Thursday, April 22, 2021

Liz Cheney and the Republican Id

From a long New York Times piece on Liz Cheney's place in the Republican Party, I extract this item. After Cheney voted to impeach Trump, members of her caucus in the House called for her removal from her post as conference chair, and a long, contentious meeting ensued:

In the conference meeting, Cheney said that she stood by her vote to impeach Trump. Several members had asked her to apologize, but, she said, “I cannot do that.”

The line to the microphone was extraordinarily long. At least half of the speakers indicated that they would vote to remove Cheney. Ralph Norman of South Carolina expressed disappointment in her vote. “But the other thing that bothers me, Liz,” he went on, “is your attitude. You’ve got a defiant attitude.” John Rutherford of Florida, a former sheriff, accused the chairwoman of not being a “team player.”

Others argued that her announcement a day before the impeachment vote had given the Democrats a talking point to use against the rest of the Republican conference. (“Good for her for honoring her oath of office,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointedly remarked when told of Cheney’s intentions.) Likening the situation to a football game, Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania lamented, “You look up into the stands and see your girlfriend on the opposition’s side — that’s one hell of a tough thing to swallow.”

“She’s not your girlfriend!” a female colleague yelled out. Kelly’s remark was immediately disseminated among Republican women in professional Washington, according to Barbara Comstock, who served as a Republican congresswoman from Virginia until 2019. “We emailed that around, just horrified, commenting in real time,” she told me.

Throughout it all, Cheney sat implacably — “as emotional as algebra,” as one attendee later told me. She spoke only when asked a direct question. But when McCarthy concluded by suggesting that they put this matter behind them and adjourn, Cheney insisted that the conference vote on her status right then and there. The members cast their secret ballots, and Cheney prevailed, 145 to 61.

The lopsided margin was almost identical to Cheney’s own whip count going into the conference. Individual colleagues had confided in her that most of the conference was only too happy to move on from Trump — but saying so in public was another matter. To do so meant risking defeat at the hands of a Trump-adoring Republican primary electorate or even, many of them feared, the well-being of their families. In sum, it risked getting the Liz Cheney treatment. That Cheney was willing to face Trump’s wrath called attention to the fact that most of them were not — a factor in the aggrievement directed at Cheney in the meeting. Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania said that Cheney had “a low E.Q.,” or emotional quotient. On his way out the door, one congressman remarked, “I just got to spend four hours listening to a bunch of men complain to a woman that she doesn’t take their emotions into account.”

Honestly half of the Trump phenomenon seems to be about men's feelings. I remember one of my favorite journalists, Conor Friedersdorf, making the same complaint about Tea Party activists: that they were all too emotional for rational discussion and saw any disagreement as an attack on them and the things they "held dear." This business of using your wounded feelings to hold your opponents hostage seems to be the basic rhetorical trope of our emotional age.

1 comment:

David said...

This is very interesting. It's true that tender feelings are probably THE contemporary American rhetorical trope.

It's also worth noting the object lesson in how a motivated minority can keep a much larger, less-driven majority cowed. The vote on Cheney clearly went the way it did because it was secret. I would point out that the Democratic Left doesn't seem to have nearly the same power over mainstream Congressional Dems.