A eulogy for the GOP

York Dispatch editorial board
FILE - Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., listens as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, June 23, 2022. Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Cheney hail from their states’ most prominent Republican families and have been among the GOP’s sharpest critics of former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Stan Saylor.

Adam Kinzinger.

And now Liz Cheney, too.

Whatever you thought of these Republican lawmakers' stances on the issues, they represented a brand of American conservatism that was more about governing than political posturing — a brand that is all but extinct in 2022.

To the end, Saylor was more concerned with growing Pennsylvania's rainy day fund and reforming its liquor system than virtue-signaling to his base over "critical race theory" and anti-LGBTQ legislation. You'd never mistake Saylor for a moderate but, whatever his personal beliefs, his focus wasn't on the culture wars.

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That choice — a matter of temperament  — cost him in this spring's Republican primary.

"People weren't looking at what you had done," Saylor told ABC27. He added: "Today, those who yell the loudest on Facebook and Twitter get a lot more attention — and that's not good for government."

Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney wasn't a moderate, either.

Cheney was once a conservative bomb-thrower, someone who loudly opposed same-sex marriage, for just one example. (She later regretted that stance.) But witnessing the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol triggered an inner patriot.

Righteous anger led her to finally stand in opposition to Donald Trump, the former president who she supported in 2016 despite a growing number of personal scandals swirling around him.

“If the cost of standing up for the Constitution is losing the House seat, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay,” Cheney told The New York Times, a few weeks before the 2022 GOP primary she seemed destined to lose.

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And she did.

It wasn't even close. Cheney lost to the Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman by a 66-29 margin, a sharp rebuke for Cheney, who voted in line with Trump's position on the issues 93% of the time in Congress, according to politics data tracker Five Thirty Eight.

Kinzinger, Cheney's only other Republican colleague on the Jan. 6 committee, chose to retire from Congress instead of facing seemingly inevitable defeat in his Illinois GOP primary.

Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in 2021, now only two remain. And those two — Dan Newhouse, of Washington state, and David Valadao, of California — squeaked by in the primary by the thinnest of margins against Trump-aligned primary challengers.

In case there was any doubt remaining, the Republican Party is dead.

The Party of Trump stands in its place.

Fiscal conservatism, American patriotism and even basic human compassion have no place in the Party of Trump. This cult of personality isn't satisfied with members who agree with Trump 93% of the time.

They must spread the "big lie" 100% of the time or they will be expelled.

The only lodestar is absolute fealty to Donald Trump.

Cheney, like all principled conservatives, faces an uncertain future. On Wednesday, she told NBC that she's considering a 2024 presidential run. But it's not clear if that's another Republican primary challenge, a third-party run or — perhaps the least likely option — a flight to the Democratic Party.

Her priority, Cheney said, is “doing whatever it takes to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office.” A third-party run, alas, would likely ensure another Trump presidency but, as Cheney herself pointed out, the GOP has become a cult of personality.

Opposing Trump is an impossible choice. We empathize with the Republicans who dare to defy him.