The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion To help the U.S. heal, critics like Cheney should accept the GOP for what it is

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) arrives to speak after losing to her opponent Harriet Hageman in the Republican primary election, during an event held at the Mead Ranch on Aug. 16 in Jackson Hole, Wyo. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Liz Cheney’s spectacular rejection by voters in Tuesday’s Wyoming Republican House primary was predictable, not just because of her vote to impeach Donald Trump or her decision to join forces with Democrats on the Jan. 6 select committee but also because she closed her campaign by calling her party “very sick.” Wyoming Republicans, feeling fine, decided to change doctors.

Cheney’s defeat will temporarily magnify her martyrdom, but everyone will soon remember that while today she’s defining patriotism as opposing Trump, during a brief 2013 Senate campaign she insisted that “patriotism” was “obstructing President [Barack] Obama’s policies and his agenda.” Patriotism is apparently a moving target.

Until Tuesday, Cheney had easily won three straight House GOP primaries, where the ultimate victors in heavily Republican Wyoming are really chosen. She lost this time despite vastly outraising and outspending the rest of the crowded GOP field combined — plus rolling out a searing ad from her father, former vice president Dick Cheney. Why? Because the party isn’t hers anymore, and she blames Trump.

Cheney will assuredly wear her defeat as a badge of honor, a testament to putting country first in ways that lesser Wyoming Republicans did not have the character to emulate. It’s a popular narrative trotted out about Cheney, her Jan. 6 committee colleague Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and any other Republican willing to chastise not just Trump but their party in general.

The jilted lovers of the GOP operate under the delusion that Republicans have just temporarily lost their way, and, once they realize their folly, will find their way home. But while the GOP fell hard for Trump in 2016, its lukewarm response to John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 demonstrated that when it came to traditional suitors, the bloom was already off the rose.

The Post's View: The country needs more Liz Cheneys

Today’s GOP has no interest in being rescued by the very people it ditched. Ronald Reagan remains the most revered modern president for many longtime Republicans, but this is no longer his party, any more than it was still the party of Dwight D. Eisenhower when Reagan ascended. Only 20 years had elapsed from Ike leaving the White House to the Gipper entering it; nearly three decades passed from Reagan’s exit to Trump’s arrival. Things change — just ask a John F. Kennedy Democrat.

Instead of constantly reproaching Republicans for their choices, everyone should stipulate the following: The Republican Party has some lingering conservative leanings, but it is now the populist, Make America Great Again party of its modern leader, Donald Trump. Even if someone else is its standard-bearer in 2024 — which would be a wise move, considering Trump’s self-inflicted wounds after his election defeat — the GOP will not revert to the party of the past. Establishment Republicans who care to remain even modestly influential can pick up an oar and help row. Or, they can jump ship. Lectures and recriminations are futile.

Our national acrimony could be lessened by declaring a halt to portraying the GOP as a terrorist- or conspiracy-based organization represented by the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers or other such groups. Millions of rank-and-file Republicans having no connection to fringe militias with exaggerated influence roll their eyes at the insults hurled their way. But the relentless hostility directed toward them across media platforms, and year after year of investigatory agencies targeting Trump, serve only to keep them defiantly in the former president’s corner. The more you call millions of hard-working, patriotic Americans racists, cultists or terrorists, the more you push them away — and then complain that they’re not listening.

Regardless of what they tell pollsters, whom they often regard as an extension of the mainstream media, most Republicans likely know the 2020 election wasn’t fraudulent, although they might harbor suspicions about voting revisions enacted late in election season, with the pandemic used as justification. They may even agree that Trump is many of the unsavory things that his critics claim — but feel confident that still makes him as fit to be president as any other politician they know.

That might appear shocking to anyone embracing the spin that, by comparison, the Democratic Party distinctively stands for truth, justice and the American Way. The truth is that whatever Democrats are saying or doing about Trump and his party, most of them — especially those in leadership — do so less because they are offended or alarmed than because they think it’s the strategy that will maintain or expand their power. If you think otherwise, your innocence is enviable.

The country might heal more quickly if the left, the right and the media accepted the modern Republican Party for what it is, and if the GOP’s old flames would stop so pitiably pining away. For those former lovers who can’t agree to be friends, the best way to move on is to meet someone else. Maybe they could be introduced to someone in the new Forward Party. They seem nice.