The Memo: Trump’s critics face wrath of GOP base
There was a new outbreak of hostilities in the Republican Party’s civil war on Monday.
Former President Trump and Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking Republican in the House, tangled once again. Cheney voted for Trump’s impeachment and has become perhaps his most persistent foe among GOP officeholders.
But the bigger picture is one in which Cheney is in danger of losing her House leadership position and another Trump critic, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), got lustily booed at his state party convention on Saturday.
Meanwhile, leaders who had hit out at Trump earlier this year, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have muted their criticisms.
In other words, it looks very much like Trump — despite his election loss, his role in the Jan 6. insurrection and his subsequent impeachment — remains in the driver’s seat in the GOP.
Anti-Trump Republicans fear a narrowing of the party’s appeal — leading to electoral disaster at the national level — if it continues down the MAGA path.
John “Mac” Stipanovich, a longtime GOP operative in Florida and a staunch anti-Trump voice, said, “That is the struggle that is underway. If [Sen.] John Thune and Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney all go down, then there will be no moderates in the Republican Party. But it will be a smaller, ethnic party with a largely rural footprint.”
One Republican moderate, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), implied a similar view when she expressed regret for the way Romney had been treated at the Utah convention.
Collins told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that she was “appalled” at Romney’s treatment, adding in reference to Trump: “We are not a party that is led by just one person.”
There is no sign of a cease-fire between Trump and Cheney, who seems to share the same imperviousness to criticism as her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
On Monday, after Trump issued a statement contending that the 2020 Election should be “known as THE BIG LIE!” — an allusion to his false allegations of malfeasance — Cheney hit back on Twitter.
“The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system,” she wrote.
Trump allies are seeking to defeat Cheney in her next primary — a goal that seems at least plausible in her deeply conservative home state. Later Monday, Trump returned fire.
“Heartwarming to read new polls on big-shot warmonger Liz Cheney of the great State of Wyoming. She is so low that her only chance would be if vast numbers of people run against her which, hopefully, won’t happen,” Trump said in a statement. “They never liked her much, but I say she’ll never run in a Wyoming election again!”
It was the former president’s fourth statement of the day. It arrived in inboxes 17 minutes after one calling Romney “a stone cold loser” and saying that it was “so nice” to see him get booed in Utah.
Pro-Trump figures within the party contend that Cheney’s problem, when it comes to her leadership role, is that she is so out of step with her follow GOP House members.
“Liz Cheney is in serious danger of being deposed from leadership not because she voted to impeach Donald Trump but because she has continually put her own ego ahead of what’s best for her members,” said one GOP operative close to Trump World.
This person added that Cheney’s victory in an earlier vote on her position was evidence that most GOP members were willing to “believe in a big tent party.”
But the source said her removal was now “very, very likely” because “it’s a whole other thing to continually throw salt in an open wound and cause issues for members back home … just so CNN and the rest of the media will say nice things about her.”
There is, of course, another key point. Trump, unpopular with the nation as a whole, is extremely popular with GOP voters. There is no real sign of that popularity eroding.
An Economist-YouGov poll conducted last week indicated that 81 percent of Republican voters held a favorable view of the former president. That was exactly the same figure as a poll from the same organization conducted in the week after Biden’s inauguration.
For pro-Trump figures, the former president changed the party for the foreseeable future. He did so, to their minds, by articulating the views of the party’s grassroots supporters rather than its richer donor class.
“Even when moderates were ostensibly in control of the party, they were never representative of the rank-and-file, which is why their control was fleeting,” said the pro-Trump GOP operative. “And I don’t even know if ‘conservative vs. moderate’ is the best way to look at this stuff. What is more apt is: the country club, elitist wing won’t get their control of their party back. They just won’t.”
Trump critics like Stipanovich aren’t prepared to give up the fight yet. But it is surely telling that they tend to argue not that victory is imminent but that history will look more kindly on their side than Trump’s.
“When [Sen.] Marsha Blackburn is long forgotten, when [Sen.] Josh Hawley is doing whatever he will be doing, Romney and Cheney will be remembered,” Stipanovich said.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.