Liz Cheney Committed The Only Crime Republicans Care About
Or, past the point of no return, with Chris Cillizza
First, by way of foreword, I’d like to apologize for having left this newsletter fallow for so long. I was just finding my way back into the groove of updating it when some business decisions by Substack came to light that I, among others, found troubling and bigoted, and I wasn’t sure what to do about that.
I’m still not sure, but I’ve come to realize that there’s no point in sitting still while I’m figuring it out, and that indeed, I’m unlikely to make a change if I’m sitting still.
So for now, the Erin Endeavor is back on, and for now it’s still on Substack. I will probably be moving venues when I’ve located one that I like, but only one that enables me to import my content and my subscribers. Ideally this will require nothing from you except maybe confirming that you wish to receive email from the new service.
There are two things one can count on Chris Cillizza to do: state the obvious, and miss it.
I know those seem like they’re mutually contradictory, but most situations that Cillizza chooses to focus his analytical wit upon have sufficient obvious features for him to mix it up properly and do a little of both.
Let’s take a look at his piece from today.
To start by stating a bit of the obvious just in the tweeted headline: one does not need a highly paid political analyst to reveal what “the big tell” in a situation is. It’s obvious on its face. That’s what a big tell is. If a poker player quietly sucks in their breath or subconsciously taps their pinky finger on the table when they see they’ve got a good hand, one might miss that if not clued to look for it, but if they do a double-take and yell “Hotchie-motchie, DADDY LIKE!” that hardly requires translation.
If you’ve been paying the slightest bit of attention then you know the real reason that Republican leaders are turning on Cheney is that she’s insufficiently loyal to Trump, and Cillizza wastes no time and many words explaining this.
But he’s offering a twofer: the reason that they want to replace her with Elise Stafinek, he is now able to exclusively reveal to readers of the feature hilariously named “The Point”, is that she is sufficiently loyal to Trump.
Now, mea culpa: I have done nothing more here than explain the obvious, including the fact that Chris Cillizza is not very good at his job, if we assume his job is to do actual political analysis and explain complicated wheelings and dealings to outsiders from an insider’s perspective.
So here’s where we go beyond “The Point” and get to the point: what Chris misses.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California) has said that the reason Cheney appears to be on her way out is because she isn't the best policy messenger for the party. Which, as I noted on Tuesday, is totally ridiculous, since Cheney is a consistent conservative on everything but her willingness to speak out against former President Donald Trump and her vote to impeach him for his role in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol.
This is Trump as puppeteer, with McCarthy and Scalise dancing to his preferred tune. Still don't believe me? Check this out: According to the conservative Heritage Action group, Cheney's lifetime vote score is 80%. Stefanik's is 48%. And even when it comes to votes in support of Trump, calculations done by 538 show that Cheney voted with the former president 92.9% of the time while Stefanik backed him 77.7% of the time.
The thing that Chris gets wrong is thinking that there is any difference or distance between policy and loyalty in today’s GOP. Loyalty to party, to power, is the policy of the Republican Party and arguably the only consistent and non-negotiable policy.
Composer Frank Wilhoit once said in what may be the most quoted blog comment of all time that “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: there must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”
This pithy and trenchant observation is so pithy and trenchant that it has been mistaken for a quote from a book by deceased, coincidentally named, and Wiki-notable political scientist Francis Wilhoit (no relation), because who would expect the defining political commentary of our age to occur on a blog comment? Well, I might, being an internet political commentator.
In any event, the living Wilhoit’s quote was and is certainly true, but I would argue that the modern conservative project has evolved and progressed towards an even worse form of this aphorism where power — which we might define as being freedom to do whatever one wants with zero accountability — is not just the highest good but the only one.
I used the word freedom but I’m not speaking here of some libertarian ideal where everybody is free to do what one wants, because the part about there being those who are protected and those who are bound still applies in full force. It’s just that the role of “the law” in the whole operation that’s becoming fuzzier as conservatives increasingly adulterate or ignore the rule of law to simply do what they want, to whomever they want, while expecting and in fact enforcing zero accountability.
Matt Gaetz has sufficiently demonstrated this in his response to the serious criminal allegations swirling around him, which is not to profess his innocence but to seek the political ex-communication of anyone he deems insufficiently loyal (and thus, dangerously likely to hold him accountable)
It’s not that the current Republican leadership has any great personal love for Donald Trump, or likely thinks much of Gaetz or Stefanik. It’s just a matter of principle: if anybody — Democrats, judges, We The People — can hold a rich and powerful former president like Donald Trump accountable, then we could do it to anyone we choose.
And conversely, if they can excuse and ignore the serious crimes of a man as contemptible as Donald Trump, they can excuse and ignore anything.
The principle that the powerful can be held to account is anathema to Republican Party thinking because their definition of power is freedom from accountability.
And the principle that there is no crime so odious that it can’t be ignored or even flaunted is their endgame, for the same reason.
And thus we arrive at the point of today’s GOP and their proposed re-shuffling of congressional leadership roles. Liz Cheney is guilty of the only transgression that a Republican official can commit that the party will seek to punish, which is attempting to draw a line and say “we cannot cross this, we must not cross this, and if somebody does, there should be consequences.”
The Party of Personal Responsibility cannot tolerate this, because in their worldview, consequences are for other people.