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What Liz Cheney's Removal Means For The Future Of The GOP

Originally published on May 12, 2021 5:20 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Liz Cheney would not let it go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

LIZ CHENEY: I've been clear of my views about President Trump and the extent to which, following January 6, I don't - I don't believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party.

I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president's crusade to undermine our democracy.

I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.

KELLY: Well, now the Wyoming congresswoman has paid a price for refusing to keep quiet. This morning in an auditorium on Capitol Hill, Cheney, who less than a year ago was being touted as a possible speaker of the House, was booed by her colleagues and stripped of her role as the No. 3 ranking House Republican.

What does this mean for the Republican Party? That's one of the questions we're going to put to our next two guests, Antonia Ferrier, longtime senior staffer for Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Senator Mitch McConnell and former Speaker John Boehner. Welcome.

ANTONIA FERRIER: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: And we're also joined by Lanhee Chen, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and a veteran of Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio's presidential campaigns.

Welcome to you.

LANHEE CHEN: Good to be with you. Thank you.

KELLY: So a question I want to put to both of you - Lanhee, I'll let you tackle it first. What is at stake in this vote today? This is obviously bigger than who's going to get to be the third-ranking House Republican.

CHEN: Well, I think it's about alternate visions, maybe not alternate, but certainly two different visions of what the future of the Republican Party looks like. Will the party be a party that is fundamentally about ideas, about concepts? Or is it going to be an idea - a party focused on one personality? And I think, you know, Liz Cheney is articulating one pathway, and others are articulating another. It's not mutually exclusive necessarily to the extent that there are some who might believe, for example, that former President Trump should have some role or some who believe that there ought to be more of a focus on policy.

But I think what Cheney is doing is setting out a very clear contrast, and, you know, that's sure to irk some of her colleagues. But it is, I think, an important question that Republicans need to ask, which is, what is the direction that those of us who are self-identified Republicans want to see the party go in? And what's the best way to get there?

KELLY: Well, it has very clearly irked more than a few of her colleagues.

Antonia, what's your thought on what's at stake here?

FERRIER: Well, you know, I've thought a lot about political parties over the past couple years. I'm not a person who was a real strong Trump supporter. He's very different than what's been sort of the modern Republican Party. And I would say starting with Ronald Reagan through the George W. Bush presidency, parties are a lot more fluid in their histories than we sometimes recognize and understand.

I mean, if you look at the Democratic Party after Jimmy Carter and moving forward and then you had Bill Clinton who said the era of big government's over to now we have the Biden administration moving forward with a very expansive, very progressive agenda, I think we're sort of seeing a - almost a status quo ante back to before the Eisenhower administration in some ways, where you see a much more isolationist Republican Party, a much more populist Republican Party, one that's far less focused on policy. And add to that just what's been going on for America - in America for some time, which is this celebritization of politics, and you sort of have this all culminating in where we are today.

I mean, this is a very different Republican Party than I signed up for when I graduated from college. But, you know, I don't - I, Lanhee, and many others, we don't get to direct it. It's one huge, massive conglomeration of different people in different states with different concerns. And so the Republican Party that Liz Cheney really represents in some ways is a throwback to something that no longer exists in some ways. But her stance against President Trump is her conviction. So my view is she is an incredible voice to the Republican Party. And she's tough as nails, and I respect her. But unfortunately, people sort of with her views of the world aren't as there. And we have - what I think is normal in a lot of ways in that the - there is a lasting legacy of President Trump because he was just president. OK. So...

KELLY: Yeah.

FERRIER: ...That's a long answer.

KELLY: Well, it's a long answer because it's a complicated subject with a lot of nuance there. So I appreciate your laying some of that out for us. Lanhee, to follow up on something that that you raised about how much this is going to be about one guy and we're talking about former President Trump. You know, clearly the vote today had to do with Liz Cheney and also has to do with what House Republicans think is the path to winning back the House. And I'm curious why so many of them, including the leader of Republicans in the House, Kevin McCarthy, seem to believe that the only way to win elections runs through Trump. I mean, the last time Trump was on the ballot, Republicans lost the White House, the House and the Senate. Why the argument that he is so key to winning the next election?

CHEN: Well, midterm elections are traditionally lower turnout affairs than presidential general elections. And so you need to have a motivated and energized base going into an election, like a midterm election we're going to see in 2022, if your party is to be successful. And I think the operating theory that the current House Republican leadership is operating under is that they need to have the Republican base enthused if they're going to be able to recapture control of the House. And they believe that the important element to that that will drive how animated the base is, is whether President Trump, former President Trump is supportive of their efforts and is willing to get out and do what he needs to do to energize that base.

Now, there are obviously counter examples of that. The most obvious one being the Georgia special elections we saw in January where Republicans lost two very winnable Senate seats. You know, President Trump, former President Trump was arguably pretty engaged in those elections and the outcome didn't come out the way that I think Republicans would have wanted. So...

KELLY: Well, and there is the argument that other Republicans are making. I'm thinking of John Thune, Senate minority whip. He is also up for reelection. He's out there saying, look, if we Republicans keep talking about 2020, we're going to lose 2022. Let's focus on other stuff. Let's focus on jobs. Let's focus on immigration. Let's focus on national security.

CHEN: Yeah, and I think Thune is right. And the focus on the issues and the focus on the kitchen table issues in particular is something that I think voters are going to end up judging Republicans on in 2022. And that's going to make much more of a difference, I think, than where former President Trump is on one candidate or another.

KELLY: Antonia, in the minute or so we have left, what do you think is the best way for the Republican Party either to win elections or just to continue to grow going forward?

FERRIER: Oh, well, that's a big topic for 60 seconds. But I agree 100% with Lanhee. And I would say, you know, to your listeners out there in cities around the country, you've got crime that is increased dramatically. You have a situation with schools. There is a lot of discontent out there that we in the Beltway or in California or New York sometimes miss. There is a great deal of unhappiness and dissatisfaction out there. And that's the sort of circumstance where in a midterm election, the minority party, the - tends to win. So I would say focus on those issues. I would just note that for Liz Cheney, excuse me, I think there's something bigger at stake here, which is to say we have to be careful who we follow and that we can...

KELLY: And which will be fodder for our next conversation. We'll leave it there for today. Antonia Ferrier now at the CGCN group and Lanhee now at the Hoover Institution.

Thanks to you both. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.