For months now, much of the political media has framed the animosity between Liz Cheney and other prominent Republicans as a proxy battle for the soul of the GOP. The party is “fractured,” the narrative goes — beset by “infighting” and in the throes of an“identitycrisis” following Donald Trump’s November loss and the Capitol Hill riot he instigated in January. “The growing gulf between Cheney and [House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy],”Politicoreported after a Republican retreat in Orlando last month, “is emblematic of the broader split in the party right now over the former president.”
It is tempting to regard the hostilities between Cheney — who has stood firm in condemning the pro-Trump insurrection and the election fraud lies that helped inspire it — and the Republicans who are seeking to ouster her from her House leadership role for it as reflective of some larger divide. But this is an overly sunny reading of the row, one that suggests the MAGA wing has yet to fully conquer the party. The unhappy truth, though, is that the Republican Civil War is over: Trump won.
This isn’t to suggest that Cheney is the only Republican seeking to move the party forward from Trump — or, perhaps, to where it was before he descended that golden escalator in 2015. There’s Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Mitt Romney of Utah, and a smattering of others who have taken high-profile stands against the former president and cast votes earlier this year to impeach him. But the fact that those names are so easily conjured to mind underscores just how few of them there are, and how outnumbered they are by those still devoted to Trump.
Just 17 GOP lawmakers —10 in the House and seven in the Senate — voted to impeach Trump in response to the deadly riot he inspired in January. By contrast, 147 Republicans cast votes seeking to overturn Joe Biden’s victory January 6 — mere hours after armed rioters stalked the halls of their workplace, some apparently with designs on executing Mike Pence for declining to throw out the election results himself. Some of those same lawmakers issued statements condemning the violence at the Capitol, with McCarthy even calling for Trump to “accept his share of responsibility” for what transpired during a speech on the House floor at the time. But like his colleagues, he quickly reversed, telling the press that he didn’t believe Trump “provoked” the attack, bowing down to the ex-president at Mar-a-Lago, and eventually joining with the most extreme members of his party in trying to rewrite the history of January 6: “[Trump] didn’t see it,” McCarthy claimed to Fox News’ Chris Wallace last month, referring to the attack. “I engaged in the idea of making sure we could stop what was going on inside the Capitol at that moment in time… The president said he would help.”
For a while, McCarthy tried to haveit both ways — feeding the monster while keeping it from devouring Cheney and others who refuse to indulge the lies of Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene. But it seems he is tiring of the balancing act. “I’ve had it with her,” McCarthy said of the third-ranking House Republican in an off-airexchange with Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy that was caught on a hot-mic. “I’ve lost confidence,” he added, suggesting a motion to remove her from her leadership role was imminent.
Relieving her of her post, as the Republican Whip Steve Scalise has now endorsed, would turn off more traditional Republicans like Romney, who implied in a tweet Tuesday that he could leave the party if it punishes Cheney because she “refuses to lie” about the 2020 election results. But polls suggest that the vast majority of the GOP base would be more than happy to see her gone, with 70 percent of GOP voters in a recent CNN survey saying they do not believe Biden legitimately defeated Trump compared with just 23 percent who do.
From its leadership to its voters, the GOP is far less divided than the narratives about a “skirmish” between members suggest, and it is vital that the American political media better recognizes that fact. To fail to do so is to give false hope that the party, in its current iteration, can be saved from Trumpism — and to give cover to those who are trying to push it further down the path of extremism.
Some seem to be coming around. “Why should I put any of them on TV?” CNN’s Jake Tapper said of Republican Big Lie proponents Tuesday. But too many continue to dismiss this party’s radicalization as mere growing pains.
“It’s going to take us a few years to sort out who we are, what do we believe,” former House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week. It is comforting to think that. But the reality is that Republicans have already shown us who they are. Cheney callingout her undemocratic colleagues this week was not yet another salvo in the battle for her party’s soul, but a raging against the dying of the light.