Of all the reasons that Republicans have offered for punishing Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, perhaps the most ludicrous is that she doesn’t support the GOP’s supposed transition to a “working-class party.”

Fortunately, new developments have come along to demolish this spin, just in time for the vote to remove Cheney from House GOP leadership, which Republicans have now scheduled for Wednesday.

In an amusing confluence of events, the vote — and the spin that Cheney threatens the GOP’s “working-class” future — is coming just as Republicans are revealing their true economic colors, by bashing Democrats for favoring overly generous unemployment benefits.

This latest spin on Cheney comes courtesy of Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who told Fox News that one of Cheney’s sins was to reject a memo he authored declaring that the GOP is becoming a “working-class party,” thanks to Donald Trump.

“Cheney is the only Republican leader who attacked the memo about making the Republican Party the party of the working class,” Banks said, adding that this transition was essential to keeping “Trump voters in the Republican fold” for the 2022 elections.

Similarly, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) has rebuked Cheney by arguing that the GOP cannot “grow” without Trump, given the success of his “economic populism” in expanding the party’s appeal to “working men and women.”

The ‘working-class party’ ruse

The idea that Republicans must purge Cheney to continue the Trump-driven transformation into a “working-class party” is a monumental scam. And the debate over unemployment benefits confirms the point.

Republicans are widely echoing the talking point that the disappointing April jobs numbers are the result of supplemental unemployment benefits in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which every Republican opposed.

These benefits, they say, are discouraging Americans from getting back to their jobs. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) claims they placed “handcuffs” on the recovery, and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) insists that they’re "making unemployment pay more than work.”

But as Paul Krugman explains in a good column, the data doesn’t support this story. Job gains occurred in low-wage occupations but not in high-wage ones, the opposite of what you’d expect if unemployment benefits were competing with wages in workers’ calculations.

What’s more, the economy and human behavior have been badly distorted in unpredictable ways by the pandemic, so it’s folly to read too much into one month. Indeed, Wall Street analysts believe this is a blip and that hiring will pick up with more vaccinations.

Other factors probably caused the low hiring, such as a lack of child care due to still-reopening schools. Another possibility is that many Americans are reconsidering whether to return to old occupations, because the pandemic has led them to reassess their life prospects, a good thing.

The truth or falsity of the GOP story aside, the very fact that Republicans are telling it exposes the “working-class party" ruse. As Jordan Weissmann notes, even if benefits did discourage work, instead of slashing them we might consider letting people temporarily keep them while returning, since this dynamic would be illustrating how unremunerative their jobs are.

This is the point that doesn’t appear to concern Republicans. To them, if low-wage work is so unrewarding that paltry unemployment benefits discourage it, the problem is the latter and not the former.

The new “working-class” GOP is making the same arguments for cutting off unemployment benefits that it made during the recovery from the Great Recession. As Krugman concludes, “punishing the unemployed is what Republicans do, whenever they can.”

Note that even Republicans who proselytize a new “conservative populism” are falling back on this GOP orthodoxy. Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) both sounded versions of the idea that the government is “paying” people not to work, again suggesting that whatever “populist” base they’re targeting is less concentrated among workers than among reactionary small-business owners.

It’s all about Trump

The Banks memo outlining this GOP’s supposed “working-class” transition also underscores the point. The policies it cites are all about further restricting immigration, highlighting the supposed “wokeness” threat and targeting alleged Big Tech censorship of conservatives, hardly things that will really lift working-class wages.

Even the memo’s mention of trade is largely packaged as anti-China demagoguery. And the same Republicans screaming about woke corporate globalist elites uniformly oppose Biden’s proposals to target revenue sheltered overseas by multinational corporations and tax investment income more equivalently to labor income.

You don’t have to be a Cheney sympathizer to grasp the sheer repulsiveness of the scam that she must be purged because her criticism of Trump will imperil the GOP’s hold on working-class voters he inspired.

Cheney’s real transgression is to demand that Republicans unambiguously repudiate Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 election was illegitimate, and to commit to honoring democratic outcomes going forward.

Whatever would lead Republicans to conclude that reaffirming the integrity of our democracy in a way Trump will not would alienate working-class voters he brought in?

The answer is obvious: Republicans themselves believe his appeal to those voters has less to do with “economic populist” ideas than with Trump himself. Keeping them energized requires the continued nurturing of the mythology of the crowning 2020 injustice done to Trump, which also conveniently provides the justification for doubling down on voter suppression wherever possible.

That’s what Banks and Graham really mean when they say the GOP is remaking itself in Trump’s image as a “working-class party.”

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