By Dewi Morris | Political Editor
The GOP, as the party is often referred to, is at a political crossroads where it must decide whether to cut its ties with former President Trump and return to traditional Republicanism, or to continue its endorsement of the former president and his brand of populism.
The past month has seen Republicans debate punishing two congresswomen, Marjorie Greene and Liz Cheney, in what the New York Times dubbed a proxy battle for the future direction of the GOP. How Republican leaders will deal with the two lawmakers (Greene for her unsettling statements and extreme right views, and Cheney for voting to impeach Trump), will set a precedent for what the Republican party will stand for post-Trump.
Marjorie Greene was elected in November and became the first congressperson who supported QAnon (a conspiracy theory group labelled as potential domestic terrorists by the FBI). Greene, a fan of conspiracies, has previously shared false information on social media, such as claims that the 9/11 attacks were a hoax and that John F. Kennedy Jr.’s death in a plane crash was in fact an assassination ordered by Hillary Clinton. She also shared a meme which pictured herself holding a gun next to Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who are members of a progressive group nicknamed ‘The Squad’. It was captioned “Squad’s worst nightmare”. When Facebook deleted the meme Greene claimed Democrats were “trying to cancel me out before I’ve even taken the oath of office”.
Greene presents a dilemma for the GOP. Her inflammatory language risks pushing the party further towards the right. However, many argue that if Republican leadership were to punish her, they would risk alienating voters as well as signifying a break from Trump, who highly praises Greene as a “future Republican star” and “a real WINNER”.
GOP leaders decided to allow Greene to keep her role on the congressional committee for Education and Labour, as well as the committee for Budget. However, on February 4, Greene was exiled from her committees by the Democrat held House in a vote of 230 to 199. While she was not ousted by Republican leadership, 11 Republicans voted for her to be blacklisted.
Nancy Pelosi, who Greene had previously endorsed executing, remarked: “You would think that the Republican leadership in the Congress would have some sense of responsibility to this institution”. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, issued a statement in which he condemned Greene’s actions while alleging Democrats’ expulsion of Greene was an “unprecedented step to further their partisan power grab”.
The same day as Greene was expelled from her committee duties, Republicans held a vote on whether they would strip Liz Cheney of her leadership position over her vote to impeach Donald Trump for allegedly inciting the Capitol mob. The vote was alleged to be 145 to 61 in favour of keeping Cheney, according to sources familiar with the results. While this showed most Republicans would not wish to punish Cheney, it also illustrates a significantly fractured party.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, supported Cheney who he called “a leader with deep convictions and courage.” He hinted at Greene being a “cancer” in the party. While McConnell, along with vocal Republicans have rushed to either side of the divide, McCarthy stood by Cheney while too maintaining that Greene should not be punished. Former Republican Mark Sanford summed-up McCarthy’s dilemma, saying: “You can’t do the normal political song and dance and appease this side slightly and appease that side slightly. The whole nature of the Trump phenomenon is there is no appeasement.”
Cheney along with other moderate Republicans and Republican members of the Lincoln Project (an action committee which aimed to stop a Trump re-election by campaigning for Democrats in some close races) continue to dissociate from the former President. Cheney told Fox News: “We have to take a really hard look at who we are and what we stand for […] We have to be in a position where we can say we stand for principles, for ideals.” The battle also continues on the further right of the rift. On February 6, Wyoming Republicans voted to censure Cheney who represents their third district.
17 Republican senators are needed to vote against Trump for him to be convicted in his second impeachment trial, which began February 9. It will be worth watching whether the increasing divide within the GOP will embolden enough senators to make the statement against their former leader.