There are some basic political strategies that have long been tried and true, obvious among those who make a career out of politics. For example, it has always been fruitful to pounce on an opponent’s brewing scandal, and respond with an earnest “if true, this is deeply disturbing.” It is likewise profitable to cast the opponent’s weaknesses in the worst possible light, as when a harmless wrong answer would lead you to label him a flat-out liar. And it is axiomatic that, when a party is positioned to cash in on an opponents’ obvious vulnerabilities, with control close to your grasp, you put aside intra-party squabbles, close ranks, and unite against a common foe.
The Democrats certainly succeeded in joining their disparate ideological factions under the common banner of searing hatred for Donald Trump. But in as stark a contrast as possible, Never Trump/Lincoln Project Republicans inveighed against Trump endlessly during his White House years, rendering themselves useful idiots for the left. And the events of recent days leave one wondering whether the GOP, needing to pick up just four seats in the House and one in the Senate next year to gain majorities, is even capable of uniting in the face of a country going woke and broke.
It all began with the impeachment vote in the House following the Capitol riot of January 6. The GOP essentially split in two, at least privately, with Trump the focus of outrage on one side, and the third-ranking House Republican Liz Cheney on the other. Not only did Cheney double down on her vote to impeach Trump with statements further inflaming the already infuriated Trump support base, but she has now thrown gas on the raging fire with an op-ed in a prominent Washington newspaper, entitled “The GOP is at a turning point. History is watching us,” in which she referred to the “dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.” She opined: “Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.”
There is little doubt the battle lines are drawn. On one side, Trump and his rabid MAGA followers. On the other, Cheney carrying the water for the de facto Bush 43 wing of the party seeking a return to establishment rule. What Cheney says in her screed is not new, but what spilling out her heart in big box media promises or represents is undeniable: an open, bloody war for control of the party.
Perhaps the daughter of former Vice President Cheney reached the breaking point when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was caught on a hot mic, throwing her under the bus. “I think she’s got real problems,” McCarthy said off-air prior to a Fox News interview. “I’ve had it with her. You know, I’ve lost confidence.” On the matter of a vote to remove her from the House leadership, he added “Well, someone just has to bring a motion, but I assume that will probably take place.”
Indeed, Cheney is likely to be voted out of her high-ranking position in the coming days, but that promises to make the problem even worse, considering the rather transparent statements of Trump in recent days signaling he will run again in 2024. How could the party reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable differences between those who view Trump as a hero and those who think the opposite?
The Cheney/McCarthy/Mitch McConnell wing of the GOP certainly has the power to seize effective control of the party. But how much will that control be worth if the GOP is so fractured that Lincoln Project types are still gratuitously attacking Trump – and, by clear inference, his supporters – six months after he left office? Will the voters with no party loyalty who were drawn out of the woodwork by Trump – the dispossessed who had all but given up on the political process – be inspired to show up at the polls next year?
It all boils down to one simple question with an undoubtedly convoluted answer: Would Trump and his legion, or Liz Cheney and company, rather be right, or win? “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” says Cheney. But if Democrats are allowed to continue their control of Congress past 2022 – because the GOP refuses to unite – none of her grand rhetoric will matter.
Read more from Tim Donner.