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Republicans move on from Jan. 6 at their own peril

If the GOP wants to rebound in the 2022 midterms, setting the record straight on Jan. 6 should be its first priority

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listens to Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speak at a news conference on Capitol Hill in June 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listens to Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speak during a news conference following a Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, June 16, 2020, in Washington. Both McConnell and Thune have openly opposed the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection. Thirty-five Republican House members honorably voted in favor — that is, 35 “wayward Republicans,” as former president Donald Trump scolded them. But 35 nonetheless.

The commission’s fate now resides in the Senate — where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others show vehement opposition. McConnell claims it’s a “slanted” and “unbalanced” proposal, one born in “partisan bad faith.” Sen. Marco Rubio opposes it, even though he hasn’t read the bill. Sen. Josh Hawley is upset it doesn’t investigate violent Black Lives Matter protests throughout 2020, too. And Sen. Ron Johnson now claims Jan. 6 was just a largely “peaceful protest.” As of now, Sen. Mitt Romney stands as the lone Republican senator committed to voting for the commission.

An investigation is wise on its merits, but there are also sound, partisan reasons for a Jan. 6 commission. It’s exactly what the Republican Party, neck-deep in an identity crisis, needs to restore the American public’s confidence in the party. Setting the record straight on one of the party’s darkest days will serve, at best, as a means to successfully move on from the issue. It’s an opportunity to address the matter and show penitence where appropriate, thereby winning back disgruntled Americans who gave up on the party after the Jan. 6 events. 

In the days following Jan. 6, at least 140,000 Republicans in 25 states changed their party affiliations, and it’s likely tens of thousands more in other states did the same. Such a large-scale exodus is very unusual, political scientists say, and it poses a serious threat to the GOP and the success of its message. Conservative lawmakers should be seeking to find a way to regain the trust of those who left the party but may yet return. 

A bipartisan commission — an idea approved by the top Republican and Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, and comprised of 10 nonelected officials (five selected by Republicans, and five by Democrats) — would provide a balanced, clear-eyed look that would allow the American people to feel confident that the Republican Party is willing to hold its own accountable.  

The commission’s goal should not be theatrics but to report on the events of Jan. 6 and seek to prevent any future attempt to overthrow our elections from ever occurring. But lawmakers, like Senate GOP Whip John Thune, R-S.D., have expressed fears that that digging into Jan. 6 could hurt Republicans in the midterms, as the commission’s findings “could be weaponized politically and drug into next year,” hampering what should be a huge rebound in 2022.

What GOP lawmakers don’t seem to understand is that Americans — the same Americans who will cast ballots next November — want the record set straight on Jan. 6. A recent Monmouth University poll found majority support among U.S. adults for an independent commission to investigate the insurrection, including 49% of Republicans.

If Republicans are worried about midterm elections, clearing the air on Jan. 6 should be a priority. Staying silent or pushing false narratives or attempting to prematurely “move on” only weakens Americans’ trust in free and fair elections and in the Republican Party. If they refuse to support an investigation into a violent breach of our capitol, that could help prevent another from ever occurring, midterm voters will take note.

Moving on from Jan. 6 requires an honest inventory on what caused the insurrection and why.

To be sure, GOP senators fear an independent commission will turn into political theater, a spectacle designed to embarrass the GOP again in front of the American public. Given how much is done in bad faith in Washington politics these days, such fears are not entirely unfounded. But that’s all the more reason the GOP should participate to carry out a sober and bipartisan investigation.

And if loyalty to Trump is a hindrance for lawmakers, the majority of Americans already believe Trump is mostly or solely responsible for the insurrection. Nothing GOP senators say or do on their own can possibly change that.

Continual calls to “move on” — to leave the insurrection in the past and blissfully skip toward our next election — are counterproductive to restoring trust in politics. The first step for GOP lawmakers is to throw their weight fully behind a bipartisan investigation, and allow the findings to speak for themselves. The next step — perhaps equally important — is to stop defending the events of Jan. 6, and to set the record straight.

Time alone won’t heal an attack on our democracy. Moving on from Jan. 6 requires an honest inventory on what caused the insurrection and why. Yes, America has other issues to face, too. But properly addressing them cannot precede a good-faith attempt to heal and make every effort to prevent something similar in the future.

That’s an effort any country-loving conservative should support.