There’s a forgotten Dana Carvey movie from 2002 in which the Saturday Night Live alum is a crime-fighting “master of disguise” (hence the title). In the most memorable scene from the movie, Carvey goes undercover to infiltrate a private country club called “The Turtle Club.” Not understanding the concept, Carvey disguises himself as a turtle-like man and asks the bouncer, “Am I not turtle-y enough for the Turtle Club?” For some reason that movie came to me this week as I imagined Liz Cheney asking rhetorically, “Am I not trumpy enough for the Republican Party?”
Apparently not if the collective hissy fit thrown by the House Freedom Caucus and other Republicans this week is any indication. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went so far as to tell CNN on Wednesday, “I don’t think she’s good for the country.”
The fuss would lead one to believe that Cheney is a closet liberal who is supporting Joe Biden – or perhaps even Bernie Sanders – in November. But no. Cheney has voted with Trump 96 percent of the time according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis. Despite this, she also has solid conservative credentials from the American Conservative Union, Heritage, National Right to Life, the NRA, and a plethora of other groups.
Politico reporter Melanie Zanona detailed the brouhaha in a Twitter thread which cited attacks on Cheney by a veritable Who’s Who of members of the Freedom Caucus, which these days seems less concerned with defending freedom and the Constitution than in carrying water for the president. Recall that the Freedom Caucus ostracized Justin Amash when the rogue Michigan congressman criticized Trump’s emergency declarations of convenience.
Now the Freedom Caucus has set its sights on Liz Cheney for the sin of supporting Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the government’s preeminent medical experts, in the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than 140,000 Americans (even though Paul complained about her foreign policy views). The controversy seems to stem from a May 12 tweet in which Cheney called Fauci “one of the finest public servants we have ever had” and “not a partisan.” The tweet did not attack the president, but Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) reportedly complained that his primary opponent had retweeted Cheney.
The kicker is that it was not Cheney who made the decision for the White House to declare war on Dr. Fauci. She chose wisely and tweeted her confidence in Fauci in an attempt to defuse the growing Republican belief that Fauci was some sort of Deep State mole giving the president bad advice in an attempt to scuttle the Trump re-election campaign. In fact, if Trump, the nation’s governors, and Americans in general had followed Fauci’s advice, the country would be in much better shape and much closer to getting back to normal.
This is not to say that Republicans like Roy have participated in attacks on Fauci, but many have been silent as President Trump and others in the White House did their best to undermine the credibility of the immunologist. For example, the president recently called Fauci an “alarmist” and Peter Navarro wrote in USA Today that Fauci “has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.” The attacks on Fauci are unwise considering that the good doctor has much higher approval and trust ratings than the president, but then again, that is probably why the White House launched the attacks in the first place.
The squabble underscores the problem that the modern Republican Party faces. President Reagan famously said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor.” However, in the Trump GOP a 96-percent ally is a disloyal traitor and the worst person in the world.
This is not a totally new concept for Republicans. Even in those years wandering in the wilderness of the Obama Administration many Republicans were more concerned with purifying the party than with growing their base. Unfortunately, this sort of thinking led to a string of electoral defeats because a small, pure party cannot win as many votes as a big tent that is accepting of some differences of opinion.
As evidence of this, back in 2014 I stumbled on a list of the “most wanted RINOs from 2005.” I decided to look into what happened to these officials targeted by the RINO hunters and published the results on my Common Sense Conservative Facebook page. Seven had been replaced by more liberal politicians, one retired after redistricting, and one (Susan Collins of Maine) was still serving. Only one, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania had been replaced by a more conservative Republican. Conservatives seem to have gotten the worse end of the exchange.
In 2016, Republicans stopped hunting RINOs and handed the party over to one. Among the changes that ensued after Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP was even more intolerance of intraparty political dissent. Any deviation from the party line and any criticism of the president’s behavior, no matter how far out of the norms, is likely to incur Mr. Trump’s wrath on Twitter and send the target’s Republican colleagues scurrying for cover.
The resulting groupthink has put the Republicans at odds with medical experts like Dr. Fauci and painted them into a corner in which they must push for the businesses and schools to reopen even though new Coronavirus cases are twice as high as they were in March when the country began to shelter-in-place. The president’s management style (such as it is) rewards yes-men and punishes those who dare to tell the emperor that he has no clothes. If there were more Republicans who weren’t afraid to speak out, the party might not be facing the prospect of an electoral disaster.
I wouldn’t consider myself a Liz Cheney partisan. A 96 percent alignment with Trump is a little too unconservative for my tastes. I do appreciate her willingness to stand up to the president’s attacks on Fauci however. A successful leader needs people with the intestinal fortitude to tell him when he’s wrong. Too many of Trump’s advisors seem to lack this quality. That has been to the nation’s detriment.
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