But the metric has also been of greatly diminished utility since June 2015. The emergence of Trump meant a quick evolution away from such traditional measures as conservative voting records or scores from right-leaning think tanks as useful measures of Republican success. Trump himself was not interested in legislation, as he made explicit repeatedly. Instead, he championed a policy-free movement of nationalism and hostility to the left that quickly became the expected norm for his party.
We saw how this worked last week. Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the type of Republican who had a demonstrated track record of supporting conservative policy, was dumped from the House Republican caucus in favor of Rep. Elise Stefanik, a much more moderate member of the caucus — and a New Yorker, of all things. As many people pointed out, Stefanik was far less conservative than Cheney on the DW-NOMINATE score compiled by Voteview. Her lifetime voting score from the conservative Club for Growth is well below Cheney’s — and even a bit below Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
Yet there she is, one of the senior House Republicans. The reason is obvious. This spectrum, showing DW-NOMINATE scores for prominent congressional Republicans, is no longer the best measure of Republican legislators.
Instead, as we’ve reported, Republican views of “conservative” now hew more closely to views of Trump.
Consider a CBS News poll released over the weekend. Eighty percent of Republicans agreed that Cheney should be dumped from her leadership position, with half of those who approved of it saying that her ouster was warranted because she doesn’t support Trump. About two-thirds said that Trump represents their views most or all of the time.
Stefanik emerged as a favorite to replace Cheney specifically because of her support for (and, eventually, from) Trump. Stefanik didn’t meet the old standard of adherence to conservative policy issues but she very much met the “obsequious to Trump” metric where Cheney didn’t. So she is now a member of the House Republican leadership team.
In other words, we can expand the one-dimensional measure of voting record to include another dimension: fealty to Trump’s gauzy “make America great again” movement. In concert with my colleague Aaron Blake, we developed rough MAGA scores for the same prominent Republicans shown above. Sprinkle a little New-York-Magazine-Approval-Matrix aesthetic on it, and we get this:
That top-to-bottom dimension is obviously subjective, but it seems about right. Most Republicans of some significance in the moment are clustered above the midpoint on MAGAism; Trump’s most vocal opponents are closer to the bottom edge. Depending on context, it’s that dimension, not the left-right one, that matters.
Part of the subjectivity is measuring where someone such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) should fall. He’s been critical of Trump at times but is clearly interested in demonstrating loyalty to the former president, recognizing the political value in doing so. We opted to keep him in the generally pro-MAGA range of the matrix, but lower than someone such as Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). Your measurement may vary.
What this matrix offers is a different way of thinking about Republican politics that’s more in keeping with the moment. A Republican can excel even if she doesn’t have a particularly robust track record on Republican policy because, speaking frankly, that’s not a critical component of the party’s power in an era where they’re in the minority and in thrall to Trump.
What Cheney wants to do is rupture the salience of that vertical dimension. So far, she’s not having much luck.