WHY LIZ CHENEY MUST LOOK AHEAD
It is May 19th and Liz Cheney has been set free. Last week the Republican caucus in the House led by Kevin McCarthy voted by voice vote to remove her from her third ranked position among House Republicans. That does not mean that she leaves the House. She will still be a member. It does mean that she can henceforth speak freely as an individual member unencumbered by her official position in the leadership. The Republican Conference has created a great conservative Republican martyr because of an issue, the real outcome of the 2020 presidential election, about which they are absolutely vulnerable.
During the coming weeks the talking heads are going to constantly ruminate about the possibility that the old Republican Party will fade into a new Party of Trump. The followers of Trump, they will say, completely control the machinery of the party. The only alternative may be for more traditional Republicans to create a new Republican Party based on modernized conservative principles. Should that happen, there leading the pack, could be the farsighted forceful honest Liz Cheney riding on a metaphorical white horse from real horse country; Wyoming.
Well, maybe! There are several problems with all this. One is the assumption that Donald Trump, the political pied piper from Mar-A-Lago, is really going to be the huge factor in the 2022 congressional elections that Republican members of congress imagine that he will. Trump certainly is popular with a certain class of authoritarian voter, including many evangelicals. But he is very unpopular with almost everyone else and there is no reason to believe that his popularity is going to grow. In fact, Republican actives have been trying to conceal just how unpopular he is.
Trump’s very limited popularity creates another problem for Republicans. Members the House and the Senate are nominated by party elections (primaries). The number of voters who come out to vote (usually in August) is small. Enthusiasts, guided by Donald Trump, should be able to flood local primary voting and to nominate their real choices. And, therein lies a problem: Their real choices may not be able to win in the regular November election when much larger numbers come out to vote. In that case the unpopular Trump’s desire for completely loyal candidates could be a real killer.
If things look a bit gloomy for Donald Trump and his loyalists, a real question is whether a reviving traditional Republican Party could do any better. Liz Cheney is the subject of admiring stories because she is willing to stand up to the clearly vulnerable Trump. That does not mean that her desire to return to the politics of the Herbert Hoover administration is going to be very attractive to modern voters. After several years of Joe Biden’s effort to create modern programs able to be genuinely helpful to ordinary voters, honest small government conservatism may not be so attractive.
Let us assume that there really is a political market for a political party that is an alternative to the Democrats. Remember that our political parties are really pyramids whose various levels are only very partially connected. A blind man touching the Republican elephant might not understand how disconnected the parts of that unseen elephant are.
At the bottom of those pyramids are people at the township and the county level who hold office as a kind of permanent leadership class. Republicans tend to be strong at that level because of their concentration on very straight forward physical problems (Do we pave five local roads this year or not?). In a revived traditional Republican Party they should do fine. They could simply continue as they are.
The parties’ political life at the state level is centered on each state’s legislature. Those people, selected in primaries, also run their campaigns with their own primary campaign workers. From there they have very little upward mobility. Elected members of both the federal House and Senate, once in office, seldom are defeated and seldom voluntarily leave office. That means that members of state legislatures are really locked in place. They can’t count on moving up. Right now, some are attaching themselves to the Trump movement hoping it will make them more upwardly mobile but most will have to be satisfied with a political career at the state level. That will continue.
Higher on the pyramid, and really entirely separate from the political world of state legislatures, are the federal House and Senate meeting in that grand marble temple of democracy in Washington. Here a great many Republican members are trying to survive by showing fealty to Donald Trump. They have drunk the metaphorical Kool-Aid. They are betting that it is worth transparently lying about the 2020 election in order to gain the loyalty of Donald Trump’s fired up voters.
Despite the tenacity of Trump’s angry voters the reality is that his movement may falter. It is difficult to win a majority of voters without offering any program at all when the opposition is in the process of enacting one. And, the attachment to Trump may decline as he becomes entangled more and more in his own legal problems.
That means that in all three levels of government a more traditional assertive conservatism may emerge. Liz Cheney should be ready to actively take part. Her problem may be that her kind of conservatism will continue to play well in Wyoming but not elsewhere. To compete with the emerging Democratic programs the Republican survivors will have to rethink what they are offering. It should become increasingly obvious to many Republicans that their elected office holders have been offering voters almost nothing.
Republicans, including Liz Cheney, will learn that the world has gone on. They will have to find a way to join it.
H.J. Rishel 5/17/2021