Politics

The GOP’s New Commandments

In ousting Liz Cheney, the party has abandoned principles and reduced itself to a cult of Trump.

Liz Cheney standing in front of a mic
Rep. Liz Cheney talks to reporters on Wednesday at the Capitol. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In 1965, Gaylord Parkinson, the chairman of the California GOP, issued what Republicans now call their 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican.” Parkinson invoked this rule to protect Ronald Reagan—at that time, the leading Republican candidate for governor—who had been falsely accused by a GOP rival of collaborating with communists. But now the party of Reagan has become the party of Donald Trump. This week, when a Reaganite conservative, Rep. Liz Cheney, stood up against Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, GOP leaders ousted her from the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference. In doing so, they established a new set of commandments, redefining the party as a cult of Trump.

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1. You shall have no other gods before Trump. House Republicans purged Cheney not over policy but because Trump kept repeating that the election was stolen, and Cheney kept saying that it wasn’t. “She’s attacking the leader of the Republican Party,” said Rep. Andy Biggs. “You can’t be the conference chair when you consistently speak out against the leader of our party,” said Rep. Jim Jordan. “It’s impossible for this party to move forward without President Trump being its leader,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. Trump is the party, and anyone who contradicts him is out.

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2. You shall not correct Trump. Cheney’s Republican colleagues blame her for the ongoing dispute with the former president. They ignore Trump’s persistent lying, which repeatedly forces her to speak out against him. “She’s escalated her rhetoric,” said former Rep. Mark Meadows, who led the right-wing Freedom Caucus before serving as Trump’s chief of staff. “She continued her tirade against President Trump,” said Biggs. After Cheney’s demotion on Wednesday, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie echoed that rationalization. In the Republican cult, Trump’s provocations can never be acknowledged. Therefore, anyone who rebuts him must be the provocateur.

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3. You shall follow those who follow Trump. The Bible says when you’re surrounded by sin and falsehood, you should dissent. The Republican Party, on the other hand, says you should conform. Cheney had “no right, as the chair of the conference, to … undermine the conference,” said former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Rep. Jim Banks, the chair of the Republican Study Committee, agreed, insisting that Cheney must go because she didn’t “represent the views of the majority of our conference.” Jordan concurred. In today’s GOP, “leadership” positions are reserved for those who bow to the demagoguery of the rank and file.

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4. You shall reject any statement or person supported by Democrats. “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” Cheney warned her colleagues in a Tuesday night speech on the House floor. “I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.” When Fox News host Laura Ingraham showed Jordan that clip, he replied: “You can’t have the Republican conference chair reciting Democratic talking points.” Meadows, likewise, said Cheney had to go because Democrats quoted her more than Republicans did. In the cult of Trump, reality is anathema because Democrats believe in it.

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5. You shall covet the House and think of nothing else. Rep. Steve Scalise, the Republican whip, called for Cheney’s removal because “House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House.” Banks agreed that the party’s “single mission” was “to win back the majority,” and “any leader who’s not focused on that … needs to be replaced.” On this view, all that matters is victory, even at the expense of democracy, and any internal dissent must be crushed.

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6. You shall bear false witness against the integrity of U.S. elections. On Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decreed that Cheney would be demoted because the party’s “internal conflicts need to be resolved.” To some Republicans, that means embracing Trump’s lies. Gingrich, for instance, reaffirmed on Sunday that the 2020 election was “designed to do exactly what [Trump] said: figure out how many votes the Republicans have, and then hold the ballots open until you can get enough votes to beat him.” Gingrich told Fox News that “in every one of the states was really close that Trump lost, you had those kinds of shenanigans … There’s no question that those states were, in effect, stolen.”

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7. You shall not admit that the election wasn’t rigged. Other Republicans, while declining to say the election was stolen, also refuse to say it wasn’t. When Banks was asked whether President Joe Biden “won the election fair and square,” he replied, “I stand by my vote to object on Jan. 6.” When Senate GOP Conference Chairman John Barrasso was asked who was right about the election—Trump or Cheney—he groused that “Joe Biden is in the White House, and there’s nothing we can do about that right now.” Barrasso accused Democrats of “trying to make it even easier to cheat in elections.”

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8. You shall dismiss inconvenient truths as subjective. While accusing Democrats of relativism about values, Republicans have retreated to relativism about facts. When Biggs was asked about Cheney being forced out for telling “the truth” of what happened in the election, he dismissed it as “her vision of the truth.” Biggs complained that she should have set aside her “personal feelings” and embraced “what 90 percent of our conference believes.” This elevation of belief over reality makes a mockery of the conservative slogan that “facts don’t care about your feelings.” To protect Trump’s lies, today’s Republicans cling to their feelings and deflect unwelcome facts.

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9. Remember the Sabbath, but forget the insurrection. Principled conservatives believe in learning from history and defending institutions against anarchy. That’s why Cheney wants a full and focused investigation of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. But other Republicans disagree. “Each day spent relitigating the past is one day less we have to seize the future,” McCarthy argued on Monday as he called for Cheney’s dismissal. Another senior Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes, accused her of betraying her duties as conference chair by “bringing up old news.”

10. You shall not commit apostasy. Purging Cheney from her leadership post is just the beginning. Many Republicans think anyone who believes what Cheney believes should leave the party altogether. Banks says she abandoned “the Republican team,” and Gingrich says that in 2024, given “the things she’s said, she’d almost be morally bound either to support the Democrat or to run as a third-party candidate” against Trump. If you’re a conservative who believes in truth and the rule of law, you can still serve in Congress. You just can’t be a Republican.

To understand what led up to Rep. Liz Cheney’s ouster from leadership, listen to this recent episode of What Next.

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