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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

August 17: Why Liz Cheney’s Overwhelming Defeat Marks the End of an Era

Pushing back a bit against the popular idea that Liz Cheney’s landslide loss in Wyoming was a pyrrhic defeat she will soon avenge, I argued at New York that it marked a point of no return for Republicans that Democrats must understand:

In the end, despite a sizable financial advantage and support from Democrats, and notwithstanding stern lectures to voters by her still-terrifying father, two-term congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming lost her seat in the U.S. House. While Cheney was recently seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, serving as the party’s third-ranking House leader, the race wasn’t close. The Associated Press called the race for Trump endorsee Harriet Hageman early in the evening; she now has a 37-point lead over the incumbent, with 95 percent of precincts reporting.

Even before primary voters delivered their verdict, there were voices far from Wyoming predicting that Liz Cheney would rise again, perhaps as a challenger to Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. In fact, it’s reasonably clear that anti-Trump Republicanism died its final noisy death with her defenestration from the House GOP leadership and then her ignominious defeat back home. She will continue to have a distinguished role in the fight against Trump by virtue of her vice-chairmanship of the House select committee on January 6. But those proceedings are being ignored, if not denounced, by virtually all GOP elected officials, and her abject defeat back home is a pretty clear sign that anti-Trump Republicanism has no future.

The alternatives to Trump 2024, if any actually emerge, will be from the ranks of those who have at least partially surrendered to him: toadies like Mike Pence, who defied the president for a single day; post-Trump Trumpists like Ron DeSantis, who promise to continue his extremist policies and his hateful rhetoric; former anti-Trumpists like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Nikki Haley, who are determined never to cross him again; and anti-anti-Trumpists like Mitch McConnell and a big portion of the conservative commentariat, who clearly despise the 45th president but understand he is now the spirit animal of their party and what now passes for conservatism.

What is most poignant about Cheney’s fall isn’t so much its precipitous nature — though it’s now difficult to remember that Kevin McCarthy was defending her and her lofty leadership position for a while even after her impeachment vote. No, what makes her demise important is that she represented not just the “Republican Establishment,” but the hard-core conservative movement whose conquest of the party was consummated when George W. Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, took power in 2001. It’s amazing to see Republicans who imposed the triune orthodoxy of economic, national security, and cultural conservatism on a once-diverse GOP dismissed as RINOs. They never saw a tax cut too irresponsible to support, a defense budget too high to increase, or an abortion too innocent to prohibit, and when they went to sleep at night they dreamed of “entitlement reform” to take down Social Security and Medicare. That’s no longer enough to be considered conservative or Republican if it is not accompanied by personal submission to Trump, along with savage anti-democratic sentiments and hatred of the opposition, the media, the “deep state,” the Swamp, and once-bipartisan causes ranging from voting rights to immigration reform.

The ancien régime of conservative Republicanism as we knew it not so very long ago expired with Liz Cheney’s congressional career on August 16.  Perhaps someday the old faith will be revived. But for now the Republican elephant is wearing a red hat and none dare question its stampeding direction and ear-shattering Trump-eting.

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