Trump critics push new direction for GOP
Republican critics of former President Trump are forging ahead with their effort to weaken his grip on the party even as it becomes increasingly clear doing so may be a herculean task.
A group of more than 100 Republicans, including former national and state officials, are expected to release a letter this week warning that they are prepared to launch a third party unless the GOP steps back from its increasingly Trump-centric approach to politics.
Likewise, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who was expelled from her House leadership position on Wednesday morning for her defiance of Trump, vowed to “do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”
The flurry of activity signals a turning point for those in the party who have found themselves increasingly frustrated by the former president’s hold on the GOP. But their efforts are likely to face strong headwinds. Many Republican voters remain deeply loyal to Trump, and party leaders are largely betting on that support to propel them in the 2022 midterms.
“It’s time for the GOP to clean up its act, and if it doesn’t, we need to hasten the creation of an alternative,” said Miles Taylor, a former Homeland Security official under Trump who is among those organizing the effort to demand changes within the GOP.
“I don’t want to make any mistakes about this: Donald Trump can’t get to 50 percent,” Taylor continued. “He cost us the White House. He cost us the House of Representatives. He cost us the Senate. He cost us half a million American lives in COVID. He can’t win. He’s a washed-up, one-time, single-term president.”
Taylor, who anonymously penned an op-ed in The New York Times and later wrote a book criticizing Trump and his administration, said the coalition plans to publish a “manifesto” Thursday morning that would include “a preamble and 13 principles that the GOP needs to adhere to or any replacement for the GOP needs to adhere to.”
“It’ll say who we are and where we go next; how can we go after the radicals to make sure they cease and desist in forsaking their oath of office,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be an effort that’s followed with actions.”
Even proponents of the effort know that they are likely to face an uphill battle. Taylor described it as a “high-risk” strategy, but said that the GOP’s lurch toward “political extremism” has left few other options.
Many Republicans, even those who had defended Trump, have privately offered reassurances that his sway over the GOP and its voters would soon subside, especially given his banishment from most social media platforms.
But nearly four months after leaving the White House, Trump’s influence over the Republican Party shows no signs of abating.
Republican at virtually every level of government have largely embraced Trump’s continued claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. Current and prospective GOP candidates have made the trek down to his private club in West Palm Beach, Fla., in search of the former president’s blessing.
And even many prominent Republicans who once expressed misgivings — or even outright disgust — with Trump’s role in inciting his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 have reversed course.
Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who delivered a scathing assessment of Trump after the January riot, showed deference to the former president recently, saying that she would not run for president in 2024 if he chooses to mount another White House bid and would support his campaign.
Likewise, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who previously placed blame on Trump for the riots, has closed ranks with the former president.
After defending Cheney in February amid an unsuccessful vote by House Republicans to remove her as GOP conference chair, McCarthy began pushing another effort to oust her from his leadership team, arguing that her ongoing criticism of Trump had worsened “internal divisions” within the party.
That effort succeeded Wednesday when House Republicans moved to boot Cheney from her leadership role with a voice vote. The decision was praised by Trump himself, who derided her as a “bitter, horrible human being.”
But for critics of Trump and his wing of the GOP, the vote to oust Cheney marked a galvanizing moment in the effort to oppose the former president. Cheney expressed no remorse over her removal and vowed to work to steer the party away from Trump’s influence.
“I think that the party is in a place that we have got to bring it back from, and we’ve got to get back to a position where we are a party that can fight for conservative principles, that can fight for substance,” she said. “We cannot be dragged backward by the very dangerous lies of a former president.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who voted alongside Cheney in January to impeach Trump for his role in the Capitol riot, said that the GOP’s current fealty to Trump would be remembered by history as “the low point of the Republican Party.”
But the vote to oust Cheney is unlikely to be the kind of animating force for GOP voters that it is for a coterie of anti-Trump Republicans.
A Politico-Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found that 50 percent of Republican voters surveyed wanted her removed from her leadership job, while only a small minority — 18 percent — believed that she should be allowed to remain in her role as conference chair.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who became one of Trump’s top allies in the Senate during his four years in the White House, said that Cheney has been a “solid conservative and strong voice on national security.” But he also said that her criticism of Trump was out of step with the modern GOP.
“Today’s decision by the House Republican Conference regarding Congresswoman Cheney was not about her vote for impeachment,” Graham said. “It was about her belief that President Trump should be purged from the Republican Party and those who objected to the results of the 2020 election should be disqualified from future leadership positions.”
Yet Trump’s critics say they feel emboldened. One GOP strategist critical of Trump said that Cheney’s ouster on Wednesday amounted to a public relations disaster for House GOP leaders by forcing them to explain “why Republicans just punished one of the strongest conservatives in Congress.”
Likewise, Taylor predicted a prolonged fight over the direction of the Republican Party, saying that McCarthy’s hope that Cheney’s removal from leadership would quell intra-party unrest would backfire.
“What I would say is if Kevin McCarthy thinks the civil war is ending with the ouster of Liz Cheney, he is sorely mistaken,” Taylor said. “It has only just begun.”