, into a spotlight it had never seen before. Davis’ initial work with Democrats, including being one of 35 Republicans who voted for an independent commission on Jan. 6, gave way to a more partisan stance after the commission proposal died in the Senate.
House Democrats voted to create a select committee Jan. 6, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) selected Davis and four others to sit on it. But when Democrats prevented two staunch conservatives from serving, McCarthy withdrew all of his members.
Meanwhile, in Illinois, Democrats pushed through new district lines and pushed Davis into a primary with Rep. Mary E. Miller (R-Ill.), a fiery pro-Trump conservative who won her first congressional race two years ago.
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With no visible seat on the special committee defending Trump, Davis tried other avenues to appeal to conservatives. He promised to investigate the investigators by using his administrative committee to investigate the special committee.
The new look didn’t suit Davis, an amiable lawmaker who counts Democrats among his closest friends. Miller won Tuesday by more than 15 percentage points.
Mullin wasn’t that concerned about how voters viewed his connection to Trump.
When the dust settled on Jan. 6 and the House of Representatives reconvened, he and 138 other Republicans opposed confirming Biden’s victory.
Last August, Biden administration officials blocked his attempt to sneak into Afghanistan to rescue stranded citizens on a helicopter mission with tens of thousands of dollars in cash. When Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) announced his retirement in December earlier this year, Mullin jumped into the crowded race as the new Conservative icon.
Six weeks before Tuesday’s first vote, Mullin introduced legislation to overturn the House impeachment vote against Trump, a week after his supporters stormed the Capitol.
He won nearly 44 percent, more than 90,000 ballots ahead of the former State House Speaker, whom he will face in the August runoff.
“We’re far from done,” Mullin told supporters in Tulsa. “In fact, the real fight begins tomorrow.”
But Mullin came closest to a real public fight when it took place in the House of Representatives chamber nearly 18 months ago.
No lawmaker did more than Mullin to hold back the Trump-supporting rioters, at times putting his own safety on the line. He helped police drag a desk and other furniture out the back door and stood there shouting at rioters after they smashed windows and called for police to draw guns, fearing shots had been fired.
“You almost died,” Mullin recalled telling a rioter on the C-SPAN interview. “Is it worth?”
Another agitator spoke up, and lawmakers said he threatened to kill him: “I would put you down.”
When the rioter said it was her house, Mullin replied, “It’s our house too, and we won’t let you in.”
Other Trump-aligned Republicans have hailed Ashli Babbitt as a martyr after the police officer shot her as she jumped through a window that would have lifted her steps off the ground.
How Ashli Babbitt went from Capitol rioter to Trump-embraced ‘martyr’
Not Mullin, who believed the officer’s decision had saved lives. He walked up to the officer and hugged him.
“Sir, you did what you had to do,” Mullin recalled in the C-SPAN interview. “And I mean that.”
As other lawmakers raced through the Capitol basement to a safe location, Mullin went to the police “triage center” and shook 50 hands in what appeared to be “stuff you see abroad” scene.
“Broken noses, broken faces, broken arms, broken heads,” he said.
Mullin described the officers as “absolute heroes” because they engaged in hand-to-hand combat and only fired a single shot that day.
“It could have been so much worse,” he said at the end of his oral history from C-SPAN.
Despite their different career paths, Davis and Mullin still have nothing but public praise for the ex-president.
“I want to congratulate Congressman Miller and President Trump on their victory today. This has been a hard-fought campaign,” Davis said in a statement Tuesday.
And as he explained in his new law, Mullin wants to clean Trump’s record of the attack.
“This resolution will reverse this second impeachment trial and hereby clear the name of Donald J. Trump as history tells it,” he said.