Peter Wehner has served in three Republican administrations. He has been a vocal, long-time critic of Donald Trump, and recently considered the meaning of Liz Cheney’s ejection from her party leadership position.
The takedown of Representative Cheney was not an “inflection point,” as some have called it. It was the opposite — the latest (but it won’t be the last) confirmation that the Republican Party is diseased and dangerous, increasingly subversive and illiberal, caught in the grip of what Ms. Cheney described in The Washington Post as the “anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”
I personally thought it was telling that McCarthy and House leadership used a voice vote to oust Cheney, making it impossible to tell who did and did not vote for removal. Reportedly, Cheney supporters asked for an official tally and were rejected.
It was further confirmation of Wehner’s statement that “declaring fealty to a lie” is now the single most important test of loyalty in today’s Republican Party. As he points out, most Americans recognize this, we sometimes fail to register its true significance.
“It’s a real sickness that is infecting the party at every level,” Barbara Comstock, a Republican who represented Virginia’s 10th Congressional District before Mr. Trump’s unpopularity in the suburbs sank her chances in the 2018 election, told Lisa Lerer of The Times. “We’re just going to say that black is white now.”
This should come as a surprise to exactly no one. For more than five years, the Republican Party and its leading media propagandists embraced and championed Mr. Trump’s mendacities, conspiracy theories and sociopathic tendencies. As a result, their brains became rewired, at least metaphorically speaking; the constant accommodation Republicans made to Mr. Trump caused significant cognitive distortions
Wehner scorns any expectation that the Republican Party would revert to being a normal party once Trump was gone. As he warns, there has not been and will not be “a post-Trump fight for the soul” of the GOP.
Liz Cheney understands that only a decisive break with Mr. Trump will stop the continuing moral ruination of the Republican Party. But her break with the former president, while courageous, came too late to change anything. She is trying to rally an army that doesn’t exist.
Wehner points out that a large number of grass-roots Republicans are simply delusional, having fully bought into a decade or more of lies promulgated by the party, . He says they believe Trump’s conspiracy theories because they want to believe them. Now, he says, they are addicted,.” and addictions are hard to break.”
The latest CNN/SSRS survey found that 70 percent of Republicans believe the false allegation that Joe Biden did not defeat Mr. Trump; a mere 23 percent said Mr. Biden won, despite the Trump administration’s admission that “the November 3 election was the most secure in American history.”
Most Republican members of Congress know better. Support of the Big Lie is unethical and cynical, not stupid. They have simply calculated that refuting the Lie, standing with Cheney, would put targets on their backs.
Many of the most influential figures in Republican politics have decided that breaking with Mr. Trump would so alienate the base of the party that it would make election victories impossible, at least for the foreseeable future. That’s essentially what Senator Graham was saying when he recently went on Fox News and posed this question to his Republican colleagues: “Can we move forward without President Trump? The answer is no.”
Wehner stops short of predicting the future of the GOP at a juncture when Cheney, who he notes is a member of an important Republican family and a person with unquestioned conservative credentials, is less popular with the Republican base and more reviled by the House leadership than Marjorie Taylor Green, the QAnon supporter who applauded the January 6th insurrection.
Ms. Cheney was stripped of her leadership post because she committed the unpardonable sin in 2021’s Republican Party: She spoke the truth about the legitimacy of the 2020 election results and refused to back down. Whatever she was before, she is a voice of conscience now, reminding her colleagues of their Faustian bargain with their peculiar Mephistopheles, Donald Trump. It enrages them even as it haunts them.
Today the Republican Party is less a political party than a political freak show. It is being sustained by insidious lies. And people who love America, starting with conservatives, should say so. Otherwise, if the Republican Party’s downward spiral isn’t reversed, it will descend even further into a frightening world of illusion.
In a multi-party system, this very accurate description of our current moment would be far less ominous, but America has only two political parties, and desperately needs both to be responsible and sane.