Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., has been an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump and the “big lie” that he and too many members of the Republican Party have peddled about the 2020 election for months, trying to hold her party accountable to the truth rather than allowing it to push conspiracy theories and blatant falsehoods without accountability.
In return, by a cowardly voice vote — thereby absolving any individual members of personal accountability — on Wednesday, House Republicans removed her from the No. 3 spot in their leadership structure.
Even without a leadership post, she’s said she is determined to continue her fight for truth by exposing the Trump wing of the GOP for what it is: a dangerous fraud. But will anyone join her?
We’ve seen situations like hers before when Trump was actually in power: Republicans who stood by the party's principles rather than its unprincipled leader — like Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. — have been chastised by their party or even left their political careers behind, realizing that their efforts to extricate their party from its Trump mania were fruitless. The party apparently prefers to actively remove those who, like Cheney, are unwilling to “lie to our voters” and who want to return the GOP to its longtime principles of a more commonsense foreign policy and fiscal conservatism, rather than cozying up to dictators and increasing the federal deficit.
Republicans like Cheney could have been the ticket to show other disaffected Republicans and moderates that the party is more than just a "big tent" of Trump.
Maybe it will take a woman, clearly wronged and then ousted from leadership by her own colleagues and leaders in a historic vote, to repair the destruction wrought by Trump and expose the blatant lies of those determined to toady up to him.
The Republican Party (or what’s left of it) is becoming whiter, older, less educated and more male as it has continued to embrace Trumpism — particularly losing suburban woman and women with college degrees. That is a growing problem for Republicans given that women have earned the majority of bachelor's degrees every year since 1982 and now comprise more than half of the college-educated workforce. What’s more, a vast majority of swing voters in recent focus groups saw removing Cheney from her leadership role as a huge mistake for House Republicans.
Despite their Trump-inspired bullishness, Republicans face an uphill battle to regain their majority in the House and/or Senate — and that will be hard to do without moderate Republicans and suburban female voters. Everybody knows it's imperative that Republicans focus on female-heavy suburban areasthat swung for Trump in 2016 but then voted for Joe Biden in 2020; they need to cast a wider net for voters and appeal to the many people who were turned off by Trump and his rhetoric.
Moderate Republican women are struggling to find a path forward in a male-dominated and aging GOP that continues to embrace Trump as its standard-bearer.
Republicans like Cheney could have been the ticket to show other disaffected Republicans and moderates that the party is more than just a "big tent" of Trump. But rather than recognize that the GOP would benefit from both differing views on the one-term divisive former president and a return to its pre-Trump platform, anyone advocating for that is deemed a heretic and subjected to public humiliation.
If Republicans truly wanted to survive the gender gap they’ve created within their own party, they would need to build up a pipeline of credible female candidates and an infrastructure to support their candidacies — despite the fact that their base doesn’t see a need for it. (And promoting Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., to Cheney's leadership post as a prize for rebranding herself as a pro-Trump firebrand in the very year she could well lose her seat to redistricting doesn't count.)
Sadly, however, moderate Republican women are struggling to find a path forward in a male-dominated and aging GOP that continues to embrace Trump as its standard-bearer. Party leaders have made it clear that there is no room for anyone in the party who won’t fall in line and continue to perpetuate falsehoods about the 2020 election, even as they lie and say they’re focusing on the future. Cheney's ouster makes the choice for others like her quite stark: either promote the lie and look like a fool or embrace the truth and risk your standing in the party — which is, of course, more tenuous for women than for men.
But as party leaders continue this charade, they’ll continue to hemorrhage voters at the ballot box; this cannot be the only issue on which they stand in 2022 and 2024 or it will be the issue on which they stumble. The platform of Trump cannot survive, and his leadership has only led the party down a dangerous road.
In the rosiest outcome, Cheney’s new outsider role within a fractured GOP will help to create a coalition within the party but open to cooperation with Democrats, grounded in what were once the standard Republican principles of fiscal conservatism and commonsense foreign policy.
After all, even though Biden has been president for barely 100 days, he holds a job approval rating of 63 percent, making him popular across partisan lines — something his predecessor never once came close to achieving. Trump might still have a stronghold among those within the GOP, but those who want to achieve positive policy changes in America have to work with the Biden administration and already have no home within their own party for doing so.
Still, while many hope Cheney will both help fix the GOP's Trump fixation and lead the party somewhere more productive, that will be a tall order if others don’t follow her lead. She'll need to do more than garner a few days of headlines for that to happen.