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After the Capitol riot, Republicans need to atone for spreading Trump's lies

Where's the mea culpa from GOP officials?
Photo illustration with images of Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, Liz Cheney, Jim Jordan and Kevin McCarthy in circles against a yellow background.
An insurrection of Trump's making requires a response. Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence was in the Capitol when his boss incited a mob to break into the building. Since then, he was reported not to have spoken with President Donald Trump at all until Monday afternoon, and according to NBC News, he is busy charting his path forward in the post-Trump political landscape.

He's spending the last nine days of the administration doing "events and speeches designed to promote his own work," and, unlike Trump, he will attend President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. Like some of the other establishment members of his party, those who were in power before the wave of populism that pushed Trump into office, he's trying to distance himself from if not Trump then at least his worst impulses.

We've heard outrage from some Republicans in the last week. We've heard some who are willing to say Trump is responsible for riling up the mob that attacked Congress. But there's something missing in these responses from Republicans, even those who are rightly calling for Trump's resignation or removal — any sense of personal ownership and remorse over what happened, both last week and over the last four years.

There's been no real mea culpa, let alone atonement, for their party's willingness to accept, defend and spread Trump's self-serving lies. Until then, there can be no healing and recovery, only empty pablum.

Pence, on the eve of the vote Wednesday to certify Biden's Electoral College win, which he presided over in the Senate, was still hedging. His chief of staff, Marc Short, said in a statement that Pence shares "the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities." Those irregularities never existed except in the lies of Trump and his allies, which Pence knows — the Justice Department has already said as much for weeks.

There's been no real mea culpa, let alone atonement, for their party's willingness to accept, defend and spread Trump's self-serving lies.

It was during that ritual count that Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley opted for political grandstanding over the unity they would days later be calling for instead. Without their consent to the scam, the request to contest the electoral votes would have died in the House. Since then, they've accepted none of the blame for what happened, even as they remain pariahs in the Senate, where colleagues are calling for their resignations — or expulsions. ­

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the theoretical leader of the House Republicans, has spent the last two years being dragged around by the pro-Trump wing of his party. In his statement Friday, two days after the riots, he didn't list Trump as a cause of the violence against his fellow lawmakers. Instead, he insisted that impeaching Trump "will only divide our country more." McCarthy, along with 146 members of his caucus, didn't seem to care about healing divisions when they still voted to reject electoral votes after the Capitol was reclaimed from the insurrectionists.

McCarthy, like Pence, wants to divorce himself from the president's lies while not alienating the people who've bought into them. Ditto folks like conservative activist Ginni Thomas and Ivanka Trump, who've deleted tweets that praised the protests before things got out of hand. Cumulus Media, one of the largest talk radio companies in the U.S., whose stars, like Mark Levin and Dan Bongino, helped spread Trump's lies and provide him with all new ones, warned its talent last week that talk about the election's being stolen is done. "If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately," an internal memo promised Cumulus employees.

But even Republicans who rightly rejected the last-ditch effort to overturn the election and name Trump as the culprit have yet to go far enough. Sen. Joni Ernst, who like the rest of Iowa's congressional delegation voted to accept Biden's electoral win, penned an op-ed published Monday in The Des Moines Register. "It is past time to tone down the rhetoric — from the president down to every single American — and treat each and every human being with dignity and respect," Ernst wrote.

It's a good thought — except the entire 600-word piece never uses Trump's name or calls out her party's role in stoking the rioters' fears of election fraud. This even as tweets like those from House Republicans like Paul Gosar and freshman Lauren Boebert claiming that the election was rigged remained up for everyone to see. Those lies are still circulating, and they are still believed by a large part of the population thanks to the GOP's endorsement.

I get that I'm not the one who has to run for office as a Republican two, four or six years from now, facing down a potential Trump-supporting challenger from the right. But that's part of the problem — in fear of the president's tweets, of someone more willing to say insane things or of threats of violence against them and their families, Republicans by and large haven't accepted that those who stormed the Capitol are the base they've been so doggedly pursuing.

What I want to hear — before any more claims that impeachment will just make it more likely that Trump supporters cause more violence, any more justifications, any more condemnations without naming the offender — is for someone to say, "I'm sorry." We can start with Pence and work our way down.