It must be disorienting to Liz Cheney to suddenly be persona non grata in the Republican Party. She’s a genuine GOP scion, as the daughter of Dick the Dick and Lynn “censor the rap music” Cheney.
It’s interesting to me that she and Mitt Romney — another scion — are the ones who are most visibly warning the party to back off of Trumpism. Psychologically they would be less vulnerable to the lure of the Trump cult, I would think, since the party belonged to their families before it belonged to Trump. They probably view Trump as an interloper.
Even so, until January 6 Cheney was an eager team player in the Trump drama. She’s been an eager team player in a lot of GOP dramas. Adam Serwer:
During the Obama administration, Cheney was a Fox News regular who, as was the fashion at the time, insisted that the president was secretly sympathetic to jihadists. She enthusiastically defended the use of torture, dismissed the constitutional right to due process as an inconvenience, and amplified the Obama-era campaign to portray American Muslims as a national-security threat.
Until the insurrection, she was a loyal Trumpist who frequently denounced the Democratic Party. “They’ve become the party of anti-Semitism; they’ve become the party of infanticide; they’ve become the party of socialism,” she said in 2019. Her critics now, such as Scalise and the buffoonish Representative Matt Gaetz, formerly gushed over her ability to bring, as the Times put it in 2019, “an edge to Republican messaging that was lacking.”
January 6 and the Big Lie about the election was a line she couldn’t cross with the rest of the party, however. So the crew that incessantly whines about “cancel culture” is canceling her as fast as they can cancel.
Cheney is not just in danger of being ousted from her leadership position in the House. Republicans in Wyoming are also stampeding to get her out of the House altogether. But she’s not backing down. Charles Blow (“Liz Cheney, We Have a Memory. You’re No Hero.“) notes there has been “bad blood between the Trumps and the Cheneys (her father is former Vice President Dick Cheney) that has existed from the time Trump was a candidate in 2016.”
It’s not just bad blood between the Trumps and Cheneys. David Siders writes at Politico that Trump is hunting down the GOP’s leading families.
Trump has reserved a special fury for the scions of the GOP’s leading families in his attempt to exercise full dominion over the Republican Party.
Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee. Even Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCain — who herself has never run for office — has been knocked down, censured by Trump allies who run the state Republican Party in Arizona.
It’s the clearest sign that the modern Republican Party hasn’t just broken with its traditionalist past. It’s shredding every vestige of it.
Trump is still the uncouth kid from Queens who was never accepted into New York’s social elite.
Alayna Treene writes at Axios that Cheney is playing a long game. “In the long term, Cheney thinks her principled stand may not only save the Republican Party but distinguish her as a truth-teller worthy of potentially being president herself one day,” Treene writes. Maybe. I think the old guard — the Bushes, Cheneys et al. and retired Republican patricians like Chuck Hagel and John Danforth — understand that a Republican Party that is nothing but a Trump cult of personality is not sustainable. Liz Cheney, the scion, is still her father’s daughter.
But here’s another thing — the ones standing with Trump refuse to acknowledge that Cheney’s break with Trump is centered on January 6 and Trump’s claim that the election was stolen from him. She has articulated this very clearly. Yet you can read one right-wing opinion piece after another about Liz Cheney and never see a word about the stolen election lie or the insurrection.
House minority speaker Kevin McCarthy “wants to get rid of Cheney so he can refocus on gaining the House majority — and the title of speaker — in 2022,” Treene says. According to McCarthy, Cheney keeps going on about Trump’s impeachment, and McCarthy wants to move on and focus messaging on stopping the Biden agenda.
McCarthy is not alone. Byron York, for example, emphasizes that House Republicans forgave Cheney for voting to impeach Trump but have had it with her because Cheney is continuing to “grandstand” on impeachment. York doesn’t once mention Trump’s dangerous claim that the election was stolen from him. But the Big Lie about the election is the issue Cheney keeps addressing, not impeachment.
You see the same thing in other anti-Cheney rants from the Right. The Big Lie is never mentioned. Breitbart, to which I do not link, went so far as to align Cheney with President Biden and Nancy Pelosi, who “have backed Cheney’s family-like style of big government politics.” I don’t know what that is supposed to mean. I think they were just trying to get “Pelosi,” “big government,” and “Cheney” into the same sentence.
Even the few conservative pundits who do acknowledge that Cheney’s central issue is with Trump’s election theft claims still slam Cheney for not moving on. See, for example, Daniel Flynn at The American Spectator, who refers to Cheney as the House GOP’s “scab-picking conference chair.”
Liz Cheney erred neither in condemning the riot nor in castigating Trump’s Ahab-like obsession over his loss but in remaining stuck in January 6 as the calendar moved on for the rest of us. Cheney’s position that Joe Biden legitimately beat Donald Trump, as readers of this column and the Spectator A.M. newsletter know, found endorsement here back in November. Trump lost by 74 electoral votes, after all, not seven. But that argument took place in the media, in courts, and in Congress more than four months ago. Cheney, perhaps more so than Trump, needs to get over this as a resolved question.
Resolved? So what’s with that farce of an election audit going on in Arizona? What about the polls that show 70 percent of Republicans still don’t believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president? (According to Flynn, Trump’s grievances about the 2020 election are no different from “the Obama administration’s Crossfire Hurricane effort to delegitimize Donald Trump’s election that naturally sowed the seeds for his 2020 bitterness.” He’s still claiming that the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference was just politics.)
So that’s the official party line — we must move on from January 6 (even as Republicans try to rewrite the history of the event) and the Big Lie about the election — still being pushed in many quarters — and just move on. That’s the reason Liz Cheney has to be canceled, because she’s just picking at scabs that have healed already. She is in the way of what should be our “100 percent focus” on stopping Joe Biden. This is not about Donald Trump.
Not so fast, says Greg Sargent, who writes that GOP hopes for the midterms depend on both keeping the Trump base and winning back some educated suburban voters who deserted the GOP in the Trump years. He points to a New York Times report on how the GOP plans to use polarizing cultural issues to paint Democrats as the real extremists, which of course is a trick that has worked well for them in the past. “Republicans are mostly avoiding talking about President Biden’s covid-19 relief bill and plans for big infrastructure investments, because they’re popular,” Sargent writes.
Instead, Republicans are making the midterms all about supposed Democratic plans to pack the Supreme Court, defund the police and open our borders, as well as the Green New Deal, critical race theory and transgender Americans playing school sports.
As the Times reports, Republicans say they will use these issues in part to win back “moderate Republican voters and independents who broke with the party during the Trump years” but have been “alienated” by all this Democratic extremism.
The trick that Republicans will have to pull off is to keep the Trump fires burning brightly for the in-the-tank personality cult base while hiding it where the educated suburbanites don’t see it.
But why might Cheney be complicating this strategy? Because it reveals the radicalization of the Republican Party, in tandem with the GOP base’s continued thraldom to Trump, exactly the figure who drove away those suburbanites in the first place.
Oops. Note that Republican pollster Frank Luntz doesn’t believe the party can pull this off, and that Trump’s Big Lie about the election could cost Republicans next year in the midterms.
So, while most people speaking for the party are trying not to say it out loud, Trump is the basket in which the GOP is piling all of its eggs. And Liz Cheney is not being the least bit irrational when she says this is a bad idea.
It may be that loyalty to Trump combined with voter suppression and too many complacent Democrats will help Republicans in 2022. But there’s no long-term future for a Republican Party that is nothing but a Trump personality cult. There just isn’t. And it’s fascinating to me that so many prominent Republicans don’t see that.
Yesterday I read about a religious cult in Colorado that has been keeping the dead body of their leader in a sleeping bag wrapped with Christmas lights. The leader had been dead for at least a month, possibly several weeks. The followers had believed their guru would lead them into a “fifth dimension,” and her death didn’t seem to discourage them all that much.
I thought the Christmas lights were a nice touch. My point, though, is that people can be brilliant at not seeing the plain truth right in front of them. If one is invested deeply enough in believing in X, it may be that no amount of real-world evidence that X is nonsense will shake that person out of it. You can substitute X with Q if you like.
And the Donald is not going to last forever. When he’s gone, the hollowed-out Republican Party is going to be challenged to remember what it was they were about before Trump came along. Maybe they’ll stuff him into a sleeping bag wrapped with Christmas lights and pretend he’s still there.