In showing the Wyoming Congresswoman, Liz Cheney, the door in the House of Representatives, Republicans belonging to the Donald Trump cult movement perhaps did not realize that they had bitten off more than they could chew.
For her part, Cheney has not been humiliated or humbled, only that this particular group within the Republican Party, also known as the Grand Old Party (GOP), has given her more exposure than she had aspired for and for all the wrong reasons. On repeated occasions Cheney had made the point that she was not against the former President; only against his repeated lies about the 2020 Presidential elections being stolen from him through a massive fraud perpetrated by the system, a flimsy charge that was laughed out of every court, state and federal, and even by President Trump’s own Attorney General, William Barr, and the Justice Department.
The aftermath of tossing Cheney from her No. 3 position among House Republicans was something that the GOP did not expect: more than 100 prominent members of the party that included former governors, law makers and senior administration officials wrote an open letter threatening to bolt from the GOP and a form a third party, the precise target being President Trump’s continued false claim that the 2020 election was stolen. “When in our democratic republic, forces of conspiracy, division, and despotism arise, it is the patriotic duty of citizens to act collectively in defense of liberty and justice,” the letter said. “We, therefore, declare our intent to catalyze an American renewal, and to either reimagine a party dedicated to our founding ideals or else hasten the creation of such an alternative,” the signatories warned.
One of the key figures in this counter-Trump movement is Miles Taylor, a former Homeland Security Official in the Trump administration, who created a flutter in 2018 by penning an anonymous Op-Ed piece in The New York Times as well as a book; and he is joined by former ambassadors, Cabinet secretaries and Republican Party chairs. “If the GOP can’t break free of the nauseating cult of personality around Donald Trump, then they’ll not only get an intra-party civil war, they’ll see a breakaway movement running against them in key races around the country,” Taylor has been quoted. And Cheney has stressed that the GOP will not be able to convince voters of its agenda “if we are building our party on a foundation of lies”.
The movement of some 150-odd personalities has not exactly set off the panic button in the GOP or even rattled the main Republican actors in the House and Senate, but is slowly and steadily drawing attention to the fact that Conservatives cannot keep harping on the need to move away from Trump and the 2020 polls and still clinging on to the falsehood that the election was somehow “stolen” from the 45th President. Also, what has come to bother traditional conservatives in the Republican Party is the rise of a cult around the former President as well as political extremism, both of which have come to trouble those who have believed in the true ideals of the party especially as it has evolved over the years since Abraham Lincoln.
“As any objective outside observer can see, the Republican Party has lost its way. Even inside observers recognize it is no longer the party of ideas. Respect for the rule of law has become a slogan instead of a practice. Today’s Republican Party is nothing more than the party of Donald Trump — an entity that would be almost unrecognizable to its founders,” an Editorial in the St. Louis Post Dispatch titled: “The Republican Party is splitting apart, and that’s probably a good thing” said. “From the moment Trump arrived on the scene, a split seemed almost inevitable between principled conservatives and others who embraced the party as more of a tribe and cult of personality. That split has finally arrived, and though it is sad for the party, it is good for America,” it added. The paper summed it all up by stressing that Republican moderates must realize that the GOP is at the edge of a “dangerous” precipice. “The party must either fix what’s wrong or face fragmentation”.
Traditional conservatives seem to be in deep anguish for they see everything going well for the GOP in the 2022 Congressional elections if the extremists did not over play their hands or be lulled into complacency that somehow Donald Trump can pull it off with his lies and disinformation agenda. A sitting President customarily loses seats in Congress in an off election; add to this the fact that re-districting is going to help Republicans; and the “best” part for the GOP being that many Democrats in the House have indicated that they may not be contesting. So, with everything in their bag for 2022, the GOP seems to be frittering away all the gains by clinging on to President Trump and his discredited ideas and conspiracy theories that many feel will turn the electorate away from the Republicans. It is being pointed out in the media that in a March Gallup Poll, only 25 per cent identified themselves as Republican as opposed to 32 per cent for Democrats and 41 per cent as Independents., suggesting that Trump’s Republican Party is not gaining support.
The bigger problem for Conservatives is that the focus on Trump and his outrageous themes takes the attention away from the leadership of President Joseph Biden. Aside from stray and unfocused hits on a left wing agenda, Republicans in the House and Senate have been unable to nail the Democratic administration on major policy issues such as proposals on infrastructure spending, increasing the cap on refugees or immigration in general. The fact that coronavirus pandemic is off the radar, America is seen as bouncing back to near normality soon, educational institutions re-opening , the economy showing clear signs of a recovery and a President consistently posting an approval rating of about 54 per cent only makes matters difficult for Republicans as many of their criticisms do not seem to be getting political traction. And it is unlikely to in the days ahead if the singular obsession is going to be on Donald Trump and his weird ideas.
A former senior journalist in Washington covering North America and United Nations, the writer is currently a Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Science and Humanities at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai.