The more things change, the more they stay the same ... and the more they don't.
First off, what’s stayed the same (and there is simply no nice to way to say this): GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is a lying sack of sh*t.
It's an observation McCarthy made necessary Wednesday, when he stood outside the White House following an Oval Office meeting and lied about House Republicans' fervent backing of Donald Trump's Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
Asked if he had any qualms about elevating Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York to a leadership post after she spent the last week spewing Trump's election fraud lies, McCarthy told reporters, "I don't think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with."
To state the obvious, McCarthy joined 138 members of his caucus in voting to reject certification of the 2020 results. McCarthy also orchestrated the ouster of the only member of the GOP leadership team who has loudly and consistently rejected Trump's lies on the matter, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. McCarthy has also very publicly enlisted the help of Trump—chief promoter of the baseless fraud lies—in retaking control of the House next year. In essence, McCarthy has now built the foundations of House Republicans' 2022 strategy entirely on Trump's overt lies about "the legitimacy of the presidential election," as he put it.
As Cheney later told NBC News of McCarthy's debased leadership, "I think that he is not leading with principle right now ... and I think that it is sad and I think it’s dangerous.”
The operative word in Cheney's measured response is "dangerous." And when we look back on what is yet another pathetic and frightening episode in the Republican Party's continued detachment from reality, it may actually prove to be more of a turning point than it initially seemed.
On Thursday, a group of about 150 high-profile disaffected members and former members of the Republican Party announced an alternative movement to help save democracy from the GOP, which they now view as a "material threat to the nation."
"We will not wait forever for the GOP to clean up its act," they wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. "If we cannot save the Republican Party from itself, we will help save America from extremist elements in the Republican Party."
The piece was authored by several people, including former Pennsylvania Congressman Charlie Dent, former George W. Bush secretary of transportation Mary Peters, and former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele.
What exactly they are proposing is admittedly squishy. They are urging likeminded Americans to join their "Call for American Renewal," an alliance that will apparently back politicians from either party in an attempt to defeat extremist Republicans.
"We will fight for honorable Republicans who stand up for truth and decency, such as Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney, to name a few," they write. "But we will not rely on the old partisan playbook. We intend to work across party lines with other Americans to oppose extremists and defend the republic wherever we can."
But perhaps the most important takeaway from their piece is the fact that they have declared the Republican Party to be an unsalvageable trash heap in its current form—a virtual wasteland of corruption, bereft of principled ideas and leadership.
"Tragically, the Republican Party has lost its way, perverted by fear, lies and self-interest. What’s more, GOP attacks on the integrity of our elections and our institutions pose a continuing and material threat to the nation," they write.
They are no longer working to save the Republican Party as we know it today, even if they will work to protect certain members of it. They have effectively declared war on the party leadership and its unholy alliance with Trump.
It may seem merely symbolic, but it's important—the more prominent Republicans who are willing to take this step, the better for democracy. It will free up some longtime Republican voters who have been harboring misgivings about the party to either vote Democrat or independent or not at all in the next few election cycles. Any of those options are good ones from the standpoint of trying to save our democracy.
In the meantime, some Republicans working within the party plan to make life as difficult as possible for GOP leaders like McCarthy. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of 10 who voted to impeach Trump, tweeted Wednesday that McCarthy "wrongly" assumes GOP members like himself would vote for McCarthy as House speaker if Republicans manage to win the majority next year. It's also true that Kinzinger may not survive to take part in that vote, but a group called the Republican Accountability Project plans to do as much as possible to protect the 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump's impeachment, including both Cheney and Kinzinger.
Another possibility that will make liberals queasy but would also make McCarthy's life hell is the idea of a Cheney run for president in 2024, which she didn’t exactly shoot down in her NBC interview with Savannah Guthrie. Asked about the prospect, Cheney ultimately said she would do “whatever it takes” to keep Trump from occupying the Oval Office ever again.
Sarah Longwell, executive director of the Republican Accountability Project and publisher of The Bulwark, pushed the idea of a Cheney bid for the GOP nomination in a Thursday post, but most certainly as a Republican, not a third-party candidate.
"Of course Cheney should run for president as a Republican," Longwell wrote. "She will almost certainly lose. But there is a long and noble tradition in running for president in order to shape a party, to organize and persuade voters, to lend prominence to an issue."
Cheney running for the GOP nomination would be the worst-possible-case scenario for congressional Republicans who have now bet their entire party on Trump. She would be a loud and constant reminder of the Big Lie they have embraced and the fact that they all sold their souls for political gain.
While no strategy is exactly clear or well-formed at the moment, it does seem like McCarthy's actions have advanced the thinking of some never-Trumpers and unleashed a more difficult political environment for the party overall. Many who had hoped that they could somehow influence the direction of the GOP without having to declare war on it appear to have been disabused of that notion. What happens now remains to be seen, but taking an action that cements an entire coalition against your cause is about the worst of all possible worlds for a supposed political leader. Congrats, McCarthy.