September 10, 2021 | OPINION | By Emma McDermott | Illustration by Kira Shulist
I was recently having a debate with a family member about the few Republican politicians that stood up to former President Trump during his tenure. These “RINOs” (Republicans in Name Only), as Trump likes to say, blamed him for the attack on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, and went as far as to vote to impeach and remove him from office. This, I will argue, was no small feat, though it is likely something that will forever haunt their political careers.
My family member disagreed with my position for several reasons. First, they argued that those who rebuked former President Trump did so only on the grounds of politics. That is, there was something to be personally or politically gained by making this strategic move. I could not disagree more with this statement.
Take Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney, a Colorado College alumnus and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who voted to impeach President Trump. The congresswoman is, in every relevant sense of the word, a conservative; GovTrack.us, a nonpartisan organization that reports on Congressional legislation, ranked Cheney as “most politically right compared to House Party Leaders.” She even held a leadership position as the third highest House Republican.
Cheney’s conscience, however, ended up being the cause of her downfall in the Republican Party. After her ousting from the conference chair position on May 12, President Trump said, “Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party.” The receiving end of President Trump’s wrath is not a good place for any politician, Republicans especially, to find themselves.
Congresswoman Cheney sacrificed her political future by voting to impeach Trump. The immediate consequences of her decision, like losing her leadership position and undergoing Trump’s ire, drew a line in concrete that ostracized her from an overwhelming majority of her Republican colleagues; many of them were too afraid to do what she did. The long-term consequences, I expect, will be equally as harsh and unforgiving. Already, Trump loyalists like congressman Matt Gaetz have travelled to Wyoming to slander and campaign against her.
Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois is another one of the ten Republican representatives who voted for Trump’s impeachment. As with Cheney, Trump loyalists spared no expense in detailing their fantasies of vengeance towards Kinzinger, who remains ideologically aligned with conservative values. Crossing Trump, however, appears to be an unforgivable sin in today’s Republican Party.
For House Republicans considering Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 attacks, voting against his impeachment was the safe, easy move. It is why 197 of them did so. There was nothing for Cheney, Kinzinger, or any other Republican who voted for impeachment to be gained.
This family member then presented an argument along the lines of people having short memories and suggested that, in due time, principled Republicans will achieve stardom in the party. I think this is a dangerous underestimation of President Trump’s chokehold on the party, distinguishing between ideological conservatives, that devalues the power he has over what his fanatic supporters think and do.
A select yet determined group of Trump supporters were either so convinced that the 2020 election was stolen or so upset that Trump lost it that they attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, a hallmark of democracy. These people have already proven that they will go to bat for Trump and put their own lives at risk. Anything or anyone that challenges Trump’s greatness or legitimacy, to them, warrants expulsion. Or worse.
Fervent Trump supporters hang onto Trump’s every word. Despite warnings from medical experts and basic common sense, some of them ingested household cleaning products after Trump suggested that it might treat COVID-19.
To suggest that the obsession Trump supporters have with Trump will eventually fade is, I think, delusional. They broke laws for him, put their own lives in danger for him, and will continue to heed his instructions, or the spirit of his instructions, for many years to come.
Of course it’s natural and often necessary to analyze the decisions American politicians make with cynicism. In this case, though, I do think those Republicans who held steadfast to principles that preserve American democracy did so for love of country, not self-preservation. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, among others, sacrificed their political futures and physical safety, for that matter, in the name of something greater than themselves.