The irony is that many of those leading the charge against Cheney helped Trump spread the Big Lie — that the election was stolen and that Congress could overturn the result. Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) tweeted a photo of the crowd at the Jan. 6 rally with the message: “Biden should concede. I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there.” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told rally attendants, “Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” Yet they have the audacity to allege that it is Cheney who brought the Republican conference “into disrepute”?
When Trump was firing up the crowd at the rally, he went after two people by name: then-Vice President Mike Pence and Cheney. “We’ve got to get rid of the weak congresspeople, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world, we’ve got to get rid of them,” Trump said. Yet for Cheney, it’s not just Trump’s incitement of the riot that justified his impeachment, but the fact that he refused to send help once the assault began. When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and others trapped inside the Capitol urged the president to call for calm, Trump refused. To the contrary, he incited the rioters further, tweeting as Pence was hiding from a mob demanding his execution that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country.” Not until some three hours into the assault did Trump finally post a video telling his supporters to go home. “The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence,” Cheney said. “He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
But what is most stunning to Cheney and others is the lack of reverence on the part of some Republicans for the Capitol and the Constitution. A mob attacked Congress in an effort to steal an election by forcibly stopping the counting of electoral votes. Five people died. And as bad as the riot was, it could easily have been far worse. Imagine what might have happened if the throng, carrying zip ties and weapons, had found Pence? Imagine if they had found the boxes containing the electoral votes? Yet McCarthy has backed off his statement that Trump “bears responsibility” for the Capitol siege, and is visiting Mar-a-Lago on Thursday to mend fences with the former president.
The willingness of so many Republicans, in Congress and across the country, to move past the events of Jan. 6 as if nothing happened is deeply troubling. One of the best arguments for proceeding with Trump’s Senate trial is that it will force them to confront what happened. The entire country will watch the video of a Metropolitan Police officer being dragged down the steps of the Capitol and beaten, in a scene reminiscent of “Black Hawk Down.” They will see rioters attacking officers with hockey sticks and flags, parading through the Capitol with handcuffs in search of lawmakers, waving Confederate flags inside the Capitol Rotunda, and rampaging through the Senate chamber. Too many Republicans want to avert their eyes. A trial will not permit them to look away.
Reasonable people can disagree over whether it is constitutional to try a president after he has left office, or prudent to do so. But no reasonable person can argue that voting to hold the president accountable for his role in one of the darkest moments in American history makes one unfit to serve.
Before leaving office, Trump issued the report of his 1776 Commission, which urged educators to “teach our founding principles and the character necessary to live out those principles.” Cheney showed that character. If the Republican reaction to the Capitol riot is to excommunicate her, then the future of the party is bleak.