Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Ultimate Defeat of Liz Cheney and the Never Trump Republicans

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Shreya Christina
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The bad news for Never Trump Republicans this week wasn’t just that Liz Cheney lost the primary on Tuesday for her congressional seat in Wyoming. It wasn’t even that she lost because of it an overwhelming margin. It was that her loss fitted a pattern in which GOP voters have outright rejected the Republicans after the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. Only two of the 10 House Republicans who did will even get to vote in November — one of whom is active in a district that Joe Biden won by more than 10 percentage points in 2020.

It is clear at this point that the Republican Party is a pro-Trump party and that its voters shy away from candidates vehemently opposed to the former president. The results of this first season — and Cheney’s loss in particular — show that a Never Trump wing is on the brink of extinction.

Cheney’s loss follows this year’s deputies Peter Meijer of Michigan, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington and Tom Rice of South Carolina, among the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. Four more members of the Republican House who voted to impeach – Adam Kinzinger from Illinois, Anthony Gonzalez from Ohio, John Katko from New York, and Fred Upton from Michigan – chose not to even be re-elected.

This continues a trend within the GOP since Trump took office, as Republican critics such as Sens. Bob Corker from Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona have chosen not to seek reelection, while others, such as Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, lost their primaries.

“I don’t know of any Republican primaries where the organizing principle that Trump is a villain has ever been successful,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a close Trump ally in Congress who has been campaigning against Cheney’s impeachment vote since days after her impeachment, told cafemadrid. “Republicans might have peeped in who weren’t pro-Trump, but those candidates had a different organizing principle. Liz Cheney didn’t, which is why she lost so hard.”

Even a fiery Never Trumper like Tim Miller, a top former Republican agent and author of a recent New York Times bestseller, Why we did it, admitted Trump won the battle for the GOP’s soul. “A lot of people don’t understand what’s happening right now and think that the Republican Party is somehow going to be Liz Cheney and Paul Ryan’s party again,” Miller said. “It never goes back — at least no time on the horizon.”

Part of that wing’s irrelevance is due to the fundamental structure of American politics. The only three Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Trump who have advanced to the general election this cycle have all run in states without traditional party primaries. In Alaska, maverick Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski advanced in the state’s unusual primary system, where the top four candidates on an unbiased primary vote advance to a ranked general election. Two members of the House who won their primaries, David Valadao of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington, both did so in states where the top two voters in an unbiased primaries advanced to the general election.

But it wasn’t just structural. None of the winning candidates emphasized their opposition to Trump. In fact, they all organized localized races and focused on issues that worried voters in the Republican primaries. But it required that combination for anti-Trump Republicans to succeed in a primary.

As one plugged-in Trump ally who was given anonymity to speak candidly put it, “Cheney found out what happens when you try to turn an entire election into a Trump referendum.” Trump’s ally was skeptical that Cheney could ever win a way to win, but thought she could have kept it close by “running a hyper-localized campaign and not going out of my way to mention Trump’s name, [and] not publicly align with the January 6 committee.”

Miller was skeptical that this would have been successful. He noted that Rice followed that whole script and got crushed. Rice never gone back of his impeachment vote, but focused his campaign on his track record of bringing federal money to his district. Rice, however, shifted hard against Trump in the final days of his congressional race, adding to the skewed margins against him.

The former Republican agent noted that, with only a handful of exceptions, the MAGA wing of the party won across the board in 2022. [to realize] that they are not welcome in the party and are no longer allies, and must ally with a party they disagree with.”

The idea that Never Trumpers should be an ally of Democrats is not without precedent in American politics. History is filled with coalitions based on personalities. The first time major Republicans left their party to support a Democrat out of personal distaste for the leader of the party was in 1884, when mugwumps Grover supported Cleveland because they believed Republican candidate James Blaine was corrupt. Entire American political realignments have centered on the personalities of leaders like Andrew Jackson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Gaetz rejected the number of Never Trumpers and their influence in American politics. “There is definitely a Never Trump faction and they are great at playing for their main constituency, the Washington television bookers. This allows them to present themselves as a greater force in American politics than they are.”

While Never Trumpers can certainly be found outside of Beltway’s green rooms, there are clearly not enough of them to win a direct Republican primary in 2022. “It’s a big party and there’s definitely room for people who don’t like Trump, but there’s no real constituency for people who hate Trump,” Trump’s ally said.

This was echoed by a staffer associated with the party’s Never Trump wing, who told cafemadrid there is “very little room in the party for someone who wants to act as an unabashed opponent of Trump.”

This does not mean that the Republican Party has been purged of Trump skeptics, but simply that opposition to Trump cannot be the reason for a successful campaign. There is still room in the party for those who don’t like Trump and don’t want to stay and fight — they just have to downplay it. “You don’t have to agree with Trump everywhere, as long as you fight for what conservative voters want,” the agent said.

But that’s certainly not enough to pass the purity test of those Republicans who see Trump and his allies as an existential threat to American democracy after the January 6 Capitol riot. For true Never Trumpers who remain in the party, the question after Wyoming is whether they will leave Never Trumpism or just leave the GOP.

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