One of the most common complaints people make about our politics is how detached politicians are from what “we the people” want. This couldn’t be further from the truth. American democracy is very market oriented– especially the in the House. Yesterday’s House Republican secret ballot votes on Liz Cheney and Majorie Taylor Greene was a great example of how this works.
The base of the GOP is furious with Liz Cheney. Her support for impeaching Donald Trump for his role in the Capital insurrection has made her persona non-grata in right-wing media. Her GOP colleague Matt Gaetz, Congressman from Florida who is one of the dumbest men in Congress (which is a hotly contested title), flew up to Wyoming to egg Cheney voters into demonstrating their anger with her. Gaetz, clumsily and clownishly, was attempting to enforce the Trumpian line. Publicly, Cheney got almost no support from her colleagues or GOP friendly media. Gaetz went on Steve Bannon’s web show to brag about how he had the votes to remove Cheney from leadership.
While the sedition caucus was busy accusing Liz Cheney of insufficient loyalty, recently elected QAnon believer Majorie Taylor Greene stayed in the news with repeated revelations of insane things she has said and supported on social media. Most were already aware of her gross stalking and harassment of one of the outspoken Parkland survivors (MTG is an unabashed believer in the Alex Jones conspiracy that Parkland and Sandyhook were false flag events). Calling for the death of Nancy Pelosi and suggesting that the California wildfires were caused by a “Jewish Space Laser” were new though not at all surprising additions to her greatest hits list. Democrats, former Republicans, and most major media outlets began to call for Greene to be removed from committee appointments based on her obvious unfitness for office.
The stage was set for the GOP House vote. The secret ballot provided cover for the Cheney vote. Up or down the voters would never know if their representative voted the “wrong way.” The Greene vote was only a precursor. If she wasn’t removed– and her conservative media support and the apparent support of Donald Trump indicated the votes were not there inside the party– you were going to have to go on record when the Democrats move to hold a public vote on it.
House Republicans voted 145-61 not to strip Liz Cheney of her leadership position in response to her voting to approve an article of impeachment against Donald Trump. Pundits of the “Sometimes Trump” variety took this as a sign that the GOP hadn’t been totally lost to a cult of conspiracy theorists and fools. I’ll grant them that the tiny bit of backbone these Republican House members could muster in secret was better than I expected. But to see this as a victory for the pre-Trump establishment GOP is laughable. It is easy to stand up against popular opinion when no one knows how you voted. The public record tells a different story.
Other than the other Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment (all 9 of them), none of the other 135 votes against removing Cheney have come forward to say they supported her.
Minority leader and Trump simp Kevin McCarthy could have stopped the MTG train in its tracks. He didn’t need to hold a vote. He didn’t have to wait for the Democrats to force a public vote. He could have simply removed her from committee assignments (assignments he never should have given her in the first place). But he didn’t. Yes, some of that is simply that McCarthy is a weak and cowardly man. But it is largely that he knows what way the wind is blowing. He mounted a mild defense of Liz Cheney because she’s a big figure for the folks who still think the GOP can be salvaged. And still one third of the GOP voted to oust Cheney. The zombie Reaganism and neo-con movement of her father that Cheney represents is the past. As Trump said, Greene is the future of the GOP.
The other secret vote that day shows that definitively.
Some of the most deeply cynical Republicans, like Mitch McConnell, have tried to pivot and heap appropriate scorn on Greene now that she is not helpful to them. McConnell was perfectly happy to look the other way when he thought Greene campaigning with Kelly Loeffler might let him keep control of the Senate. Now that it isn’t Mitch’s problem he calls Greene a “cancer” on the party. She most certainly is, but Mitch is the patient who knew he had diabetes and stuffed his face with sugary treats. Little late to bitch about the disease now, Senator. The GOP media has rallied behind two narratives: 1) the Dems are cancelling us! (Greene sticks religiously to this line) and 2) “No Republican I know believes these things…” Sean Hannity used this bad faith argument claiming “I don’t know a single conservative or a single Republican; frankly, that even knows what QAnon even is, let alone buys into whatever those beliefs are.” I guess Sean must have never met Eric Trump. Or DJTJ. Or his colleagues, Tucker Carlson, Jesse Waters, . Or Donald Trump himself.
No one needs those links. We all know that Fox, Rush, and everyone else in conservative media have been pushing conspiracy theories for decades now. You know, like the Seth Rich conspiracy that Sean Hannity himself promoted and Fox paid a big settlement over.
None of these people want Greene punished, mind you. They just want to maintain a veneer of respectability so that educated suburban voters can feel ok voting for them. Actually cutting out the cancer would infuriate the base. And they simply cannot risk it.
The dual Cheney/MTG votes show the conflict at the heart of the savage internecine war raging in the Republican party. Greene is a proxy for Trump. And Trumpism itself is a symbol more than an ideology. It stands for the power of the people. Cheney is a stand-in for the old movement conservatism of the Goldwater-Nixon-Reagan-Bush era.
This war is no contest. The people will win by a landslide. They just did.
Movement conservatism could have stamped this all out. Any decent whip would have snuffed out Matt Gaetz and the Freedom Caucus childish attempt to oust Cheney. Nancy Pelosi caught a lot of flack on the left for restraining and cutting down the progressive caucus and the Squad, but that is exactly what institutionalist movement politicians do when the party is in control and still trying to play to a big tent of voters. Hapless lackey McCarthy couldn’t do a damn thing. He was completely impotent to act and his words carried no weight. Leaders in healthy parties try to shape public opinion and balance competing interests in their coalition. The GOP cannot do that. They can only go against the base in secret, meekly allowing Cheney to remain in a position of power (but with no real support) while refusing to excise literal crazy conspiracy promoters from their ranks.
The old GOP establishment is terrified of their own voters. There is no lie too big or embarrassment too shameful for them. They will do whatever it takes to stay in office. A literal handful have stood up against it. All have been (or will be) cast out. Jeff Flake and Justin Amash can make room for Adam Kinzinger on the island of misfit conservatives soon enough. I still see a lot of conservatives, both pundits and people in my life, who think this battle might still be won. That maybe they can rid the party of the worst elements of their base that elevate people like Greene. It is way too late for that. The party has already been transformed in the image of the base. It isn’t just national office that requires a candidate to capitulate to this stupidity– local and state races in red states like Ohio are increasingly battles over who can be the most Trumpy. This was inevitable. The party lost this battle the moment they made their deal with the devil and embraced the Southern Strategy. Thee modern conservative movement was dead before it ever won office. They just didn’t know it.
There will not be a grand comeback. Mitch McConnell cannot save small government, pro-business, free trade, muscular foreign policy, religious and fiscal conservatism as a coherent movement. No one can. The base doesn’t care about that shit. They never did. They were here for opposing segregation and interracial relationships, preventing gays from getting married, keeping out non-white immigrants, hating any faith that isn’t conservative Christianity, eliminating all abortion, extending gun rights, and above all to own the libs. Trump captured the party because he instinctively knew that. Most of his policies, outside of taxes, were way outside the mainstream of conservative thought. He knew that most of the base (certainly over 50%) were actually there to hear the dog whistle and not for the window dressing. There is no unringing that bell.
To save the GOP from its own voters would require the roughly 30% of the party that isn’t all in on Trumpism to somehow replace the majority of their base with a new, equally sized or larger voting bloc. Where is that going to come from? Are they going to court disaffected progressives? They share no policy goals or ideology. Do they think they can lure the moderate Dem base over? With what? They already control one party and it is the party that is not infected by crazy people. There is no path back for the establishment GOP. They can stay in the Republican party and capitulate to the whims of their base or they can leave and caucus with (or join) the moderate wing of the Democratic party.