Her defeat in Wyoming marks the end of an era
Liz Cheney’s thumping defeat in her bid for renomination for Wyoming’s sole seat in the House of Representatives signals again the utter and total defeat of the Bush-Cheney-Romney era of the Republican Party. The neoconservative period of GOP dominance ended when Donald Trump trounced the field during the 2016 primary season. But the avatars of that political tendency — in favour of military adventurism and “free markets” — keep appearing like ghosts at the feast to rattle their chains and insist on being seated above the salt.
Reliably Trump-y until the January 6 riot at the Capitol, Representative Cheney about-faced to embrace every jot of the Democrats’ narrative regarding Trump’s alleged attempt to ignore the election results, dispense with the Constitution, and establish himself as a Caesar on the Potomac. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the Republicans named to serve on her special committee to investigate the riot, she named Liz Cheney as a minority representative to preserve the appearance of bipartisanship. Cheney cheerfully accepted appointment as committee co-chair and embraced her role in the inquisition.
Cheney relished the opportunity to sit before cameras and playact as the last patriotic Republican, a defender of the nation and its democratic values. Her performance on the January 6 committee was read by all members of her party — outside the province of certain op-ed writers whose primary audience is each other — as purest perfidy. Her bland recitation of the most absurd Democrat claims about Trump’s disloyalty were taken as an outrage.
That said, why did Cheney even bother running for re-election, in a state that voted more heavily for Trump than any other, twice? What is characterised in the press as a “split” in the Republican Party — between Trump’s supporters on one hand, and conventional Republicans on the other — in fact is not a schism or factional matter at all. It more closely resembles an ice floe upon which the decrepit and useless remnant of the party has been set adrift.
The neoconservatives who proudly announced that they would vote for Biden in 2020 because they put “country over party”, now await smugly in their splendid palace of principle for the rest of the Republicans, having come to their senses, to slink shamefully back, asking for guidance. But they wait in vain. Mainstream Republican voters, even if they don’t especially love Trump, embrace the program of the new GOP: no new wars, law and order, an end to Wokeness in public schools, and sensible pro-family policies that don’t include intentional immiseration of the middle class through exponentially inflated energy costs.
But that doesn’t mean the Bush-Cheney-Romney cohort will disappear. They can still make noise and wave their tattered battle flags, even threatening to mount rear-guard challenges at national conventions. Dick Cheney, in a cartoonish commercial in support of his daughter’s campaign, glowered at the camera, insisting that “there has never been an individual who was a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump”. But “our republic”, like “our democracy”, must always be heard with a stress on the possessive: when Cheney or Pelosi say “our” they mean theirs. Trump’s threat to established power is less ideological than proprietary.
Liz Cheney’s concession speech included a grandiose citation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — the part where he said “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain” — with the bizarre implication that she, like the martyred saviour of the Union, plans to rescue her daddy’s party by running for President. But the problem for Liz Cheney, Dick Cheney, the Bushes, and their comrades-in-exile, is that they aren’t wanted by their own party, the other party has little use for them, and they lack the most important element for power in an electoral system — a constituency.