Our leaders are smarter than they act. Most of them are not stupid. Stupid people could not have made it into the top leadership ranks.
Consider senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. Both are intelligent and well-educated. Cruz graduated from the Harvard Law School. Hawley went to the Yale Law School and then clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts, a high honor.
They couldn't really think the presidential election was stolen. So why did they vote to repudiate the challenged electoral votes?
Both have presidential ambitions. They know that an enthusiastic minority of voters are presently in Donald Trump's pocket. Capturing the Republican nomination would be impossible if these voters maintain their Trumpian enthusiasm and vote as a bloc against them in primary elections.
Cruz and Hawley knew that efforts to derail Biden would fail. But their votes might improve their own political chances.
Cruz and Hawley knew that efforts to derail Biden would fail. But their votes might improve their own political chances. Their actions were crazy, but they were crazy like the proverbial fox.
Unfortunately Hawley, at least, talked legal nonsense, claiming that Pennsylvania's election law, upheld by the state supreme court, violated the state constitution. But as a well-trained lawyer, Hawley knows that ultimate power to interpret a state constitution lies with that state's courts.
Leaders' sensitivity to public opinion, in moderation, is good. But problems arise when a substantial part of the public has been bamboozled by a charismatic demagogue.
Donald Trump's continuous attacks on the "lying press," combined with his 20,000-some documented presidential lies, have created a subset of public opinion which occupies an imaginary universe filled with "alternative facts." And internet news sources can reinforce "confirmation bias" by not reporting information or perspectives contradicting what their audience wants to believe.
Historical perspective: Adolf Hitler repeatedly warned Germans against the lügenpresse (lying press) and called his opponents "enemies of the people." Hitler said that people were more likely to believe big lies because most people tell little lies once in a while but couldn't imagine telling big ones.
Most Trump lies were not big ones---"more people attended my inauguration!"-- but perhaps their quantity made up for their pettiness. When he finally tried to pull off a really big lie ( that he won the 2020 election overwhelmingly in all the states!) quite a few people believed him but not enough to let him get away with retaining the White House.
To their credit, Republican officials in Georgia and elsewhere and even judges appointed by Trump contradicted his claims that the election was "rigged."
Vice President Mike Pence may deserve the most credit for saving the Constitution. His motives for agreeing to run with Trump in 2016 have been debated, but his behavior on January 6 supports the theory that they were public-spirited.
Up until recently Pence had played the standard role of a veep, loyally supporting the President and perhaps even overdoing it in his praise. But when the crunch came he behaved honorably and followed the Constitution, traditions, and norms defining our political system.
If Pence had refused to run with Trump in 2016 and Trump picked someone like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley as his running mate, would they have acted as honorably as Pence did on January 6?
Successful politicians usually make some compromises with their principles if they want to get or retain a position where they think they can do some good. Pence certainly compromised by associating himself with someone whose personal behavior he must have despised.
But good leaders must draw the line when compromises outweigh the good they could do by achieving or remaining in office. In behaving honorably despite rioters' threats to lynch him, Pence may have blown any chance to be elected president someday.
But he could go down in history as an honest man and a true patriot.