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The Republican “Civil War” Is Actually Just the Trump GOP Against a Few Losers

Liz Cheney and Miles Taylor refuse to accept the obvious truth: They lost their battle for the soul of the party years ago.

A smirking Liz Cheney carries papers through the U.S. Capitol.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

As she fought to keep her job as the third-most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives, Liz Cheney returned again and again to the same argument. The GOP had a choice: It could continue to embrace Donald Trump and his lies about the 2020 election, or it could follow a more principled path. “The Republican Party is at a turning point,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, “Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.” Cheney’s broadside, like her other post–January 6 public statements, wasn’t convincing enough to her colleagues, who voted to oust her from her leadership role on Wednesday. It was, however, a beacon to other disillusioned Republicans.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that “over 100” prominent Republicans had answered her call. Organized by Miles Taylor—a former Trump administration official who rose to fame as the author of the anonymous quasi-tell-all A Warning, which purported to be an insider account of the Trump White House’s misrule—the group included a number of other sort-of prominent Republicans, including former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and former representatives Charlie Dent and Barbara Comstock. “When in our democratic republic, forces of conspiracy, division, and despotism arise, it is the patriotic duty of citizens to act collectively in defense of liberty and justice,” the as-yet-unnamed group wrote in a statement. The implication, of course, is that the patriots have finally arrived. More realistically, we might call this “a bunch of people with the word ‘former’ in their title.” Not a single sitting Republican at any level has opted to join their ranks.

Cheney is now free to join up. There are those who have speculated that she may pull an Obi-Wan Kenobi, becoming more powerful than ever, having been struck down: a martyr whose voice will only grow more deafening. But the problem with Cheney, Taylor, and the surviving Never Trump apparatchiks is that the fight has been lost. On Tuesday, Taylor vowed on CNN that “the civil war within the GOP is not ending. Today, it is just beginning.” Wrong: Wars require two armies. The effort to salvage the Republican Party or to create a new, anti-Trump conservative alternative failed years ago.

The animating idea behind both Taylor’s merry band of apostates and Cheney’s lonely fight against the Trumpification of the GOP is that somewhere out in the wide world there exists a real hunger for a conservative party without Trumpism. “We must go forward based on truth,” Cheney told reporters earlier this week. “We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution.” Cheney isn’t wrong—“Where’s the lie?” is practically implied here. But it leaves quite a bit out.

For starters, Cheney is hardly an ideal messenger for saner politics or constitutional fidelity. She has aggressively defended torture, suggested that former President Obama was sympathetic to jihadists, and done everything she could to advance the “war on terror” and restart the Cold War. In March 2019, she said that the Democrats have become “the party of antisemitism, the party of infanticide, the party of socialism.” She had, until recently, reminded anyone who would listen about how often she voted with Donald Trump and was hardly overstating the truth: Per FiveThirtyEight, she voted with the former president between 93 and 96 percent of the time. On those occasions when she didn’t show fealty to Trump, the rift was typically over Trump’s foreign policy, which she believed wasn’t nearly aggressive enough. Taylor, for his part, wrote an anonymous book decrying, among many other things, Trump’s immigration policies, even though his job in the Trump administration was to try to launder those same policies into something approaching respectability.

Anti-Trump conservatives have toiled at their task for nearly six years now, with the megaphones of CNN and MSNBC at their beck and call. Through all their declamations against the rise of Trumpism and their lamentations about the decline of True Conservatism, this faction has largely failed to make inroads with Republican voters. Trump remains wildly popular and is the odds-on favorite to win the party’s 2024 nomination, should he decide to seek it. There may be some division among the Republican electorate—a recent poll found that 50 percent of Republicans supported the GOP more than the former president, with 44 percent avowing the reverse—but it has yet to pay any meaningful dividends for the Never Trumpers. Trump still holds sway; Cheney’s ouster is, in fact, only proof of the outsize influence he still has in Washington. Republican leaders and voters seem well poised and positioned to further purge anyone who dares call out the former president’s election lies for what they are. Meanwhile, no major anti-Trump figure has emerged on the right with the charisma and ideas sufficient to lead the party out of the wilderness. That figure almost certainly won’t be Liz Cheney—and it shouldn’t be.

Only 18 percent of Republican voters, per a Morning Consult poll published on Wednesday, believe that Cheney should have been allowed to hold onto her role in the party’s conference; 50 percent supported her removal, while 31 percent had no opinion or didn’t know enough to form one. She is, by far, the least popular member of congressional Republican leadership, with only 14 percent of respondents attesting to having a favorable view of her. Mitch McConnell, who has also taken fire from President Trump for his refusal to push to overturn the 2020 election, is more than twice as popular.

Taylor and Cheney’s diagnosis of the malady, to be fair, is accurate. “This is us saying that a group of more than 100 prominent Republicans think that the situation has gotten so dire with the Republican Party that it is now time to seriously consider whether an alternative might be the only option,” Taylor told The New York Times. The GOP’s one consistent principle is that any Democratic electoral victory is inherently illegitimate.

While this breakaway group’s declaration of war against the rising tide of illiberalism and authoritarianism on the right is laudatory, there is no value in deceiving ourselves further about the prospects of changing American politics through the creation of some ersatz Trump-lite alternative party. Cheney and Taylor are not offering a different vision for Republican voters or the nation. They are simply avatars of the same discredited ideas that gave rise to Trump in the first place: forever wars, tax cuts for the rich, draconian immigration policies, and voter suppression. Don’t look for them on future campaign trails, and don’t seek their names on the ballots of elections yet to come, because you won’t find them there. Instead, look for them at Washington cocktail parties and cable news greenrooms, the eternal resting place of the ousted and the out of fashion.