Less than 24 hours after Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said she intended to vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, members of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus called for her to step down from her role as the House Republican Conference Chair, the third-highest position in House Republican leadership. While this effort went nowhere — 145 Republicans voted to keep Cheney in power, with only 61 Republicans voted to remove her from her role — it tells a story about what direction the Republican Party is going.
Cheney is a conservative. She is the sole representative of Wyoming, a state where both Cheney and Trump received nearly 70% of the vote in the 2020 election. In the 116th Congress, she voted with Trump 92.8% of the time, and 95.8% of the time in the 115th Congress. She supported Trump in 2016 for his presidential campaign and again for reelection in 2020. While Cheney had clashed with Trump in the past, she had generally supported him and his agenda.
But this wasn’t enough for Republicans or citizens of Wyoming. Apparently, to some, loyalty to the former president is necessary to be a member of the Republican Party. And if the 2021 Republican freshman class is any indication, this loyalty will continue to be a requirement in order to be respected and safe from opposition.
The election of two representatives who believe in the false QAnon conspiracy theory highlights the Republican Party’s fealty to Trump. The party’s core will move past the point of disagreement with Democrats and moderate Republicans to simply spouting lies and promoting baseless theories.
The new representatives’ belief in QAnon has already become a point of contention between Republicans and Democrats. After Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga., was sworn into Congress, her violent and harmful past statements were discovered, including support for executing Democrats, expressing her belief that the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and in Parkland, Fla., were fake and the wildly anti-Semitic theory that Jewish space beams started the deadly Camp Fire in California in 2018, along with other various discriminatory assertions.
House Democrats set up a vote to strip Greene of her assignments on the budget and education committees after House Republicans did not take action on their own. The final vote was 230-199 in favor of removing Greene from her committees, with only 11 House Republicans voting with the Democrats to exile her from her positions.
Greene was rightfully removed from her committees. But the Republican response to Greene as a representative and person shows how the future of the party will continue to revolve around Trump and his style of governing. Republicans had the ability to distance themselves from Greene after she won her primary election and have spoken out against her rhetoric both recently and in the past. But in this case, their actions have spoken louder than their words.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement that he “condemn(s) those comments unequivocally. I condemned them in the past. I continue to condemn them today,” in reference to Greene’s comments about school shootings, police violence and conspiracy theories. But rather than taking that opportunity to show what happens to a United States representative who preaches such things, he went on to blame Democrats for “rais(ing) the temperature … to further their partisan power grab.”
McCarthy is not one of the 11 Republicans who voted to remove Greene from her committee assignments, but he did tell Rep. Cheney to apologize after her vote on impeachment — showing that to Republicans, discriminatory behavior and lies are just fine as long as you support Trump. A long history of support for the conservative agenda doesn’t matter if you vote to impeach the former president.
The result of this dedication to Trump can only be bad news for Democrats, moderate Republicans and America. The moderate House Republicans, especially the ones who voted to impeach Trump and remove Greene from her committee positions, will face a more extreme primary challenger in 2022 — Cheney already has one. These primary challengers will receive aid from prominent, Trump-supporting Republicans, like Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who has already visited Wyoming to call for the state to vote Cheney out next year.
More extreme Republicans in the House means it will be more difficult for Democrats to govern in the way they want. It means this further-right party could hold the speakership in coming years, giving them control of what legislation reaches the House floor.
If Democrats want to legislate in a more bipartisan way, Republicans could prevent the parties from cooperating, as their preferred policies would be much further to the right than Democratic ones, to the point of no compromise. Effective policies require bipartisanship, and a far-right Republican Party — especially one that is actively disinterested in working with Democrats to pass legislation — would do everything they can to prevent that.
Moreover, the party’s continued loyalty to Trump means that a large, vocal and politically active sect of the country believes that this election was stolen from Trump. Legislating is difficult enough when everyone agrees on basic facts and it will become that much harder if we can’t even agree on who our rightful president is.
If Republican leaders continue on the track they are on, the party will continue lying to their members and keep moving further and further to the right. Every day that prominent Republicans fail to stand up for the truth, the country inches closer to a point of no return.
Lydia Storella can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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