FOR A moment, it seemed as if the Republican Party might exorcise former president Donald Trump. After four years of submission, GOP leaders were telling the truth. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared that Mr. Trump had “provoked” the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion, having “fed lies” to the rioters. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Mr. Trump “bears responsibility” for refusing to calm the insurrectionists. There was talk that enough GOP senators might be willing to join Democrats to convict the former president in an impeachment trial.

Days later, the era of glasnost seems to be ending. Senior Republicans are crawling back to Mr. Trump. The big lie of election fraud lives on. It is a sad turn for a once great party.

Barely three weeks after Mr. Trump’s mob stormed the Capitol, Mr. McCarthy traveled on Thursday to Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida home, to kiss the ring. The apparent goal was to patch up his relationship with Mr. Trump following Mr. McCarthy’s mild acknowledgment of Mr. Trump’s guilt. The visit caps an apology tour in which the House minority leader walked back his criticism of Mr. Trump, at one point absurdly remarking that not just the former president but “everybody across this country” bears some responsibility for the Capitol riot.

Mr. McConnell has avoided such a pathetic spectacle. He told reporters that he had not been in contact with the former president since mid-December, and he reportedly has no desire to speak again with Mr. Trump. But on Tuesday he defied indications that he might vote to convict the former president in the Senate’s coming impeachment trial — indeed, he sent the message that he did not think it should be happening at all. The Senate minority leader voted to force a debate on whether trying Mr. Trump after he has left office is constitutional. Republican senators have raised this question to avoid taking a firm stand on whether Mr. Trump’s wrongs deserve the punishment of conviction. Mr. McConnell has now blessed that dodge. Far from detaching the Republican Party from Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell proved how GOP senators still fear him.

Some Republicans mustered more strength in the fight to rid their party of the nation’s worst modern president. House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (Wyo.), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and eight other Republican members of Congress voted to impeach Mr. Trump. Now Ms. Cheney has drawn a right-wing primary challenger and calls for her to relinquish her House leadership role, and Mr. Kinzinger openly admits his vote could be “terminal” to his career.

Republicans should ask: What principle instructs them to bow to a man whom the country has rejected? How can they continue to excuse the attempted overturning of a fair and free election? What is the value of sitting in the Senate, or of being speaker of the House, if they continually humiliate themselves before a small, dishonest man leading their party to nowhere?

They had a chance, after Jan. 6, to reject their narrowing future as a party of lies and voter suppression and try, once again, to widen their appeal by standing for something positive. What a shame to throw that chance away.

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