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Politics Today: Trump’s unfinished business: Destroying the Republican Party

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump, having exited the presidency, seems set on a course now to destroy the Republican Party that he captured in 2016 and still holds in his hands. He continues to argue that the 2020 election was rigged against him through election fraud, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The contention fuels his apparent determination to return to power amid a mild but irritating pushback from a small minority of Republicans. It is being led currently by Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. She disputes Trump’s fraud allegations to the point she has openly and explicitly broken with him, generating demands that she be removed from party leadership in the House.

“The 2020 election was not stolen,” Cheney tweeted earlier this week. “Anyone who now claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.” It was Trump himself who had repeatedly referred to the election of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as “the big lie,” adding to his own string of patent lies during the 2020 campaign.

Cheney is among 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach Trump on the grounds of his open incitement of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. He was impeached but then acquitted by the Senate when the required two-thirds vote for conviction fell short. Trump had openly told protesters he would march with them, but instead he took refuge in the White House and watched the assault on television from there.

After Rep. Cheney’s impeachment vote against Trump, there were demands from House Republicans that she be removed from leadership, but she easily beat the effort by a 145-61 vote. Her relations with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who courted Trump in a conspicuous trip to Florida after his defeat and departure from Washington, have been notably cool.

In a recent television interview McCarthy, who said earlier that Trump “bears responsibility” for the insurrection, dodged a question on whether Cheney should be removed from House Republican leadership post. “That’s a question for the conference,” he said, while noting that criticizing Trump over his response to the Capitol riot was “not being productive.” He also told Fox News: “I’ve had it with her. I’ve lost confidence.”

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 on the House Republican Conference, has come out for Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York to replace Cheney, whereupon President Biden commented: “Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for.” A House GOP ally in the dispute, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, defended Cheney but conceded to The Hill newspaper that she might not be “the best fit” for the conference leadership job if the prerequisite was “lying to our voters.”

On a more trivial matter, Cheney came under partisan complaint for a casual fist pump in which she engaged with Biden on the House floor during his recent joint speech appearance. She said that while she strongly opposed Biden’s policies, she had no regret doing so “in a civil, respectful and dignified way,” adding: “We’re not sworn enemies. We’re all Americans.”

But such is the state of play in the Republican Party as long as Donald Trump menacingly hovers over it. In a real sense, the soul of the Grand Old Party is at stake in this test of its commitment to truth-telling in the era of Trump’s assault of our most basic democratic values.

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