It is in everyone's interest that the GOP become an actual political party again, rather than a cult dedicated — in Sasse's memorable phrase — to "the weird worship of one dude." Such a party could play a productive role in governing and policymaking, rather than using Washington as the set for an increasingly bizarre reality show. For that to happen, lawmakers such as Sasse and Cheney need to win the battle for their party. Democrats should be self-interested enough to recognize the costs of letting the GOP devolve further into lunacy.
I never thought I'd have to share a foxhole with some of the nation's most doctrinaire conservatives, but here we are. Cheney, Sasse and a precious few other Republicans have been telling the truth to their base about Trump and the grave injury he has done to our democracy. Given all the times today's truth-tellers pretended not to notice Trump's outrages in the past, it is tempting to say they are merely reaping what they have sown. But they have shown up and spoken out when it counts most.
In an appearance on "Fox News Sunday," Cheney was on fire. "People have been lied to," she said. "The extent to which the president, President Trump, for months leading up to January 6th spread the notion that the election had been stolen or that the election was rigged was a lie. And people need to understand that. We need to make sure that we as Republicans are the party of truth, and that we're being honest about what really did happen in 2020, so we actually have a chance to win in 2022 and win the White House back in 2024."
Let's work hard to make sure that Republicans do not win those coming elections; hoping for sane debating partners who might cross the aisle on occasion is not the same thing as wanting to cede control to conservatives. But let's applaud the fact that Cheney was addressing the GOP-leaning Fox News audience so bluntly.
She's not only brave on the airwaves: Cheney was one of just 10 House Republicans who voted with Democrats to impeach Trump for inciting the Capitol insurrection. And while Cheney did vote last week against stripping Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), the fervent Trump-cultist and conspiracy theorist, of her committee assignments, Cheney said she did so on the grounds that Republicans should have dealt with Greene on their own. The GOP would be better off with Cheney as minority leader than it is with the hapless Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who tries to straddle the party's irreconcilable Trumpist and non-Trumpist factions, ultimately surrendering to chaos.
As a reward for Cheney's impeachment vote, the Wyoming state GOP voted to censure her and called (in vain) for her to resign. Sasse, one of just five Republican senators who voted that this impeachment trial is clearly constitutional, was censured by the Nebraska state GOP in 2016 for not being sufficiently — meaning blindly — supportive of Trump. He is now facing censure again.
But rather than treating the movement to censure him as a punishment, Sasse took it as an opportunity to ask Nebraska voters what they really want. "Let's be clear: The anger in this state party has never been about me violating principle or abandoning conservative policy," Sasse says in a video. "I'm one of the most conservative voters in the Senate. The anger has always been simply about me not bending the knee to one guy."
"For 220 years, one of the most beautiful things about America has been our peaceful transfer of power," he continued. "But what Americans saw three weeks ago was ugly, shameful mob violence."
Both Cheney and Sasse comfortably won reelection in November — and in their reelection campaigns they talked more about the times they had agreed with Trump than the times they had opposed him. Their policy positions on most issues range, in my view, from extremely bad to much, much worse than what the Democratic Party has to offer.
But they, rather than the likes of Greene, must be the future of the Republican Party if it is to survive as a viable political institution rather than a crypto-fascist sect with Mar-a-Lago as its Jerusalem. Getting back to having knock-down-drag-out fights about the size and scope of government would be such a relief.