Earlier this month, the Republican National Committee voted to formally censure Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney for their involvement with the congressional committee charged with investigating the Capitol riots that occurred on Jan. 6, 2021.

The resolution passed unanimously during the RNC’s winter meeting in Salt Lake City. The formal censure cites both lawmakers’ participation in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

As Utah Sen. Mitt Romney tweeted, the censure was a shameful act, and it should be condemned by Republicans everywhere. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rebuked the censuring of Kinzinger and Cheney for investigating what he has described as a “violent insurrection.”

While much has been made of the language of the censure, little has been said about the virtue that underlies the actions of both Kinzinger and Cheney. That virtue is consistency.

Immediately after the riots, many Republicans’ language about what had happened was much different than it is today, more than a year later. Consider House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said in January 2021 that former President Donald Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack. But in the weeks that followed, many Republicans began to retreat from harsh language, with some saying that the country needed to move on.

Two voices, however, remained notably consistent. Both Cheney and Kinzinger continued to call for the creation of the Jan. 6 committee, even after other Republicans stopped. They did this despite being condemned and censured by their respective state and county parties. Whether one believes their positions were reasonable, one should admire their consistency despite immense political pressures.

The committee established to investigate the riot should have been a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately, the makeup of this committee did not end up being as bipartisan as many hoped. McCarthy will tell you this is the fault of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who refused to accept his nominees like firebrand Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. In contrast, Pelosi will tell you it is the fault of McCarthy who brought forward only unserious nominees to be on the committee. Whether you blame Pelosi or McCarthy is irrelevant in this discussion. Eventually, both Kinzinger and Cheney joined the committee after being nominated by Pelosi. 

What occurred on Jan. 6 was not normal political discourse, nor should it ever be considered as such. Political violence has increased from both sides of the aisle. Regardless of whether it be the riots of the summer of 2020 or Jan. 6, we as a people must not treat political violence as “legitimate political discourse.”

Kinzinger and Cheney joined the committee because they saw the events of Jan. 6 and couldn’t leave them to be investigated by only one party. Furthermore, they saw the events of that day as a failure of our leaders. Kinzinger also said he was there to “ensure nothing like this ever happens again. Cheney echoed that sentiment saying that the Republican Party is at a “turning point” and that it must choose “truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”

Even if you believe Cheney and Kinzinger shouldn’t have joined the committee, their involvement doesn’t rise to the level of censure by the RNC, nor does the committee’s mere existence amount to persecution as charged. The RNC is supposed to support all Republicans, even those that dissent from the majority in cases like this.

What occurred on Jan. 6 was not a bunch of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse. It was a riot, a riot that caused damage to the Capitol, physical injury, psychological trauma and the death of a rioter. But the damage that will leave the most permanent scar is the damage to our democracy. For as long as America has existed, we have prided ourselves on the peaceful transfer of power that occurs every time a new president takes office. Now we can no longer boast of such a thing.

Furthermore, the damage to our democracy will not be easily repaired. Former President Donald Trump purposefully cast doubt on the results of the election, so much so that his rhetoric and the resulting fallout cost Republicans the Senate during the Georgia Senate runoff. But the least transient consequence lies in overall voter confidence, which has dropped since the 2020 election. 

Political violence, of course, occurs within both parties. But whether it’s the riots of the summer of 2020 or the riot of Jan. 6, 2021, we must never equate violence with discourse. And we risk holding the wrong people accountable unless we begin to acknowledge who truly lit the flame that led to Jan. 6. The Republican Party cannot survive if we are derelict in our duty to uphold the Constitution and be the party of truth.

Ian Connor Linnabary is the communications director for the Utah Federation of College Republicans.