The Meaning of Liz Cheney

Text, subtext, and more….

What does it mean for the Republican Party to be the Trump Party?

Can Republicans take back the majority in 2022 in the House – and maybe the Senate – as the Trump Party?

There is one school of thought that says the second question has little to do with the first question – that the history of big losses for an incumbent president’s party in midterm elections and the narrow Democratic margins on Capitol Hill mean Speaker Pelosi has her gavel on borrowed time.

Indeed, both the New York Times and Politico have stories rounding up the recent developments and trends that suggest the Democrats are destined to lose the majority in 2022.

And, double indeedy, even in the Dominant Media there is at least a slight turn in the “Biden Triumphant” narrative, which has been running now for several weeks and keys, in part, on the president’s approval ratings (which, as far as we know, remain stable).

Now you can see in the overall coverage a shift, with highlighters on lurking questions, errors, or highly unfinished business on a range of matters, including immigration, crime, vaccine distribution, the role of teachers unions in school schedules, taxes, spending, Russia/China/Iran/North Korea, etc.

There’s also an increased sense inside senior Democratic circles that going down the reconciliation path for $4 trillion in more spending might have a worse outcome than simply the end of any prospect for bipartisan compromise – that Team Biden-Harris-Klain-Pelosi-Schumer might not actually be able to corral the necessary all-Democratic votes to muscle through a consensus package (or two).

What could perhaps rescue the Biden presidency (if it needs rescuing….) is the man who helped elect the Delawarean in the first place.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, the one, the only, Donald John Trump.

With Facebook poised Wednesday to weigh in on the former president’s return to their international town square, Trump is as front and center in the eyes of the nation as he’s been in quite a while, primarily because of the efforts by House Republicans to remove Representative Liz Cheney from her leadership position largely because she demonstrates insufficient fealty to Trump and his false insistence that the election was stolen from him.

La Liz’s principled drama will dominant the Gang of 500 and the jousty Capitol Hill media Wednesday, to be sure.

(Although as of the dawn, the Washington Post homepage editor seemed out-of-step uninterested:

)

Mostly, though expect every twist and turn in the banishment effort to be breathlessly chronicled:

As an inside story, this one is going to be epic.

Take, for example, Byron York’s clever and well-informed scorecarding:

LIZ CHENEY'S GAME. What is House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney thinking? Is she trying to deliver tough love to the GOP's most ardent supporters of former President Donald Trump? Is she trying to administer bad-tasting-but-needed medicine to her party? Is she trying to curry favor with media opinion-makers? Is she trying to position herself for some big political move in the next year or so? None of that is really clear at this moment…..

When it comes to the presidential election, in the conversation inside the Republican Party, one could say, "No, I don't believe the election was stolen. I approached the question with an open mind, but there was simply never enough evidence to show that massive fraud occurred. I've looked at it. The former president had a chance to present his case in court after court and never produced enough evidence to win. I know he doesn't accept the result, but it's time to move on, even as we appreciate all the accomplishments of the Trump administration."

That's a bit different in tone from Cheney's BIG LIE approach. So it's no wonder that her manner grates on so many Republicans. Does that mean that the House GOP should boot her from her leadership position? That's a question for the other leaders to answer, based on their assessment of what Cheney is up to. She has been ham-fisted before -- remember when, as a neophyte, she tried to use the strength of her last name to push veteran Wyoming Republican Senator Mike Enzi out a race for re-election? Perhaps she's just being ham-fisted again. Or perhaps she's got something else going on. That's why it's important for Republicans to know what Cheney's game is.

The New York Times rounds up the latest, while the Wall Street Journal editorial board denounces (but surprisingly mildly) the efforts to replace Cheney.

The conventional wisdom is currently both wise and conventional – that when the vote comes soon, Cheney will lose her slot, which will be widely and correctly viewed as a victory for Trump.

Which brings us back to the more important questions than if Cheney survives: Is it in the interest of the Republican Party and/or the conservative movement to have the GOP reaffirm its posture as the Trump Party?

If you are Bill Barr or Rudy Giuliani, this current moment is a reminder that not everything (or everyone) Donald Trump touches turns to gold.

Tom Friedman nicely explains the stakes for America and the Republicans of a Trump return:

Under Trump’s command and control from Mar-a-Largo, and with the complicity of most of his party’s leaders, that Big Lie — that the greatest election in our history, when more Republicans and Democrats voted than ever before, in the midst of a pandemic, must have been rigged because Trump lost — has metastasized. It’s being embraced by a solid majority of elected Republicans and ordinary party members — local, state and national….

To be a leader in today’s G.O.P. you either have to play dumb or be dumb on the central issue facing our Republic: the integrity of our election. You have to accept everything that Trump has said about the election — without a shred of evidence — and ignore everything his own attorney general, F.B.I. director and election security director said — based on the evidence — that there was no substantive fraud.

What kind of deformed party will such a dynamic produce? A party so willing to be marinated in such a baldfaced lie will lie about anything, including who wins the next election and every one after that.

And on the same page, in the day’s only essential read, Ross Douthat breaks all ties and explains why, in the short term, Joe Biden is delighted to have his predecessor elevated back onto the stage:

[Richard] Hanania argues that it’s not simply that the millennials and Gen Z are more liberal, or that the Democrats are the professional-class party and so liberalism dominates the professional spheres. These tilts are real, but there are still enough conservative-leaning consumers, enough young and wealthy and well-educated Republicans, to create incentives for institutions to be apolitical or politically neutral.

The key difference, he argues, isn’t sheer numbers but engagement, intensity and zeal. Liberals lately seem to just care a lot more about politics: They donate more, they protest more, they agitate more, in ways that change the incentives for public-facing institutions. Some of these gaps are longstanding, but others have opened only recently, with 2016 as the crucial turning point. That was the year when “the mobilization gap exploded,” creating irresistible pressure “from both within and outside corporations for them to take a stand on almost all hot button issues.”

Why 2016? Well, probably because of Donald Trump: In Hanania’s data, his nomination and election looks like the great accelerant, with anti-Trump backlash driving liberal hyper-investment in politics to new heights, enabling progressives to achieve “true mass mobilization in a way conservatives never have in the modern era.” That mobilization has consolidated progressive norms in almost every institution susceptible to pressure from activists (or activist-employees), and it’s pulled the entire American establishment leftward, so that conservatives are suddenly at war with Major League Baseball and Coca-Cola instead of just Harvard and the Ford Foundation, and the custodians of the national security state are eager to prove their enlightenment by speaking in the argot of the academic left.

The Cheney soap opera has a ways to go.  With the exception of Mitt Romney and a few other brave souls, not too many of the party’s anti-Trump voices have risen up to pre-game what the fall of Liz Cheney means for the heart, for the soul, for the short-term present, and for long-term future of the Republican Party.

I can’t tell you what role Donald Trump will play in defining the Republican brand this week, next week, or next year.

What I can tell you is that the reaffirmation of the supremacy of Donald Trump within his party via the Cheney situation is seen by the Gang of 500 as

1. Both good and bad news for Joe Biden. (but more good than bad)

2. Both good and bad news for the Republican Party. (but way more bad than good)

3. Bad for the United States of America.

4. Good for the news business.

In this case, the Gang gets it about 85% correct.

Pending: What does Cheney say and do on her behalf now that the entire House leadership has turned against her; what does Mitch McConnell say; what do Republican House moderates say; and what do polls show about Trump’s standing within the grassroots of the party?

On that last point, there is little doubt.

As Joe Biden says, this is not your father’s Republican Party.

It is also not Liz Cheney’s father’s Republican Party, and it won’t be anytime soon.

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Correction (of sorts): 

For the many of you who believe I accidently misspelled “Perdue” yesterday in writing about the university headed by Mitch Daniels, all I can say is that I regret that you didn’t get the joke.

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