If she wanted to stay honest about the legitimacy of the election and about Trump’s election lies, that is.
There is a line of thought according to which Cheney should have been more like Mitch McConnell and just tried to move on. I have always found that possibility unrealistic, for the reason that, as Ramesh notes in his Bloomberg Opinion column, Trump has no interest (in either sense) in fading away. Sure, it’s possible not to respond to every little provocation. But Trump’s campaign to perpetuate demonstrably false conspiracy theories, to maintain that Mike Pence could somehow have thrown out the whole election, to primary and otherwise avenge himself upon elected officials who stood up to him with integrity, etc., is inveterate and continuing.
But the thing is, even if you grant that Republicans might have suffocated Trump by ignoring him, this isn’t what Kevin McCarthy wanted to do. Instead he made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago on January 28, posed for a lovely photo with the former president, and welcomed Trump’s help in taking back the House. McCarthy has also dissembled when asked about January 6, as the editors of NR observe in the current print issue:
On January 6, in the midst of the Capitol Hill riot, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy called President Trump, urging him to use his influence to stop it. McCarthy later repeated to several members of his caucus, including Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, Trump’s initial comment: “Well Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” Sarcastic, belittling, the president tried to wrong-foot a congressional ally about an attack on Congress. Three and a half months later, Fox host Chris Wallace asked McCarthy about the remark. “Is that what President Trump said to you?” McCarthy replied with generalities. But Wallace pressed him: “I’m asking you specifically, did he say to you, ‘I guess these people are more upset’?” “No, listen,” McCarthy answered, “my conversations with the president are my conversations with the president.” If Trump had told McCarthy no such thing, loyalty and honesty would unite and McCarthy would stoutly deny it. His evasion can only mean: Yup, Trump said it. Let the record show.
If Cheney should have acted more like McConnell, McCarthy should have done so first. Instead he helped create a situation in which it became impossible for Cheney to stay on his team while remaining true to her conscience and true to the truth.