Cheney is the epitome of an establishment Republican. The daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney shares his aggressive foreign policy views, vocally opposing Trump’s efforts to draw down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. That alone had earned the ire of some in MAGA world who have made opposition to what they call “forever wars” their leitmotif. She was also not enthusiastic about Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports, saying a trade war would hurt her state. Her policy stances are otherwise not incompatible with Trump’s, nor are they out of the party’s conservative mainstream.
She is, however, out of step with the heated rhetoric that increasingly defines the party’s hard Trump wing. Newly elected House Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (Colo.) are already using Twitter to proclaim an apocalyptic vision of an America running pell-mell toward secular socialism, which, in their view, can only be stopped by vociferous counterattacks led by Trump. These claxons join an already loud chorus of members of Congress and media personalities frequently found on talk radio, Fox News and its erstwhile competitors, Newsmax and One America News. They take Barry Goldwater’s famous dictum — “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” — to hitherto unimaginable heights.
Cheney’s primary challenger, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, appears to be cut from this cloth. He is the founder of a gun-rights group, Wyoming Gun Owners, and has a reputation as a pugnacious and aggressive conservative. His announcement took clear aim at Cheney’s impeachment vote and alleged opposition to Trump policies, telegraphing a likely campaign attack that Wyoming’s representative needs to “stand up to Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, and not give them cover.” Unsurprisingly, Bouchard appears to be an active fan of Greene and Boebert on social media.
Democrats are looking forward to internecine battles such as this. They know that the more Republicans fight each other, the likelier they won’t reunite to fight them. Democrats are surely drooling over the rumored prospect of Trump creating his own Patriot Party that would position itself to the GOP’s right on rhetoric and policy. In our first-past-the-post election system, in which a candidate does not need a majority of the vote to win, Democrats know that a split center-right can only help them.
As such, how Cheney and others like her respond will be critical to the Republican Party’s prospects. It does not help to simply beat the challenges back if doing so heightens the chances of a split or of driving hard-right voters to sit out the general election. Cheney and the establishment need to win on terms that all but the most irreconcilable and extreme can find acceptable. That means stealing some of their thunder while isolating the toxic elements too many bring with them.
Cheney should start by taking a distinct position on illegal immigration. Halting illegal immigration is central to all wings of conservative thought, but building the border wall is Trump’s issue, and she can’t steal that from a man who will probably personally campaign against her. Instead, she should push for mandatory use of E-Verify. This would make it illegal to employ anyone without first checking a government-run database to see whether the applicant is legally able to work in the United States. This would be better than Trump’s wall at dampening illegal immigration because it dries up the demand for illegal labor that fuels migration to begin with.
She should also adopt a more rhetorically aggressive stance toward China. It’s not enough simply to oppose the rise of Communist Chinese power. She and the GOP establishment need to be seen as taking the fight home — even at the expense of multinational corporations that book profits in China. There’s a reason Trump’s slogan is “make America great again”: Too many Americans think the country is no longer great or that they aren’t respected in other parts of America. Cheney and the establishment need to make those concerns their own.
The leaders of the party of Abraham Lincoln need to imitate him if they are to prevail. The 16th president united anti-slavery Democrats, old Whigs, German immigrants and Northerners more concerned with preserving the Union than stopping the expansion of slavery with an aggressive, yet intricate, rhetoric that excited true believers and reassured the fearful. If Cheney can take a page from Lincoln’s playbook and decisively defeat Bouchard, she will do more than save her own skin; she’ll show everyone how they can save the party’s skin, too.
Watch Opinions videos: