A day after Liz Cheney lost her congressional seat, Ron Brownstein in theAtlantic speculated on her next moves, including running for president. I want to use one of his remarks as a springboard to discuss the ways she could lead a defense of the republic that not only saves it, but also save the GOP–or gives birth to a new Conservative party that can compete with Democrats.
“The only plausible way to break Trump’s hold on the GOP, these critics believe, is to show that Trump, or Trumpism, cannot win national elections. Even if Cheney cannot deny Trump the nomination, she could still ultimately loosen his hold on the party, this thinking goes, if she persuades enough centrist and white-collar voters to reject him and ensure his defeat in a general election. To save the party, in other words, Cheney might first have to be willing to destroy it.”
This last line really resonated with me, and reminded me of a post I wrote a few years ago, suggesting the Republicans should consider abandoning the GOP (brand) and start a new conservative party. I felt this way because a) embracing Trump indelibly stained the party, making it a political loser, especially in the long-term (at least, a person like me would not vote for them again); b) by vehemently rejecting Trump–including racism–the new Conservative party could jettison harmful political baggage while building a platform and approach that could widen their tent in a way that could lead them to big political victories in the future. (When Romney lost, I believe one group of advisors recommended making changes to attract more voters–especially, people of color–but with Trump the GOP rejected this approach and decided to focus on whipping up the base, including the use of demagoguery.)
To be clear, this was a very long-term project. In the short-term, the GOP would suffer big losses. This is definitely a tough sell to Republicans and Conservatives, but I would argue the approach is not only a strategically wise, for the long-term, but morally right and patriotic. Trumpism and racism–authoritarianism–should be unequivocally rejected. The fact that this would politically damage the GOP is not a sufficient argument against this approach. If it was, that would mean the party would be more important than core American values (e.g., all people are created equal, the rule of law, etc.). Additionally, the political pain is a consequence from the GOP accepting and embracing Trump. Not taking a big political hit was not an option–not enough the GOP would remain a legitimate liberal-democratic party. Yes, they could abandon liberal-democracy–embrace authoritarianism–as a way to avoid this pain, but then the GOP would cease to be a legitimate American party in my view.
For true Conservatives and patriots in the GOP, I didn’t see many options. This is especially true after it was clear Trump wouldn’t change, and he committed multiple acts that deserved impeachment and removal. If true Conservatives didn’t break off to start a new party, at some point, they would have vociferously and rigorously oppose Trump and those who supported him. They would have to fight for the soul of the GOP.
In this process, essentially an internal war within the GOP, the GOP likely would have died–“died” in the sense of suffering huge political defeats. However, in my view, these Conservative insurgents could have laid the groundwork for either a new Conservative party or for a revitalization and strengthening of the GOP.
How does this relate to Liz Cheney and the present moment? Cheney believes (rightly) that America democracy is in peril from Trump and Trumpism, and in defense of American democracy, she is going to vigorously and publicly lead a fight against Trump and Trumpist politicians. I use the word “lead” here to suggest that she needs to be able to bring other people with her in this fight–such as prominent Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney), Conservative pundits, and even big Republican donors or business leaders. To me, her ability to get people like this to join this public defense is really crucial. But if she’s successful, this group of Americans can successfully defend democracy.
However, in the process, Republicans will suffer some crucial losses–including some prominent Republicans. That is, Cheney and those who follow her will be responsible for defeating some of her former colleagues or damaging GOP leaders and allies. She’s going to be seen as an enemy, and will likely be reviled among the GOP establishment. (Well, she’ll be reviled among Trumpist Republican voters as well.)
At the same time, this will position her and those who follow her as the legitimate leaders of GOP or a new Conservative party. This could help Cheney’s presidential aspirations, but I also think this ultimately could help American Conservatism in the future. And, again, if these efforts succeed, they would have preserved American democracy. (More later.)