House Republicans’ Leadership Fight Signals A New DirectionRoundup
tags: Republican Party, conservatism, Donald Trump, 2020 Election, Liz Cheney
Zack Smith has a Ph.D. in history from Boston University. He is currently a political consultant with Concerted Action.
The Republican Party is no longer a conservative party. It is the party of Trump.
House Republicans are expected to ratify this reality Wednesday by ejecting Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), daughter of a powerful former vice president, from the role of conference chair, despite her staunchly conservative record. She is likely to be replaced by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who has compiled a far more moderate voting record but has embraced former president Donald Trump and his false claims about the 2020 election.
Changes in House party leadership rarely happen during a term — and generally they happen because of a resignation or criminal indictment. But when a member of Congress is shoved out of a leadership position, it exposes shifts in party values and governing tactics. Examining two past Republican leadership fights helps illuminate how this battle over Cheney’s role may signal that new governing tactics and ideas will guide the GOP going forward.
Before Congress reconvened in 1981, House Republican leader John Rhodes of Arizona chose to step down from leadership. He had watched preceding minority leaders go down to surprise defeat to candidates backed by younger and more-aggressive members, and he did not want the same thing to happen to him.
Rhodes’s move left Republicans in need of a new leader, setting off a battle between Reps. Bob Michel of Illinois and Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan.
Michel had worked his way up through the leadership, chairing the National Republican Congressional Committee and then serving as minority whip. Vander Jagt was the then-NRCC chair. The choice between the two was perceived as being between continuity and change.
Michel was the team player, legislator and floor leader who excelled at the inside game and earned respect broadly throughout the Republican membership. As minority leader, he would represent a smooth transition from Rhodes.
Vander Jagt, on the other hand, was known as a great orator who built a reputation as a partisan fighter with connections to newer members. During his campaign, he proudly declared that he could “best transform our minority into a majority.” Vander Jagt agreed when Cheney’s father, Dick, then Wyoming’s congressman, wrote to him saying “that we need a strategy of confrontation if we’re ever going to be the majority party.”
Rep. Ed Bethune (R-Ark.), president of the large freshman Republican class of 1978, described it perfectly when he said, “The issue implicit in this race is whether Republicans will increasingly engage in the politics of confrontation that younger members favor or the politics of compromise.”
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