From the Center

This viewpoint is from a writer rated Center.

As Liz Cheney heads for the exit door of Donald Trump’s Republican Party with her guns blazing, it’s difficult to tell whether she represents the GOP’s future or its past. Unlike Mitt Romney, whose defiance in the face of booing from Trump loyalists at his state party’s convention last weekend seemed more like the last stand of a retreating Republican establishment, Cheney appeared to be laying the groundwork for a comeback both for herself and for the traditional conservative movement with which her family has been associated for almost half a century.

When Cheney launched a full-out assault on Trump last week regarding his protests against the outcome of the 2020 election, she signed her own death warrant with the Republican House Caucus. Her position in the caucus leadership was swiftly challenged, and party leaders moved quickly to distance themselves from her. After Cheney voted for Trump’s impeachment in January, she worked to marshal support from her colleagues members and easily withstood a challenge to her leadership position. This time, she is making no such effort and looks to be approaching the upcoming vote to remove her much in the way that Obi Wan Kenobi approached Darth Vader’s light saber at the end of the original Star Wars movie.

But while Obi Wan remained a spiritual guide to Luke throughout the rest of that trilogy, Cheney seems to be preparing for a less ethereal restoration. She knows that today’s Republican Party has no room in its leadership ranks for anyone who confronts Trump as directly as she has, but she also seems to recognize — or hope — that the battle scars that she has earned over the last few months may give her the potential in a fight to lead a post-Trump faction back to control over the party at some point in the future.

Whether that future arrives after next year’s midterm elections, during the 2024 primary fight for the Republican presidential nomination, or at some more distant point is unknown. What’s clear, though, is that Cheney’s decision to preserve herself for the future means there is no opportunity in the present for those in the GOP who want their party to move beyond Trump. Which leaves Cheney herself to either emerge as their standard-bearer in the fight to reclaim the GOP – or to be wistfully remembered as one who sacrificed herself in what turned out to be a more quixotic effort than she had expected.

The bigger threat to Trump that emerged this week was not from Republican renegades like Cheney or Romney, but from Silicon Valley, where an advisory group to Facebook opened the door for the social media giant to prevent Trump from regaining access to their platform. For all the attention the former president’s Twitter account has received over the years, his political operation has actually relied much more heavily on Facebook as a tool to inspire, excite and motivate his most committed loyalists. It has been well-chronicled how effectively Trump’s 2016 campaign leveraged Facebook as the primary means to communicate with his supporters, but only in the months since the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has it become clear how dependent he was on his Facebook and Instagram accounts for the past several years.

When Facebook’s Oversight Board announced that they would not reverse the company’s decision to bar Trump from their platform, the former president and his supporters reacted with deep and vehement fury. They understood how much more difficult it has been for Trump to have his voice heard since losing his access to social media, and they had hoped that this outside group would overrule Mark Zuckerberg’s in-house advisors and allow him to return to the site. While the Oversight Board did encourage Facebook to review its decision and to clarify the length of Trump’s ban, they otherwise did not take any steps to help.

Since his social media privileges were revoked, Trump has found other ways to speak out. He does regular interviews on conservative media, sends out email proclamations and recently launched a new website. But none of these tools gives him the ability to connect with his backers the way that Facebook always did. And the only thing worse than an emperor with no clothes is one without a microphone.

Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, Pepperdine University, and the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in politics, communications and leadership. Dan is a No Party Preference voter, but previously worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns, serving as the national Director of Communications for the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John McCain and the chief media spokesman for California Governor Pete Wilson. He has a Center bias.

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This piece was reviewed and edited by managing editor Henry A. Brechter (Center bias).

Image Credit: Stock Catalog/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)