You probably heard a lot in recent days about the Republican Party in the throes of a divisive civil war for its political soul among Donald Trump, the House GOP caucus, and that Wyoming renegade Liz Cheney.
It’s delicious news for Washington media to ignore a vacant presidency and Democrat disarray to cover turmoil within the Party of Lincoln, which is currently the official opposition party to Democrats controlling the White House and, just barely, the House and Senate.
That popular narrative – how can I put this politely? – is crap.
Much of the Washington media is addicted to the 45th president like crack. He routinely attacked members of the D.C. press. That elevated them to a cherished level of infamy.
It gave its members a lucrative notoriety, undeserved but it produced for them levels of viewership and readers unparalleled in recent times.
They simply cannot get over him and must drag his name into every story possible to salvage some news consumer interest. For example, evening ratings for CNN, one of the once-buzzing hives of hostility toward Trump, have seen their audiences crater the last few months without him.
His media attacks also served Trump’s purpose beautifully, providing a venal Them opposed to him and his army of conservative crusaders struggling in the good fight against all odds for the conservative soul of the country.
What is that media stuck with now? A limp, sock-puppet president who looks and sounds so lost in the big house that he must flee back to his own home basement every weekend for safety and who knows what else.
Before Biden knocks off for the day shortly after lunch, he stumbles through verbal presentations with enough “uh’s” to awaken Demosthenes, the famed Greek orator who died 2,343 years ago.
Now, the House of Representatives is, if we’re honest, the JV of federal politics. Yes, all financial legislation is supposed to originate there. But that chamber contains hundreds (435 voting members, to be exact), not all are intellectual heavyweights, and all jostle for media coverage back home. That’s because as soon as they get elected, they must start running for the next election in just 24 months.
Some presidents have served in the House — Abraham Lincoln and George H.W. Bush come to mind. Gerald Ford, too, though he was never elected president.
There’s a reason John Kasich and Mike Pence left the House to gain executive experience as governors. The House’s assemblage of minor players does not vault anyone into the national consciousness.
Along comes Liz Cheney, a 54-year-old representative now in her third term as Wyoming’s lone House member, the job her father held for six terms before serving in the White House, eventually as George W. Bush’s vice president.
Cheney is bright. She was picked as conference chair, the third-highest GOP leadership position and one often filled by a woman.
From that prominent perch last year she joined nine party colleagues to impeach Trump. That’s not unprecedented. In 1998, five House Democrats voted to impeach their party’s president.
Of course, this outraged Trump, an adopted Republican who regularly rages after his own party’s members. Remember his unremitting vendetta against Jeff Sessions with ingratitude, the first senator to endorse Trump’s once seemingly hopeless White House bid.
Cheney could have left it there, and let people think it was a passing moment of congressional conscience.
But she didn’t. She’s loudly criticized Trump frequently this year, saying she regretted voting for him in November and denouncing his repeated refrain of a stolen election as “the big lie.”
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie,” Cheney said before her ouster, “emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that.”
Such talk, of course, became Exhibit A for D.C. media to detect a bloody GOP civil war, when it was really a mere purging of one outspoken maverick.
This past week, GOP House members by unrecorded voice-vote ousted Cheney for such alleged disloyalty and elected in her place upstate New York’s Elisa Stefanik, a distinct moderate long a rising star who’s muted her Trump critiques recently.
There’s no doubt Washington Republicans are lead by Trump, for now. In a way this makes sense. He headed the party for four years of successful policy (tax cuts, military buildup, destroying the ISIS caliphate, deregulation, energy independence, no new wars).
Trump was the most recent GOP president. He’s hinted of a 2024 campaign, which media pray for. And he’s loud, very loud, especially targeting perceived party enemies and effectively endorsing supporters.
So, Cheney’s anti-Trump campaign, while media catnip, would appear suicidal. She’s likely to be primaried in Wyoming next year, threatening her fourth House term.
Even as a territory, Wyoming granted women the right to vote in 1869, a legacy of the frontier where both genders did equal work. (The first woman in Congress, Jeannette Rankin, came from next-door Montana in 1916.)
Next to next-door Utah, Wyoming is historically home turf for Republicans. But its Senate seats are not likely vacant soon. John Barrasso has been in since 2007 and ex-Rep. Cynthia Lummis took office this year.
Make no mistake. Cheney’s Trump antipathy is no passing outburst. It’s an actual campaign to become the drum major of an anti-Trump parade that has yet to form. She’s been doing sympathetic media nonstop since her ouster and will appear on Sunday shows and beyond.
Cheney’s organizing fundraising to encourage like-minded Republicans to come out. She’s hired strategists and a well-known photographer to chronicle her effort. You can probably count on a book, too.
In effect, Cheney is playing off Trump’s notoriety and media magnetism for her own purposes, just as D.C. media is.
Cheney has teased a possible 2024 presidential campaign, which guarantees ongoing publicity but would seem hopeless at this point. She can, of course, rely on Trump’s pugnacious proclivity to punch back at opponents, which can often be self-destructive, when ignoring them would serve him better.
A squad of other Republicans – including Pence, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Tom Cotton — are also preparing for 2024, but quietly to be ready should Trump’s reelection talk be a feint. Why alienate the Trump base when you might need it?
And Joe Biden’s policy punts are producing ample ammo for any opposition party: Raising taxes in a sputtering economic recovery, permitting the southern border to leak thousands of illegal immigrants, halting the border fence, then restarting it, pushing green energy dreams when a major pipeline gets hacked and remaining strangely silent, silent again as Israel gets attacked.
Speaking of quiet, there is some flickering evidence emerging that a growing number of Republicans, once avid Trump supporters but now unexposed to his daily White House pronouncements, are also moving on from the Trump-Cheney obsession with last November.
You won’t hear about this possible tide-turn out of Washington media, save for the astute Byron York of the Washington Times.
An NBC News poll early last fall of Republicans and Republican-leaners found 53 percent called themselves Trump supporters, while only 37 percent were GOP supporters.
Last month, only three months into Trump’s absence a repeat poll found the proportion had shifted significantly. Fifty percent called themselves GOP supporters, only 44 percent were Trump supporters.
That’s still a lot of folks, certainly more than any other Republican right now. In fact, 44 percent is right around Trump’s average job approval. But that much movement away from Trump in that short a time is in the wrong direction for the 45th president to become the 47th.