Purge of third highest-ranking Republican in House by her colleagues shows the Trumpian rot in GOP
The malicious attack by a shiver of Republican sharks controlled remotely by their Svengali from Mar-a-Lago, Florida, on a lone woman GOP crusader against the “Big Lie” on May 12 was quicker and more decisive than the 38-minute Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896.
All it took for the Trumpism-plagued Republican Party was a mere 16-minute voice vote to purge House Republican Conference Chair Elizabeth Lynne Cheney—the third highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives—and show how her gruelling duel with Donald J Trump’s horrendous lies on “voter fraud”, “stolen election” and his role in the insurrection on the Capitol was an unforgivable sin.
The whole cringeworthy episode was not only a battle between the Wyoming Representative and Trump but a bigger war in the future between Cheney and a few of her colleagues on one side and the ‘Lies and Fear’ of Trump-spooked GOP members on the other.
The Republicans are not the Party of Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan anymore; they are the Party of Manchurian candidates under the iron grip of Trump. Completely decimated by the megalomaniac former President and rebuilt on a foundation of lies, calumnies, disinformation and divisiveness, the metamorphosis of the Republican Party is on a self-destructive path and has imperilled American democracy as evidenced by the Capitol riot and Cheney’s removal.
In an ominous warning to the House minutes before her ouster, the daughter of former US Veep Dick Cheney said while being booed by Trumpists: “We cannot let the former President drag us backwards and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy. Down that path, lies our destruction and potentially the destruction of our country.”
The fact that the Trumpian rot of lies now runs deep in the GOP and a majority of its members have made the Faustian bargain with the former President was exposed when several members who had played a crucial role in ousting Cheney denied the January 6 Capitol siege. “There was no insurrection,” Georgia Representative Andrew Clyde said at a committee hearing held shortly after the voice vote while his Arizona colleague Paul Gosar termed the attackers as “peaceful patriots”.
This dramatic change of tide in Trump’s favour is not surprising considering that the GOP’s top boss in the chamber, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, is leading the deluge of lies and dishonesty.
McCarthy’s two somersaults might seem inexplicable on the surface. But beneath flows his sewage of hypocrisy and sycophancy.
First, consider the storming of the Capitol. “The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s [January 6] attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” the California Republican said during the second impeachment of Trump—on the same charge of incitement of insurrection—but voted against it.
McCarthy’s message on the riot was for public consumption, but his vote against the impeachment was his obeisance to Trump in private. Cheney pointed out his deceit and double standards in an op-ed piece for the Post on May 5: “House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) left no doubt in his public remarks … Now, McCarthy has changed his story.”
Second, McCarthy took a U-turn on Biden’s legitimate win. “President Trump won this election; so, everyone who’s listening, do not be quiet,” McCarthy had told Laura Ingraham of Fox News on November 6, 2020. And, in January, he was part of the 147-member delusional Republican group which voted to overturn the election results. But after meeting Biden at the White House on May 12, he backflipped: “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with. We’re sitting here with the President today.”
Phew! But wasn’t Cheney lined up before the GOP firing squad for questioning Trump’s “Big Lie”? Hasn’t her likely replacement, New York Representative Elise Stefnaik, been a staunch supporter of Trump’s election falsehood and is being rewarded for sticking to her claim of “unprecedented, unconstitutional overreach” by polling officials?
So, why the McCarthy brigade is bolstering Trump’s diabolical defence and his repudiation of election results, coalescing into a lying machine and risking the GOP’s and the country’s future?
It’s FEAR—the fear of angering Trump’s core supporters, the fear of being scorched publicly by his flamethrower tactics and the fear of losing the House again in the 2022 midterm elections. With all the 435 House seats and 34 out of the100 Senate seats up for grabs in 2022, the Republicans cannot afford to annoy Trump, whom supporters admire as the only wrecking ball who can “drain the swamp” and “Make America Great Again”.
The fear of infuriating Trump and his base is so deep-seated that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) covered up his pathetic numbers in internal polling in key districts during the House GOP retreats in March and April. According to two sources who spoke to The Washington Post, the NRCC members refused to disclose the dismal numbers in April despite a Congressman directly questioning them about Trump’s support.
The polling, which showed that Trump’s unfavourable ratings were 15 points higher than his favourability numbers, clearly exposed his depleting general support with his core base intact.
An NBC News poll showed that Trump’s unfavourable ratings stand at 32, which is 8 points lower since January with 47% holding very negative opinion about him. And, the percentage of Republican supporters who prefer Trump to the party is 44, 10 points down since October (54%).
Though a January CNN poll showed the same percentage of GOP members (48%) wanting to get rid of Trump as those supporting his leadership (47%), 62% of Republican-leaning Independents want him gone. And, the percentage of Republicans who don’t want officials opposing Trump penalised is a massive 76%.
The NRCC preferred lying to Republican lawmakers to showing the ground reality; that things are hunky-dory on the surface though Trump is actually losing ground.
Why? Fear again because turnout of the partisan base, commanded and manipulated by Trump, will play a significant role in 2022. Historically, the party out of power performs well in midterm polls—the Democrats won back the House in 2018 by making a net gain of 41 seats—and the one in the White House loses an average of 27 seats—the Democrats lost more than 50 seats in 1994 and more than 60 seats in 2010.
McCarthy made the urgency of retaking the House absolutely clear in a letter addressed to the GOP before Cheney was fired. In the letter, which reeked of doubletalk and his sole agenda of snagging the Speaker’s chair from Nancy Pelosi, McCarthy writes how the party is “rooted in the ideals of freedom and opportunity and fiercely defends free speech and personal responsibility”. “And unlike the left [Democrats], we embrace free thought and debate.” But wasn’t Cheney’s criticism of Trump’s election lies and his incitement to rioters free speech and thought and personal responsibility and called for a debate? Sadly, no because McCarthy wants Republicans to unite behind Trump’s lies, not Cheney’s truth.
In the letter, first reported by Punchbowl News, McCarthy writes that his fellow Republicans “should anticipate a vote on recalling the Conference Chair [Cheney] this Wednesday [May 12]”. Without naming Cheney, McCarthy couched the message that it is futile to bring up Trump’s past (voter fraud and rigged elections lies and the Capitol blitz) because it would be a hindrance in winning back the House. “Unfortunately, each day spent relitigating the past is one day less we have to seize the future.”
Clearly signalling that any further Cheney-like lone wolf attacks on Trump would divert the GOP’s 2022 focus, McCarthy further writes: “This is not time to take our eye off the ball. If we are to succeed in stopping the radical Democrat agenda from destroying our country, these internal conflicts need to be resolved so as to not detract from the efforts of our collective team.”
From which ball does McCarthy doesn’t want to take his eye off? Obviously, Pelosi’s gavel. As former Michigan Representative Paul Mitchell— who had quit the GOP last year over Trump’s election lies—rightly pointed out on CNN that McCarthy will do anything “short of throwing his mother under the bus” to become Speaker.
The greed to snag the House from Democrats rests on the same fear and the cult of Trump’s personality. In November 2020, when several GOP Congressmen were buttressing Trump’s allegations of unsubstantiated election fraud, former Ohio governor and 2016 presidential candidate John Kasich mentioned the Trump fear factor sweeping the GOP. “They’re afraid that they’ll be primaried or they’re afraid they’ll be severely criticised,” he told the National Public Radio.
Same year in June, former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s ex-aide Brendan Buck told the Los Angeles Times that there “is no political incentive for elected Republicans to leave his [Trump’s] side”. For example, South California Representative and Trump critic Mark Sanford learnt it the hard way. Buck lost his seat to fellow Republican opponent Katie Arrington after Trump backed her in 2018. The New York Times wrote, “Mark Sanford of South Carolina found out the hard way in his surprise primary defeat that having a conservative voting record is less important than demonstrating total loyalty to Mr. Trump.”
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who hypocritically swung from being a Trump critic to an admirer after he won the White House, underlined the former President’s overarching influence on the GOP on May 10. “When you [Cheney] make these political decisions, you need to understand the consequences [her sacking],” he told reporters. “If you tried to run him [Trump] out of the party, you’d take half the party with him.”
In an interview one day later, Graham told Fox News that the “most popular Republican in America is not Lindsey Graham. It’s not Liz Cheney. It’s Donald Trump”, reiterating the golden rule: Either be a Trump acolyte or you will be erased because he helms the GOP. “…the people who try to erase him are going to wind up getting erased.”
Graham’s pretence of loyalty to Americans and his servility to Trump at the same time mirrors that of McCarthy. After reinforcing Trump’s voter fraud claims, he made an about-turn at a press conference a day after the Capitol attack: “The people on the campaign legal team have made accusations without sufficient proof. They have claimed that 66,000 people in Georgia voted under 18. [I] Have not found one person.”
Mindful of the voters gaslighted by Trump and his terror in the GOP, Graham stuck by his side despite the Capitol assault fearing he could destroy the party. The Senator, who too voted to acquit him during his second impeachment trial, told Axios in March that Republicans should forge ahead with Trump, not without him: “There’s something about Trump. There’s a dark side. And there’s some magic there.”
Trump’s fiefdom rankles Republicans who support Cheney and oppose Trump, but their strength is too small to challenge the political reality engulfing the party. Maryland governor Larry Hogan said on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’: “It just bothers me that you have to swear fealty to the dear leader or you get kicked out of the party.” Texas Senator John Cornyn commented in similar vein: “To be honest, we’d do the same if the shoe was on the other foot, but it’s not good for our ability to get important stuff to be divided.”
Cheney faces a brutal and agonising war in restoring the credibility, image and principles of the GOP, but her commitment to embrace the Constitution, not the “Big Lie”, is unwavering. Hours after being removed, Cheney told NBC’s ‘Today’ show host Savannah Guthrie that she is determined to not let Trump re-enter the Oval Office.
Something Cheney said on the floor of the House on the eve of her removal will give recurring nightmares to the Republican Party as it hurtles down the abyss riding the Trump Express.
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that.”
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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