CONGRESSWOMAN Liz Cheney’s crushing defeat in the Wyoming Republican primary clearly demonstrates the political power that former President Donald Trump has over the party’s base. After Cheney voted to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump in the wake of the events of January 6 and decided to participate in the biased House investigation of the same event, Trump asked GOP voters to remove her from her seat and they did, voting for challenger Harriet Hageman by a landslide. Cheney’s downfall, however, is also evidence of another, not less significant reality: today’s Republican constituencies are tired of the party’s old guard, by which they identify the congresswoman, and reject the political vision she represents.
Taking down someone like Liz Cheney is no easy feat. She is a very high-profile leader. She was a member of the top Republican leadership in the House, she is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and she has always been a leading figure on various public policy issues for the media.
Cheney, moreover, had been very popular in the unquestionable Republican state. She received 74% of the vote in the 2020 Republican primary and 67% in the 2018 Republican primary. It was unimaginable that anyone could unseat her until she ran against Trump.
Cheney clearly underestimated Trump’s political clout. She thought that, after the January 6 violent demonstrations on Capitol Hill, Trump was finished. However, the vast majority of the base not only didn’t buy the story that Trump orchestrated the attack on Congress but also remained staunchly loyal to the former president.
So, when she decided to become a fierce opponent of the former president, Cheney sealed her fate. From a popular leader she quickly became a pariah, despised by all Republican activists. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that last week she ended up receiving only 29% of the vote in her primary.
The popularity Trump enjoys, contrary to what Cheney argues, is not due to a mere cult of personality. Trump dominates Republican politics primarily because of the ideas he embraced and vigorously defended as president.
Even before Trump came into active politics, the Republican Party was already moving to the right. Republican supporters were demanding that the party pay more attention to the concerns of average citizens and working families than to the priorities of the corporate class and globalist elites. They were also demanding that the Republican leadership stop supporting military interventionism abroad and be committed to standing up strongly, not just in words, for the right to life, family, religious liberty, and patriotism.
Trump was brilliant in recognizing that trend and in becoming the leading spokesman for that populist right. That is why he prevailed in the 2016 primaries, defeating more than a dozen well-known Republican leaders, and why he continues to be so popular within the Republican base.
In that regard, Cheney’s defeat is yet another sign of the profound political realignment that the Republican Party has gone through. For the Republican base Trump is the standard bearer of the party’s new ideological direction, Cheney, on the other hand, represents the party’s old establishment and its political vision.
While it is true that she supported much of the Trump administration’s agenda, Cheney was highly critical of the president’s foreign policy in favor of protecting U.S. sovereignty and against excessive interference in global conflicts. And this is no small difference. If there is one thing that the Republican Party’s vast base rejects today, it is the neoconservatism of past party leaders like Bush and McCain, which led to endless wars without clear objectives and resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans.
Cheney behaved, on the other hand, showing the typical timidity of the party’s old guard in the face of the serious cultural challenges confronting the nation, preferring not to talk about them much and not giving them the priority they deserve. Today’s Republican base does not tolerate lukewarmness in battles against abortion, the sexualization of our children in schools, and the culture of cancellation.
Still, it is clear that Liz Cheney has not caught on to the new political reality in the Republican Party. Instead of quietly retiring, Cheney insists that she will continue in active politics in order to return the party to the policies of the past. She has even said that she might run for the presidency.
Cheney does not understand that she no longer has support among Republican voters. Only a tiny minority of the base agrees with her. Even if she doesn’t like it, Trump completely dominates the party, and the base has already turned the page on the ideas and political interests she embodies.
Alfonso Aguilar es de Senior VP and Political Director de El American, exjefe de la Oficina de Ciudadanía de los Estados Unidos durante la administración del presidente George W. Bush y presidente del Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. // Alfonso Aguilar is the Senior VP and Political Director of El American and former head of the Office of United States Citizenship during the administration of President George W. Bush and president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.