Wednesday, October 5

Liz Cheney’s defeat confirms it: The GOP belongs to Trump | Opinion


Republican Liz Cheney was crushed in her primary election on Tuesday. Final results are still trickling in, but the Wyoming representative looks on track to lose by 37 percent, a catastrophic defeat for an incumbent. It’s hardly surprising, though; leading up to election day, polls forecast Cheney losing by 20 to 30 percent against her Trump-endorsed challenger. Her leadership on the January 6 Committee and outspoken resistance to the former president had made her a pariah within the Republican Party and all but sealed her fate.

With Cheney’s primary finished, we now have results for each of the 10 Republican Representatives who voted to impeach Trump for his actions on January 6. Of the 10, four retired, four lost their primary to a Trump-backed challenger, and two managed to win their Republican Primaries. The wholesale ejection of these anti-Trump forces is evidence that the Republican Party still belongs to the former president.

Trump’s enduring control was not a foregone conclusion following his loss in 2020. He had the stain of being a loser, had lost the inherent political influence that comes with being president, had been evicted from Twitter, and had faced criticism from Fox News and Republican leaders for his behavior on January 6. In some ways, it felt like Trump’s star had peaked.

But now, two years later, it’s clear that was wishful thinking. As the primary season wraps up, the evidence of Trump’s hold over his party is all but irrefutable. Of the 195 candidates that Trump has endorsed this year whose primaries have already happened, 179 won. His astonishingly high success rate this year is higher than any since 2017. And Trump has not only endorsed incumbents facing apparent victory. Many of Trump’s endorsees faced competitive primaries and had to battle it out against more establishment figures.

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The underdogs that Trump can claim as his own are competing in the nation’s most consequential midterm elections. Among this crowd are Senate nominees Blake Masters, Herschel Walker, and Mehmet Oz, as well as gubernatorial nominees Doug Mastriano, Kari Lake, and Tim Michels. And though Trump has had a few unsuccessful endorsements, those have been rare, and almost all of those losses were long-shot candidates challenging popular incumbents.

Donald Trump
WAUKESHA, WISCONSIN – AUGUST 05: Former President Donald Trump greets supporters during a rally on August 05, 2022 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Trump’s successful nomination track record is not the only evidence of his singular power in the party. In poll after poll asking Republican voters who they want to run for president, Trump is the undisputed favorite. About 70 percent of Republicans now say the former president should run for reelection in 2024, and he consistently ranks as the first choice for around half of Republicans, far outpacing any other potential contender. For comparison, only about half of Democrats want Biden to run for reelection.

Trump’s resilience is concerning for reasons that do not need full recounting here: his anti-democratic tendencies, erratic temperament, disrespect for liberal norms, and his radicalizing effect on the Republican Party. But the defeat of nearly every Republican who has stood up against Trump is evidence that some anti-Trump Republicans will need to adopt a more tactical approach to help the party move on from the former president.

Of course, there is a continued need for strident resistance of the kind that Cheney has offered. It is indeed a welcome sign that, the day after her election loss, Cheney said on NBC’s Today Show that she “will be doing whatever it takes to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office” and confirmed that she is thinking about running for president. Whether she were to run as a Republican or an independent, Cheney has no realistic path to the White House, but even so, a Cheney run could be worthwhile if she continues to remind voters of Trump’s worst instincts and the drama he never fails to attract.

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But there is also value in a more strategic resistance, one that gives Trump’s voters a potential offramp from his brand of politics without alienating them. This will require some calculated politicking and evasion, like dodging questions about Trump, in order to win over his loyalists. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott is taking such an approach, avoiding answering if Trump should run for reelection and conducting a balancing act on nearly all Trump-related issues.

That such tactics will be required to rescue the Republican Party is depressing. But we have the parties we have, not the ones we want. Given Trump’s sustained grasp on the party, a pragmatic approach to resisting him is overdue. The need for Republicans like Cheney who are willing to challenge and criticize Trump forcefully does not preclude the simultaneous need for Republicans like Scott who can take a more strategic, subversive, and long-term approach.

Without such a tactical opposition, the Republican Party will continue relentlessly down the path it took Tuesday with Cheney: ejecting anti-Trump Republicans one by one until there is no internal resistance to the former president whatsoever.

Seth Moskowitz is a journalist and an associate editor at Persuasion. He has previously worked as a Democratic campaign strategist. Follow him on Twitter @skmoskowitz.

The views in this article are the writer’s own.

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