Our Best Stuff From a Contentious Week for the GOP
The party appears to be set on removing Liz Cheney from her leadership position.
A few days after the storming of the Capitol, my husband and I were rehashing the events of the day and talking about the fallout. “I’m not really sure the GOP can survive this,” I remember telling him. That day was surreal. I can still picture the police officer who was stuck in a door frame as rioters seemingly tried to crush him, and I can hear the eerie chants of “Hang Mike Pence.” And when it was all over, some GOP lawmakers stepped over broken glass and other detritus from the riot to vote to challenge the official results from Arizona and Pennsylvania. The push that led to those electoral challenges might have been performative theater by Sens. Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and others, but so many Americans had traveled to the Capitol that day truly believing that the election had been stolen and Congress would overturn the results.
In the weeks that followed, there were a few bright spots. Liz Cheney and nine other House Republicans voted to impeach Trump. Seven Republican senators voted to convict. Cheney subsequently survived a vote to remove her from her position as chair of the House Republican Conference. Donald Trump settled in at Mar a Lago and, without his Twitter account, was reduced to releasing brief statements, often in the neighborhood of Twitter’s 280-character limit, complaining about the elections and the Republicans who didn’t support him.
This week was much different. On Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was caught in a recording of an off-air conversation saying he’d lost confidence in Cheney. McCarthy’s deputy, Rep. Steve Scalise, endorsed a proposed replacement. Cheney penned a fiery op-ed for the Washington Post warning that “history is watching us.” By the end of the week, the House GOP conference had planned a vote to remove Cheney for next week—one she’ll almost certainly lose.
This is all happening against a backdrop of the Ohio GOP censuring Rep. Anthony Gonzalez and others (not even from Ohio) who voted for impeachment, Donald Trump attacking Mike Pence and Sen. Mitch McConnell while issuing statements on his new website that recycle long-debunked claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election, and the Arizona State Senate conducting an “audit” of 2 million votes in Maricopa County in a last, last, last, last ditch effort to … what, exactly? Overturn the election? It feels more than a little bit like an existential crisis.
The Cheney-McCarthy feud prompted more than a few pieces in The Dispatch this week, and I highlight those down below. So I don’t need to rehash all of it here. But the future of the GOP again seems shaky. Cheney critics have been making the point all week that she should be ousted from a leadership position because her views and actions no longer reflect the priorities of the party. That says a heck of a lot about the GOP, none of it encouraging.
What has transpired the last few months (and the last few years before that) makes me less emotional about the fate of the GOP itself. But I care enough about what I believe in as a conservative to wish that we had a strong and vibrant party that promoted conservative values and was represented by smart and hardworking lawmakers who offered strong counterpoints and good-faith arguments against what the other side is doing.
I spent a good chunk of my career in newsrooms where I was the odd one out. The first six or so years were in sportswriting, and—this might surprise you—even sportswriters are pretty liberal. But I learned something really important in those years, especially after the bursting of the dot-com bubble ended my sportswriting career and I landed at Slate, which at the time was a pretty neoliberal publication with a contrarian bent.
Once I felt comfortable speaking out and jumping into office debates, I learned something important. Well, a lot of important things. But I realized that engaging in debate with someone who was smart and logical but who happened to disagree with me strengthened my own arguments. And sometimes, my good points would encourage others to moderate their own opinions. They would make valid points. And so I would respond carefully, looking up data points that backed my view, or poking (gently) a hole in something the other person said. No one got angry. At least usually.
The same elements that promote healthy debate among individuals, or staffers at politically oriented publications, or think-tank panel discussions can also make our government function better. It’s easy to joke that political dysfunction means that “at least Congress is spending less of my money this way,” but looking at what goes on in Congress today, it’s also a bad joke.
While the Democrats try to push through pricey spending packages (trillion being the new billion), Republicans have been busy raising money off Dr. Seuss, complaining about “Big Tech censorship” (often on Twitter), and trying (but failing) to organize a congressional caucus to promote “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”
We would have a better government if the two major parties (one could argue we should have more parties or cite George Washington’s warning about parties in general, but this is our reality) could serve as moderating checks on each other. We actually got a hint of how that could work with infrastructure: President Joe Biden introduced a $2 trillion “infrastructure” package that spends more on health care for the elderly than roads and bridges, and Senate Republicans responded with a leaner proposal, for $568 billion that focused on—get this—infrastructure.
But right now, the number of Republicans who are focused on pushing back against the Biden administration’s ambitious spending plans are outnumbered and overshadowed by unserious and contemptible figures like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz.
It’s impossible to say whether the fight over Cheney represents a fissure that will grow until the party is completely broken, or a sign that the party is shifting in a direction such that conservative values don’t matter anymore. But both of those right now seem more likely than the chance that the GOP will come out of the current moment more serious, more functional, and better able to serve as a check on Democratic ambitions.
Now, here’s the best of our stuff on the fate of the GOP.
At some point after the election, and after the storming of the Capitol, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had a decision to make. Early on, after those events, he said on the House floor that Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.” He supported Liz Cheney after she survived the vote to remove her from GOP leadership. But then he apparently decided that the best way to become speaker of the House if the GOP were to take control in 2022 would be to (figuratively) kiss the ring. He went to Mar a Lago to meet with Trump. He ignored the problems created by the fringey elements of the GOP like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorne, and Matt Gaetz. And here we are. In a well-reported piece on the site, Steve sums it all up succinctly: “McCarthy is moving to push Cheney out of her leadership position for saying in May what he’d said repeatedly himself months before. McCarthy knows that Trump is lying about the election. He knows that Cheney is telling the truth. And he’s choosing Trump anyway.”
Now that it’s all but a foregone conclusion that Cheney will be ousted when the House GOP Caucus meets Wednesday, it’s useful to look at the woman most likely to replace her. In Uphill, Haley has the details of Elise Stefanik’s evolution from a moderate who sought to bring more women into the GOP to a vocal Trump supporter. Stefanik represents New York’s 21st District, an area that has turned deep red since Trump ran for president in 2016. Stefanik and Cheney could hardly be more different. Stefanik “voted for the GOP objection to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College results after Trump supporters attacked the Capitol on January 6. And in a floor speech, she amplified baseless conspiracies about the election, alleging widespread fraud in Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin. At one point she falsely claimed that ‘more than 140,000 votes came from underage, deceased, and otherwise unauthorized voters in Fulton County alone.’ That would be more than 25 percent of the votes cast in Fulton County.”
David tackles a very sensitive topic in his Friday French Press (🔐 ) : Are voters themselves part of the problem with the GOP? He has plenty of criticism of the party’s elite, those who “have stood shamefully silent as they watched a few brave Republicans—men like Mitt Romney and women like Liz Cheney—directly confront the former president.” But he argues those elites are merely giving voters what they want. “Put simply, the Republican base is often unhinged, increasingly radicalized, and intolerant of dissent. The evidence is just everywhere. Are state parties speaking openly about secession? Yep. Are election ‘auditors’ in Arizona really looking for bamboo fibers on ballots to investigate a wild conspiracy theory? Yep. Are Michigan state house Republicans welcoming Naomi Wolf’s thoughts on ‘vaccine passports’? Yep. Does Lin Wood, lunatic conspiracy theorist, really have a whopping 846,000 followers on the messaging app Telegram? He does indeed.”
Cheney critics keep making the point that she wouldn’t have so many problems if she would JUST. MOVE. ON. from talking about Donald Trump and the events of January 6. The media keep asking her about the election, and she sticks to her guns that it wasn’t stolen. Jonah pushes back against this, reminding everyone that there is someone else who won’t move on from the election, and just maybe he’s the real problem. You know who we mean. “Indeed, he’s still peddling the lie that the election was stolen from him. He’s not doing this for the party. He’s certainly not doing this for conservatism or the country. He’s doing this because his lizard-brain narcissism cannot process the idea that he lost, and because he has long believed that whining is a winning strategy.”
OK, we did actually cover some other news this week. Here’s what you might have missed.
The Virginia GOP is having a convention to nominate a candidate for governor this weekend, and Audrey attended a rally for Pete Snyder that was straight out of the MAGA playbook. “‘Friends, are you excited about meeting Sarah Huckabee Sanders or what?’ conservative commentator Martha Boneta yelled at the crowd. ‘Friends, how many of you wish that Donald J. Trump was in the White House right now?’
Admit it: You haven’t spent much time worried about the geopolitics of the Arctic region, have you? Luckily, Charlotte has. She points out how Russia in particular and China (to a lesser degree) are both hoping that we aren’t paying attention.
Now that more Americans are getting vaccinated, how do we decide what’s safe and how people should interact. Vaccine “passports” might free up the fully immune to go back to normal, but they come with heavy baggage about privacy rights and equity. It makes sense then that some GOP governors are working to keep them from becoming policy in their state. But others are going farther and preventing businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. That’s not exactly free-market thinking. Andrew investigates.
The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law sought to make our politics better by putting limits on campaign contributions. It’s safe to say it hasn’t. But how so? Sarah has a fascinating item in The Sweep about unintended consequences. Read the whole thing to see how it’s led to a situation in which “candidates are best served by stoking the outrage by doubling down on the culture war on both sides.”
On the pods: Well, we didn’t have any former presidents dropping by for a chat, but it was still a pretty good week. This was actually the last week of oral arguments for this Supreme Court term, and David and Sarah cover it all in Advisory Opinions. On The Dispatch Podcast, both episodes focused on the House leadership fight and Liz Cheney. Do you ever check out Jonah’s solo weekend podcast episodes, which we affectionately call Ruminants? This week he reflects on Liz Cheney and Josh Hawley from very different perspectives.