Is Liz Cheney’s campaign to return the Republican Party to its pre-Trump days a lost cause?
THE LIZ CHENEY CONTROVERSY… The lone cowgirl of Wyoming.
Political analysts have speculated about the Republican Party’s future ever since President Trump’s defeat in November, and despite several high-profile events since then, not much has changed up top in the “Grand Old Party.”
However, things took a turn on Wednesday when the Party removed Representative Liz Cheney from the third-highest Republican leadership position in the House, Chair of the House Republican Conference. Cheney has positioned herself as one of Trump’s biggest critics after the former president’s repeated claims that the 2020 election results were fraudulent.
While Trump critics had been sidelined and marginalized during a Trump presidency with plenty of turnovers, Cheney’s outing marked the first time after the election that the party decided to remove a Trump critic from a prominent position.
The decision sparked a furor in the media as many outlets argue Cheney was pushed out of her role for defending democratic principles, a message Cheney has attempted to curate.
As the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, it’s not exactly a surprise that she has been the one to seek out a break with the Trump wing of the party. The Bush-Cheney apparatus of the party has never fully got along with the burgeoning Trump political dynasty.
With that said, the Bush-Cheney wing mostly refrained from leveling too much criticism against Trump until after he failed to be reelected. President George W. Bush did not endorse Trump in 2016 or 2020, and he told reporters he wrote in Condoleezza Rice for President in 2020.
Nonetheless, the Republican Party’s most recent move has analysts speculating on the future demise of the GOP, especially considering Trump’s diminished presence online and in the news considering his ban from Twitter.
Is the Republican Party at the end of its road, or is this just a temporary power struggle?
Who is Liz Cheney?
Representative Liz Cheney was elected to the House from Wyoming, the same year as Trump won the election to the White House. While she has opposed Trump after the 2020 presidential election, she is still an arch-conservative who voted in line with Trump’s position on issues 93% during his tenure in office, a fairly standard amount for a Republican in that timeframe.
In many ways, Liz Cheney carries on the mantle from her father, representing hawkish foreign policy and a stringent small government bent. Much like other prominent Trump opponents, including the two Republican presidential candidates before Trump, late Senator John McCain, and current Senator Mitt Romney, Cheney is certainly not a moderate.
And now a bit about the young Republican woman from upstate New York who has replaced Liz Cheney as conference chair: Elise Stefanik. Surely, her conservative voting is equal to that of Liz Cheney’s, right? Wrong. In the last session of Congress, Club for Growth, an organization that advocates for free enterprise and lower taxes, gave Liz Cheney a score of 65% (meaning she voted their position 65% of the time); Stefanik’s score was only 40%. In fact, Stefanik’s score was much closer to Ilhan Omar’s score of 38% than to Cheney’s! But Stefanik displayed something even more important to today’s Republican voters than conservative bonafides — her absolute devotion to Donald Trump. Loyalty is the new litmus test. A gifted and nimble politician, we’ll be watching what’s next for her.
Thus, the current battle within the Republican Party is not exactly ideological, more so it is about what public-facing course the party wants to pursue and what they should do about the cult of personality around Donald Trump.
For example, while the Biden Administration is pushing for a tax increase on corporations and high earners, the Republicans in Congress are holding firm. There is little disagreement on pro-business policies within the splintering Republican groups.
In fact, Republicans would be likely to gain some more conservative Democrats in Congress who are wary of Biden’s push for tax increases.
Anti-Trump, Pro-Trump, and everything in between, the feuding factions within the Republican Party are united on core points surrounding the biggest issues for the party, the economy.
But with the removal of Cheney and the many uncertainties surrounding the political future of Donald Trump, rumors will continue to swirl as to the possible break-up of the Republican political elite.
On the national stage, some Republicans have made moves that suggest they could be looking to take a break from their party. Representative Adam Kinzinger raised $1.1 million for his anti-Trump PAC, Country First.
The name of the PAC is a jab at Trump, one that Cheney has made herself suggesting that Republicans should not swear an allegiance to any individual.
But, is there reason to expect the Republican base to fracture over this continued power struggle?
As the coronavirus situation has improved and states inch closer to a full return to the pre-pandemic economy, many Democrats are thus far content with the Biden Administration. But President Biden has failed to convince many Republican voters with recent polling showing less than 10% of Republicans giving President Biden a “B” grade or higher.
Despite the 2020 presidential loss, botched coronavirus response, and the Capitol Hill storming, most Republican leaders are still making political calculations that prioritize appealing to the Trump base. And with all of these negative factors considered, the former president still enjoys great support from Republican voters.
Recipe for Disaster
Perhaps more likely than Liz Cheney or other Trump critics fully reasserting power in the Republican Party is the prospect of the Republican Party’s half-in, half-out appeal to Trump voters blowing up in its face.
Right now, the Republican Party is quite confident in its ability to win big in the 2022 midterm election, and there is plenty of political analysis that predicts big losses for the Democrats.
The Republicans are likely to profit from the usual downturn for a newly-elected President’s party in the first midterm election. And if the Democrats are unable to get their act together, a likelihood as the Party struggles to control Democratic Senators like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the Republicans’ strategy could be largely irrelevant.
But Republicans still walk a tightrope when it comes to distancing themselves from Trump as they risk alienating some of the Party’s most fervent voters.
With the departure of Cheney, the strategy seems to be quashing dissent against the Trump wing of the Party without relying on Trump’s unique political charisma to attract voters. Whether it be Josh Hawley, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio, no Republican has really found the opportunity to take over the Party, and that might not be the case until 2024.
It is in this power vacuum that there remains some possibility for either a hostile takeover of the party or an attempt to create a third party. From our current vantage point, the most likely candidate to start a threatening third party to the Republican Party is Donald Trump himself.
In a poll taken after Trump’s second impeachment trial, nearly half of Republican voters polled said they would abandon the Republican Party and join a Trump third party if he established one. Furthermore, 82% of Republican voters still hold a favorable view of Donald Trump, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll.
And likely for this exact reason, the GOP has largely kowtowed to the interests of the former President.
With the GOP following the path of least resistance to Trump, there has been some noise from Republicans of a third party.
In a threat to their current party, over 100 Republican lawmakers and officials signed a letter stating their intent to “either reimagine a party dedicated to our founding ideals or else hasten the creation of such an alternative.”
Jason Miller, a spokesman for President Trump, tweeted in response to the letter, “these losers left the Republican Party when they voted for Joe Biden.”
The two most prominent names on the list are Evan McMullin, an independent who ran for President in 2016 and won 21.5% of the vote in Utah, and Miles Taylor, a former Trump administration official known for anonymously criticizing Trump while serving in the White House.
The pair might not be the pair to bring down the Republican Party, but it displays a growing rift that is just beginning to crack. It also represents an opportunity for third parties to capture bigger voices and attract a bigger constituency.