Rep. Liz Cheney is out. After weeks of rumblings, House Republicans voted to remove Cheney from her position as conference chair, the third highest position in their leadership. They did it as punishment for Cheney refusing to stop her repeated renouncement of Donald Trump’s bogus election fraud claims. Cheney’s not exactly an innocent party here. She deserves recognition for her stance, not praise. Still, her removal shows Republicans’ calcified Trump support even months after he left office.
So what’s next for the GOP?
This wasn’t a big surprise from House Republicans. Cheney’s been their number one target for weeks; removing her from leadership was inevitable. It’s significant, but it’s not some watershed moment. If anything this is a warning shot—call out Trump, insist the election wasn’t a fraud, step out of line in any way and you’ll get the Cheney treatment too. For a political party that loves crying about cancel culture, they sure do seem to punish differing opinions harshly.
The GOP’s anti-democratic turn began well before Liz Cheney, and it certainly won’t end with her. Trump’s absurd election behavior and the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot were harbingers of things to come. GOP state legislatures across the country have introduced (and passed) voting legislation designed to make it easier for them to steal elections. In fact, Georgia’s new voter law would’ve essentially ensured a Trump victory there if it were applied in 2021, according to The Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel.
It’s simple, really. The Republican Party has entirely dropped any notion of democracy. They’re not interested in the people’s mandate unless those people voted for them. They’ve thought this way for years, of course—voter suppression efforts in Georgia, Texas, and many other states are decades old. The GOP already wrote the playbook on how to steal an election in 2000 and did their damndest to repeat history last year. Trump’s loss was just the final nail in the coffin of keeping this stuff under wraps. There’s no need to hide the pretense anymore. Republicans want endless majority rule, they’re willing to do anything to get it, and they don’t care who knows it.
The question is not whether or not Republicans will try this again in three years. It’s whether Democrats will do enough between now and then to stop them. If Dems don’t find a way to pass major voting rights legislation, the 2024 presidential election is ripe for the illegitimate taking. But it’s also a matter of pushing and passing popular legislation. COVID-19 relief was a major boon to Biden’s popularity, and the subsequent spending bills should only improve his standing. But that’s only the tip of the spear. The easiest way to stop Republicans from ending American democracy as we know it is to get more people to vote for you. You do that by reforming healthcare, supporting labor organization, relieving student debt, and securing Americans’ voting rights between now and the 2022 midterms.
Democrats aren’t particularly good at messaging. It probably wouldn’t shock anyone to see them campaign in 2022 on Cheney’s ouster. That would be a terrible mistake. Proving Republicans have jumped the proverbial authoritarian shark isn’t difficult, but whining about neocon royalty won’t do it. No one cares about Cheney. She was a sacrificial lamb, an offering to god-emperor Trump and his base which still controls the party’s future. The key is getting people out to vote based on what Republicans are doing to oppress and disenfranchise them.
The good news, if you can call it that, is it’s happening right in front of our eyes. Republican politicians repeatedly admit and show their pathetic servitude to a man who still believes he won the election. But making that connection won’t be enough. It’ll come down to whether Democrats can stop Republicans legally and draw a distinction between them, explaining what they’ve accomplished and offer as Republicans work to take it away.