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Donald Trump – not president, still powerful
Sensemaker audio

Donald Trump – not president, still powerful

Donald Trump – not president, still powerful

The sacking of a US politician this week shows that Donald Trump is still the biggest show in town in the Republican Party


Transcript

Nimo Omer: Hi, I’m Nimo – and this is Sensemaker – from tortoisemedia.com

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, why a big name losing her job in the Republican Party means Donald Trump is still winning. 

***

Family dynasties have been a thing in American politics for a long time. 

The Kennedys, the Clintons, the Bushes – they’ve all been fixtures on the scene. 

“And the other big story of the day, Liz Cheney has lost her job as the number three Republican in the house.”

CBS Evening News

That’s Liz Cheney getting booted out of her senior job in the Republican Party. 

It was a moment which meant one small thing, and one much bigger one.

The small thing (because Liz’s dad Dick Cheney was a big cheese as well) is that for the first time in decades there won’t be a Cheney near the top of the party. 

But the real lesson is that, even though he lost the election to Joe Biden, Donald Trump is still far and away the most important person in the Republican Party. 

So why is The Donald still winning six months after he lost?

“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by a bold and radical left democrats which is what they are doing … We will never give up. We will never concede.”

Donald Trump

You’ve probably heard that a few times. It’s Donald Trump when he was still president – just – complaining that the election had been stolen from him (even though it wasn’t true) and firing up the crowd. 

The crowd that – pretty soon after that – went down the road and stormed the US Congress. For a lot of Republicans like Liz Cheney that should have been the end of the road for Donald Trump. 

“Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president. They have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process. Sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.”

Liz Cheney

That was this week – the night before Liz Cheney lost her job. 

And, of course, Donald Trump did what he does best: he lashed out on his new blog and called Liz Cheney “a bitter horrible human being”. 

He wouldn’t have been surprised by what she said, because she’d said it all before…

“I have been clear about my views on President Trump and the extent to which following January 6th I don’t believe he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”

Liz Cheney

What to do about President Trump after that riot on January 6 is the biggest question facing the Republican Party. Plenty of people think there should be no way back for a man who, a lot of them thought, encouraged violence. 

This is a congressman called Adam Kinzinger.

“This is lies versus truth. This is, the election was stolen and that means a third of America believed democracy fails and that leads to violence long term.”

Adam Kinzinger

But he’s in a minority. Most Republicans can see how massively popular Donald Trump is with their voters – and it makes them terrified to go against him.

The pro-Trump calculation goes right to the top. One of the most senior Republicans is Kevin McCarthy. He got caught on tape bad-mouthing Liz Cheney.

“I mean she’s got real problems. I have had it with her. I have lost confidence.”

Kevin McCarthy

The problem for Liz Cheney is that her colleagues aren’t really arguing about her. They’re arguing about Donald Trump and her career is getting smashed up in the row. 

So why is it such a big deal that Liz Cheney has lost her spot? She’s obviously out-of-step with the direction of her party so, ordinarily, it might not be surprising. 

Well, like I said, she isn’t just anyone. Her father Dick Cheney was vice president through the early noughties – including 9/11 and the Iraq War. 

The Cheney name has come to mean something. And, actually, what it’s meant has been a tough, very conservative approach to politics. Quite hardline and unapologetic about America throwing its weight around in the world.  

And socially conservative, too. To the point that Liz Cheney is estranged from her gay sister because she voted against marriage equality.

You might have thought all that would make Liz Cheney appealing to Donald Trump and his supporters – and maybe vice versa. 

But the fact is that Donald Trump completely shook up right-wing politics. 

In that blog post about Liz Cheney this week he called the Cheney family “warmongers” who “stupidly pushed us into the never-ending Middle East Disaster”. 

And like a lot of traditional conservatives, Liz Cheney is an old-fashioned supporter of law and order.

“I am a conservative republican and the most conservative principle is reverence for the rule of law.”

Liz Cheney

After the riot on January 6, that was always going to make it difficult for her to put up with Donald Trump.

So what next for Cheney – and the Republican leaders?

Right now, it looks as if the top brass have made the big choice they had to make after January 6. 

If President Trump had crossed a line by inciting the riot, that was the moment when they could have said ‘enough is enough’ and tried to ditch him. He was banned by Twitter and Facebook so his voice wasn’t as loud as it had been. Perhaps they could have sidelined him.

But they haven’t done that. They’ve looked at the opinion polls and calculated that – whether they like it or not – Donald Trump is still the biggest show in town as far as voters are concerned. The prospect of distancing the party from him is just too risky.

For Liz Cheney, her fight is only just beginning. And her family connections probably shouldn’t be dismissed quite as lightly as Trump would like…

“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the oval office.”

Liz Cheney

The Cheneys might just have gone from being one of the big name families in American politics to the biggest name of all in the opposition to Donald Trump. 

Today’s story was written by Phoebe Davis and produced by Xavier Greenwood.


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