When a distraught constituent accosted her on Tuesday night at a restaurant in the nation’s capital, Representative Nancy Mace confronted an impossible task that sprang from President Trump’s false promises: getting them to understand why she and other Republicans in Congress could not simply overturn the results of the election.
Driven by Mr. Trump’s fictitious claims that the election had been stolen from him — and that lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence could clinch him another four years in power during Congress’s official electoral count — the voter had come all the way from Ms. Mace’s home state of South Carolina to witness it. Now, the voter, shaking and in tears, demanded to know why Ms. Mace, a first-term congresswoman, had refused to join the effort.
Calm but firm, Ms. Mace tried to explain that it was not Congress’s role to subvert the results of an election — and that to do so would defy the Constitution.
“It didn’t matter what I said,” Ms. Mace said in an interview. “They didn’t believe it.”
Similar scenes — sometimes painful, always unresolvable — played out again and again in Washington this week in the hours before and after a violent mob urged on by Mr. Trump stormed the Capitol, as Republican voters loyal to the president cornered Republican lawmakers who voted to certify the election results, demanding answers and promising revenge.
The confrontations — and the scenes of mayhem that unfolded on Wednesday — have brought Republicans face to face with the consequences of their yearslong alliance with Mr. Trump, providing human evidence of the downside of his deep influence on the voters who form their party’s base.
It helps explain the searing anger that has prompted many Republicans to belatedly turn against Mr. Trump after years of enabling him and seeking his validation. But it also reflects the conundrum in which the Republican Party finds itself, beholden to voters who have internalized the president’s falsehoods and been emboldened by his divisive talk.
“Their hearts, minds and wallets were taken advantage of,” Ms. Mace said, her voice rising in fury. “Millions of people across the country who were lied to. These individuals, these hardworking Americans truly believe that the Congress can overturn the Electoral College.”
Many Republican members of Congress stoked that belief this week when they objected to Mr. Biden’s victory in battleground states and backed the challenges in votes that illustrated their party’s rift. In the House, more than half the Republicans, including the party’s top two leaders, voted in support of the challenges, while in the Senate, fewer than 10 Republicans did so and the leaders were vocally opposed.
The videos that emerged from the standoffs dramatized the yawning distance between elected Republicans in Washington who are increasingly desperate to peel away from the president and their constituents who say they will never let go.