Well, I was wrong again.
For much of the summer, I’d been writing that Donald Trump’s hold on the GOP was shrinking. I thought I was right at the time. But the times changed. Right now, his hold appears to be growing. That’s at least in part because it is the GOP that’s shrinking.
Eight of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol will not be returning to Congress. Half retired and the other half lost their primaries.
The most visible of the latter group is Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming congresswoman who has made holding Trump accountable for Jan. 6 and his effort to steal the election her white whale — which is why she lost her primary by 37 points. And that was just the final stage of her cancellation. In May 2021, she was ousted from the House GOP leadership. In November 2021, the Wyoming GOP’s Central Committee voted her out of the party. And then in February, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution describing the riot as “legitimate political discourse” and passed a resolution censuring her for taking part in the investigation of it.
For some fringe types, none of this is enough, which is why Cheney needs constant security.
In the wake of Cheney’s defeat, Republican politicians and conservative pundits alike have expended an enormous amount of energy trying to rationalize, excuse or otherwise justify the anathematization of Cheney. Yes, Trump’s behavior was abhorrent, the most reasonable ones concede, but by working with Democrats in pursuing Trump she betrayed the GOP in the eyes of Republican voters. The wiser course, they say, would have been to follow the path of more pragmatic Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell, who makes no secret of his distaste for Trump but refuses to do much about it.
The problem with this argument is that it overlooks the fact Cheney followed the McConnell strategy for years, voting with Trump 93% of the time and offering restrained criticism sparingly. Then on Jan. 6, she took the same position as most conservatives and Republicans such as McConnell, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said hours after the attack: “All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.”
In May, Graham said, “I’ve always liked Liz Cheney, but she’s made a determination that the Republican Party can’t grow with President Trump. I’ve determined we can’t grow without him.”
Since the FBI search of his Florida home, Trump has become more popular within the GOP. A new NBC poll finds that 50% of Republicans support the party more than support Trump, down from 58% three months ago. Tellingly, a majority of Americans support continuing the investigations into Trump.
Where Graham might have been half-right is that, in the near term at least, the party can’t grow without Trump either. When nearly half of Republicans are more loyal to Trump than to the party, moving on from him without his blessing is an impossibility.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch. This column was provided by Tribune News Service.