Last week, when seven male members of the House Republican Conference ganged up on the sole female member of their leadership—Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney—for supporting President Trump in a manner they deemed insufficiently unstinting, unwavering, and unthinking, they kicked off a new front in the fight to define the future of the Republican Party in the post-Trump era, an era they clearly worry will begin quite soon.
The polls are grim for the president’s re-election, and the Trumpiest of the Trumpsters seem to think that their future standing in the party will be determined not by whether he loses in the fall, but by how they spin it. They need to be able to blame anyone and anything other than President Trump himself, so they are creating a straw man argument that he is being stabbed in the back by a fifth column of disloyal Republicans rather than by his own words and actions.
It’s worth noting that internecine struggles among House Republicans are nothing new, but they have usually been about policy differences: banning earmarks, cutting government spending, reforming entitlements. The display by Reps. Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan and others was pure schoolyard stuff: When you’re with Trump, you’re with Trump all the way. No exceptions. It’s also worth noting that some of the post-hoc claims by Trump supporters that the real issue was that Cheney backed a primary challenger to Rep. Tom Massie were obviously bunk (one of Cheney’s antagonists literally tweeted “Trump v Cheney” to describe his view of the dust-up).
If President Trump loses to former Vice President Biden in November, the obvious conclusion will be that he badly bungled the only issue that matters: the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout. His response, which has featured quack medicine, happy talk, and passing the buck, was simply unequal to a presidential-level test of his leadership.