Republicans love a good old purity test. The party has long taken its cues from an endless array of scorecard-toting groups that set the standard for the GOP’s DNA and punish deviants—from the Club for Growth to the NRA to the Heritage Foundation. During the 2016 election, then–Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, worried that Donald Trump would refuse to back the winner of the Republican presidential primary, enacted a purity test of his own by forcing the field to submit to a loyalty oath that they would support the eventual nominee. In the end, of course, Trump won the nomination himself. Now enforced devotion to Trump is the only purity test that matters.
Liz Cheney is perhaps the most notable recent casualty of the Trump party’s purity test. Last May, the Wyoming representative was booted from the House GOP’s leadership team for her failure to show fealty to Dear Leader. She was even more recently ceremonially defrocked of her Republicanness by the Wyoming GOP. I don’t spend a lot of time feeling sorry for Cheney, but she has certainly endeavored to force such sentiment from us. In an op-ed for The Washington Post shortly after her May excommunication, she referred to the moment of her undoing as “a turning point” for her party. “History is watching,” she wrote.
When reached for comment, however, History reminded me that not long ago, Cheney’s hot red blood thrummed pure and true, during which time she gladly pushed her party down illiberal turning points of her own devising. History specifically pointed me way back to 2010, when Cheney’s political action group, Keep America Safe, dropped an advertisement questioning “the loyalties of Justice Department lawyers who advocated for detained terror suspects during the Bush Administration.” Then–Attorney General Eric Holder had drawn Cheney’s ire by refusing to identify seven said attorneys by name. Cheney’s advertisement referred to these lawyers as “the al-Qaeda seven.”
“Remind you of anything happening in the news today?” asked History, winking and nodding in the direction of this week’s controversy du jour: Representative Lauren Boebert’s recent intimations that Representative Ilhan Omar is a terrorist. Boebert surely would have made 2010-era Cheney proud. But Boebert’s impulsive trolling has only set off another feud within the GOP—this time between Boebert ally Marjorie Taylor Greene and South Carolina Representative Nancy Mace, who had condemned Boebert’s comments. House Minority Leader and living embodiment of an afterthought Kevin McCarthy has apparently tried to calm tensions between the two, reported Politico, but to no avail. Greene has since “suggested to CNN that she was interested in seeing Mace get a Republican primary challenger, something former President Donald Trump has called for.”
Much of what has been written about Mace in her brief congressional career has focused on her faltering attempts to pass, if not simply avoid, the Republican purity test for which Greene has set the curve. Mace has spent the year swinging from her preferred “post-Trump” persona to a more Trump-compliant version of herself, in moves that The New York Times has called “pivots” but which The Atlantic has less charitably referred to as a “failure of nerve.” She’s lately been on the wrong side of the Trump brigade, having voted to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. But back in May, she also cast one of the votes to expel Cheney from her leadership role.
That Mace is getting a taste of the medicine she prescribed Cheney is ironic but not surprising. And there’s no telling who might end up getting a failing grade on the GOP’s next test of convictions. Should the Republicans retake the House in 2022, that next examination may come in the form of attempting to impeach President Joe Biden. And perhaps not just once. With the party having largely abandoned any interest in policymaking or governing, there probably won’t be much else for the GOP to do other than write an endless supply of articles of impeachment.
Such an effort will likely fail to oust the president. But going impeachment-crazy will certainly give Republicans ample opportunity to demonstrate their devotion. Those who don’t sign on to a zany effort to eject Biden will surely be tagged as traitors straightaway, but there’s little doubt that insufficient eagerness and passion will be remembered as transgressions, as well. For a party trapped in a personality cult and drunk on herrenvolk mythology, there can be no rest in the endless task of informing against and excluding the unworthy. Better Republicans aren’t coming to Washington, just purer ones.
This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.