Tag Archives: Peter Wehner

A Former Republican Tells It Like It REALLY Is

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.

He didn’t mince words.

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.

 

Wehner On Tribes

Peter Wehner is one of those “homeless” Republicans--a category composed of principled people whose primary allegiance was to their country and intellectual honesty, not a political party. He is currently a contributing editor to the Atlantic. Wehner titled a recent article for the magazine “What I’ve gained by leaving the Republican Party,” and noted that he is “more willing to listen to people I once thought had nothing to teach me.”

Like so many of the people who have left the GOP, Wehner was anything but a “casual” Republican.

For most of my life, I’ve been closely affiliated with the Republican Party. My first vote was cast for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I worked in his administration, as well as that of George H. W. Bush; for seven years, I was a senior adviser to President George W. Bush.

Most of my professional friends and almost all of my former colleagues—those with whom I served in government as well as in the think-tank world—have been Republican. The GOP has been my political home since college, a party I was once proud to be a part of, and a source of cherished relationships. Part of my identity was undoubtedly shaped by my party affiliation.

Leaving a political party, or a religion, or a cause in which one has been deeply involved is like losing a limb. In my more charitable moments (which are admittedly few and far between) I sympathize with the lifelong Republicans still standing with their party despite its metamorphosis into an irrational and dangerous cult.

It’s their tribe, and we live in a very tribal age.  Wehner is eloquent on that subject.

When I was a card-carrying member of a political party, I wasn’t automatically blinded to other points of view, or unable to challenge conventional orthodoxy. I did it on issues ranging from climate change, to the Tea Party’s anti-government rhetoric, to the characterological and temperamental defects of Newt Gingrich; so have many others. Nor did I knowingly put party above country. That’s a common charge made against party loyalists, when in fact most members of a political party believe that the success of their party is tied to the success of their country. They might be wrong, but that’s how many of them see things.

 But here’s what I think does happen. People who are part of a tribe—political, philosophical, religious, ethnic—are less willing to call out their own side’s offenses. That’s human nature. To be sure, some are more willing to show independence of judgment than others, but none shows complete intellectual independence. I certainly didn’t.

Some of this has to do with feelings of solidarity, of not wanting to alienate those whose affirmation and support are important to us. Some of it has to do with the fact that our brains filter information differently, depending on whether it confirms or challenges our preexisting political commitments and affiliations. When we’re part of a team, we have a natural tendency to let our sympathies shape our views and opinions of others. As a result, we perceive the world differently, often more narrowly and sometimes incorrectly.

The entire essay is well worth the time it takes to read it.

The thoughtful Republicans who drew a line at Donald Trump–whose intellectual honesty demanded that they leave what had become of their “tribe”–deserve our profound respect. We can only hope that whatever ultimately replaces today’s GOP is their creation, and not that of the troglodytes who control the current remnants of a once Grand Old Party.