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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

Give Republicans the exit ramp they need

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks as the Senate reconvenes after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Credit: AP

"I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice," President Abraham Lincoln wrote, and there’s been no better time in modern American history to benefit from the wisdom of his words than today.

Republicans who have defended President Donald Trump’s transgressions over the past four years need to be shown such mercy now, a compassionate exit ramp back into reality from those who have not. Those who continue to support this president after the insurrection he inspired are on their own.

The first thing one learns as a Republican operative — this is true of Democrats, too — is loyalty to one’s party. This isn’t open to negotiation; it’s how the parties enforce discipline and get things done. But loyalty is supposed to go both ways. Party leadership has an obligation to preserve the institution’s brand and claim to a piece of the moral high ground.

But under the Trump administration, the pact between leadership and foot soldier was severed. Trump and his minions walked everyday Republicans deeper and deeper into the abyss of mistruths over the past four years, leading to what happened in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. It was a genuine wakeup call to countless "loyal" Republicans.

Forgiveness for high-level party officials, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for example, is a taller order. But like Ditmas on the Cross, he, too, must be given the chance to walk it all back. Enlightenment at any point is to be celebrated, not scorned.

The risk of holding grudges against anyone who’s carried Trump’s water — of targeting them with long-term reputational assault — is twofold: it could drive them back into the arms of a populist revolt held together by rage and disinformation, and it could prevent America's second-largest political party, the Party of Lincoln, from facing its much-needed reckoning head on. Only through that painful process can the GOP become an honorable and efficacious institution again.

Republicans need not ask forgiveness for core positions held. The desire to protect lawful immigration, to break free from counterproductive regulations imposed by unelected bureaucrats and to preserve personal and religious freedoms and other constitutional rights are noble causes. But there are clear areas where contrition is needed. Allowing the charade that Trump won November’s election is at the top of the list.

Those who legitimately want to challenge state election laws should continue to do so state-by-state as prescribed by the Constitution. Suggesting that Congress has a role in changing those laws is constitutionally incorrect and anathema to the tenets of conservative Republican orthodoxy. It’s a false narrative that needs to be dropped.

Donald Trump, with all the power he held as president, made being a member of the Republican Party in good standing a cut-and-dry proposition — one is either with him or against him.

Why reinvent the wheel now that he’s leaving?

One is either with Trump or against him and all he represents going forward. How one answers that question tells the merciful what they need to know.

William F.B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.