Conservatives have generally praised those rare leaders who put principle over political self-interest. Their decisions typically earn them few friends at the time, but history has a way of vindicating their courage. Edmund Burke’s warnings about the French Revolution flouted the spirit of the age but proved prophetic when the Reign of Terror descended across France. Winston Churchill’s resolve to carry on the struggle over the opposition of the majority of his party saved the Allied war effort and rallied the West against Hitler.
Next to these examples, Rep. Liz Cheney’s vote to impeach a president of her own party appears rather more prosaic. But the reaction from her fellow Republicans is still instructive: Over 100 GOP members of Congress want her removed from her position in leadership. A Wyoming state senator has already announced his intention to challenge her in a primary. And her putative ally, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, says “she has a lot of questions she has to answer to the conference.”
This is the antithesis of leadership, and the Republican Party and conservative movement will pay dearly if they continue down this path.
Any honest evaluation of Rep. Cheney’s record shows she is a true conservative in every sense of the term. On taxes and spending, on defense and security, on cancel culture and social issues — on essentially any issue a Republican voter might care about, she has always been a forceful defender of freedom and a fearless proponent of conservative views.
She’s also brave and tough, and has proven herself to be one of the party’s most effective messengers against Nancy Pelosi. From the speaker’s handling of the COVID-19 stimulus legislation to her views on China, Rep. Cheney has never shied away from confronting the Democratic leader and challenging her party’s positions.
Given all this, the idea that some Republicans with a fraction of her record want Rep. Cheney punished for a single vote of conscience is almost laughable — and certainly counterproductive since this conflict will hurt the conservative cause and, consequently, the American people.
The longer the Republican Party stays divided, the greater the chance the progressives in Congress can expand upon their gains and enact their agenda. Even in the minority, a united conservative opposition could steer policy in a more productive direction, increasing economic freedom and strengthening American security in the process. But a divided GOP more interested in purging one another from its ranks than legislating on behalf of the country will cede any influence they might have to the most strident members of the Democratic caucus.
This will not only make Americans worse off in the short term, it will also cripple any chance conservatives have of regaining power over the next four years. While President Trump won more votes than any previous Republican candidate, he was also the first president to lose the White House and both houses of Congress in a single term since Herbert Hoover. Republicans hoping to win elections going forward will need Trump voters’ support, but they will also need to win back the voters Trump alienated with his actions, rhetoric, and some of his policies. Anyone who thinks excommunicating principled leaders like Rep. Cheney will help in that effort is delusional.
The GOP’s recent defeats in Georgia and Arizona prove this point. In 2016, Donald Trump carried the Peach State by five percentage points and the Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson won his race by nearly three times that margin. This election cycle, with President Trump and his most loyal supporters at war with their own party’s elected officials, both GOP senators lost. Meanwhile, in Arizona, despite the GOP sweeping the state in 2016, the voters have since elected two Democratic senators and supported a Democrat for president for the first time since 1996.
The message for Republicans should be clear: Trump alone is not enough. If conservatives want to build a governing coalition that can win elections, the self-destructive attacks on Rep. Cheney need to stop.
If they continue, the same people responsible for the Republicans losing the Senate this time around will ensure further progressive victories in the years ahead — and bear responsibility for the policies that will inevitably result.