Liz Cheney, the only member of the U.S. House of Representatives from sparsely populated Wyoming, is as conservative as they come.
As a member of the House Republican leadership, she is — or she was — a strong voice for Utah-style Republicans. Or what we used to think of as Utah-style Republicans — favoring small government, low taxes, a strong national security policy. She’s reliably pro-fossil fuel and suspicious of the motives of environmentalists. She could just as easily be Utah’s fifth member of the House.
So why did two of Utah’s four House Republicans join the purge, voting Wednesday to remove Cheney from her position as third in the party’s chain of command, and likely replace her with a member of Congress from upstate New York whose voting record is rather more, well, New York?
One reason and one reason only: Cheney tells the truth about what happened in the last election. Joe Biden won. Donald Trump lost. The member who is likely to replace Cheney in leadership, Rep. Elise Stefanik of Schuylerville, New York, promotes the lie.
The political execution was carried out, as befits its cowardly nature, behind closed doors without a recorded vote. So we are dependent on what members of the House tell us to know how each of them voted.
Rep. Blake Moore, a freshman in Utah’s delegation, said that he voted against Cheney’s ouster. He is among the too few Republicans who, like Cheney, tells the truth about who won the election.
Rep. John Curtis was among the first to recognize the true winner of the presidential election. Yet he voted to remove Cheney, a two-faced action cloaked in political double talk about the need to “stop looking in the rearview mirror and return to focusing on advancing our ideas and legislating.”
Rep. Chris Stewart announced that he voted to remove Cheney, calling it a move “to unify the Republican Party.” To unify it behind a lie.
Rep. Burgess Owens, who joined Stewart in voting against certification of the election results on Jan. 6, did not attend Wednesday’s caucus. His office said he was attending a funeral.
Apparently that’s all that counts as many Republicans in key positions chart their future. To get ahead, you must pledge your troth to Trump, to his campaign of undermining faith in our democracy, his efforts to stop the legitimate transfer of power by lathering up the violent mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Telling the truth in today’s Republican Party gets you booed at the Utah Republican State Convention, as Sen. Mitt Romney discovered recently, or, as in Cheney’s case, knocked out of a leadership post. Even when it costs Republicans of the Intermountain West a powerful voice at the table.
But maintaining that influence is apparently less important these days than the Trump cult of personality. Republicans who would previously have been relatively safe in their political futures now have to fear drawing opposition in GOP primary elections from candidates who are more willing to curry the favor of the Lord of Mar-a-Lago.
What is at stake here is not a single vote on an internal party matter, but the very legitimacy of American democracy — which Cheney was trying to cling to even as other Republicans in the House moved to undermine it.
As Romney pointed out, punishing Cheney is not the kind of thing that will win the party any support from outside the Trump Reality Distortion Field, even as it makes the party less popular among the broader electorate.
In the real world, Trump is just not that popular. He lost the popular vote in two elections, never polled all that well while in office and his support for the two Senate candidates in Georgia backfired to the point that Republicans lost control of that chamber.
Nationally, the likely outcome of continued support for Trump among Republican elected officials will be a smaller party. Many voters will move to the unaffiliated category and vote more and more for Democrats.
In Utah, where the Democratic Party has long been weak and underfunded, voters who are sickened by the turn of the Republicans from conservative to Trumpist won’t always have much of a choice. And our state’s political establishment may find itself tied to a withering national party.
Having a functioning two-party system in Utah politics would be an improvement. Having the Utah Republican Party return to its true roots would be better for everyone.